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The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

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

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“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

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

The Power of Being Ready to Fulfill Your Purpose (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) April 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Lent, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent!

This post-practice post for Monday, April 11th. Some of the following appeared in posts from 2019 and 2020, but there are quite a few new bits for some fresh context. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma. This ultrahigh level of duty carries with it the requirement that one never does anything that is contrary to this True Self Within. And even if you consider your sva-dharma more narrowly from the standpoint of being true to your profession, you should not hesitate to fight. For a warrior, war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty.”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.31) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sacred texts from a variety of different cultures, tell us that everyone has a purpose. However, even if you don’t believe the old adage, science has shown that people who live a purpose driven life have better physical and mental health and stronger resilience than their peers. It’s a bit of a cycle: we need our mind-body-spirit to fulfill a purpose and fulfilling the purpose strengthens our mind-body-spirit so that we are better equipped to fulfill the purpose.

Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. Sometimes other people’s opinions about what we’re doing (or not doing) can also be like those things we do – or don’t do – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs; not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though; at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.

“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside”

*

– quoted from the song “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant (or Adam and the Ants)

Some of y’all may be thinking, “Aren’t you like the embodiment of that Adam Ant song?” Well, sometimes I do feel like that. And, yes, I do a lot of yoga and meditation with an emphasis on letting things go that no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean, however, that other people’s opinions never affect me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever internalize external judgement or spend way too much time and energy justifying my existence and/or presence in certain spaces.

Neither does it mean that I don’t have my vices. I have a bit of a sweet tooth (cue the laughter from my friends) and while I endeavor to stick to really good quality chocolate, or pastries without a lot of preservatives, I have been known – not often, but occasionally – to grab what’s handy. And then, the suffering ensues. Because, as much as I love it, processed sugar is not our friend and when you mix it with a bunch of additives it might as well be one of the deadlier vices.

Years ago, on one of my busiest days, I was feeling lethargic, hungry, and a little spacey, but I still had one more class to teach. Rather than choose wisely and do something I knew would be helpful, but would take a bit of time, I went for the quick fix: chocolate, but not the good kind. One of the lifeguards at the Blaisdell Y saw me pull my poor choice out of the vending machine and asked if my students knew I ate stuff like that. I shrugged and said I was only going to eat half. Needless to say, I ate it all. While I felt “better” in the short term, the next morning I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I had thieves in my personal temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” 

*

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” 

*

 – quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:12 – 13, KJV)

This week is Passion Week or Holy Week in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions. Some say the significant stuff begins with Saturday, although I’ll save the story for another day; others consider Palm Sunday as the beginning of one of the holiest weeks in the Western Christian tradition. Either way, Passion Monday, or Holy Monday, is the last Monday of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer within the aforementioned traditions. Part of the Passion Week or Holy Week observation is remembering the stories and parables associated with the last week of Jesus’ life. The story I most closely associate with this day is the story of Jesus throwing the thieves out of the temple and then having his authority questioned.

According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus was very clear about his purpose as he entered the last week of his life. He understood that there would be suffering (hence, the passion), trials, tribulation, and betrayal, and joy. He knew he would be tested and tempted (yet another passion/suffering). It is unclear if he knew how quickly the suffering will begin, but suffice it to say, it was immediate. When he returned to Jerusalem for Passover, he found the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a defacto market place. All four (4) canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus ran the livestock and the merchants out, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers. He then began to heal the sick and to teach, thus restoring the temple to its original purpose.

“‘People who eat too much or too little or who sleep too much or too little will not succeed in meditation. Eat only food that does not heat up the body or excite the mind. When you balance and regulate your habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing, then meditation dissolves sorrow and destroys mental pain.’

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.16 – 6.17) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

When we don’t treat our mind-bodies as respected temples, we suffer and are sometimes not able to do the things we need and want to do. Even if you’re getting some exercise, resting, and drinking a lot of water, the very nature of the last two years – extra sitting around, lack of routine, poor eating choices, stress, and isolation – means that all (or most) of us are out of balance. When we get out of balance, we need more of something to get back into balance. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes more water, sometimes more movement. Sometimes we need someone, like that Blaisdell lifeguard, to gently and kindly remind us what we’re doing – or not doing – is going to throw us out of balance. Other times, we just need them to quietly be present and we sort ourselves out. (Just for the record, that lifeguard did that for me too – and on the very next day no less!)

I will often refer to the fact that our bodies are mostly water as a reason why movement feels good. We are meant to flow and slosh all that salty water around a little. It’s a great visual, and it’s true on a certain level. However, there are even more scientific reasons why it’s good to stay active. One of those reasons is our lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system.

Our lymphatic system helps keep us healthy by providing proteins and other nutrients to healthy cells, while simultaneously brushing away dead, damaged, and infected cells. It also maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, as well as aiding in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Unlike the cardiovascular system, however, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. If we want lymph to bring nutrients to healthy cells and also brush/rinse away dead or damaged cells, we have to move our bodies. Any kind of movement is helpful, especially if it engages the whole body. Most physical practices of yoga engage and move your whole body in a very systematic way. So, you could say that the physical practice of yoga almost always has an element of detoxification. There are, however, certain poses and sequences that are considered detoxifying in nature.

Holy Monday, or Passion Monday, is one of the days when I suggest a “detox flow” that involves good amount of muscle engagement – to get the lymph flowing – and a fair amount of twists. In some ancient medicines and philosophies, discomfort and disease is associated with blocked or stagnate energy and so the movement is also a way to unblock the energy. The twists, like many of the other poses in the sequence, have the additional benefit of creating space by helping us loosen up tension we may not even realize we are holding and also offering a gentle massage to the abdominal cavity and low back. But, there’s another twist to the twists. Energetically speaking, with regard to yoga, the twists engage our third chakra (or “wheel’), which is related to our sense of self, our self-esteem, our personality, and how we see ourselves in the world. This is the exact area you want strengthened (or opened) when someone is questioning your authority to do what you do.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.”

*

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” 

*

“And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

*

– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:24 – 26, KJV)

According to the gospels, children praised Jesus and this, along with everything else, riled up the establishment. In three (3) of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) several groups of the establishment questioned Jesus’ authority and his views on taxes. First he was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” To which, Jesus asked his own question (see above) regarding the authority of the then wildly popular John the Baptist. Of course, this was a tricky question for the elders; because, if they said that John the Baptist’s authority came from God, well then so did Jesus’s and therefore he was unquestionable. If, however, they said that Jesus’s cousin was empowered only by the people, well, the people might revolt. In that moment, they could not answer.

Later, in another attempt to trap Jesus, the elders asked him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. He asked them to show him a coin suitable for payment and, when they presented a coin with a Roman face on the front – specifically, Caesar’s face – Jesus said, “’Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’.” (Matthew 22:21)

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

*

– a person who thought I worked at a garden story because “you’re wearing a fanny pack,” even though none of the employees (wearing branded clothing) wore a fanny pack

In his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, the neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out that “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” This idea is very much in keeping with what Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sūtras and is why someone in a garden shop thought I worked there. It’s also why so many people in Minnesota were surprised when they walked in a studio (or a rooftop) and discovered the yoga teacher of the day looked like me. Sometimes such reactions were funny to me, but they were also exhausting. Even more ironic, exhausting, and heartbreaking, when you know the historical roots of yoga, was when people would question the authority of a brown-skinned man who was teaching yoga. After all, yoga – like Buddhism – started in a time and place where all (official) teachers were male and brown-skinned.

Of course, the world changes. It’s constantly changing. The lived reality of these ancient practices is not, necessarily, the modern experience. So, we are in the habit – in this country, at least – of questioning anything we perceive as different from the status quo. This questioning, however, extends beyond expectations around gender roles and how we understand someone’s role based on race; it also bumps us up against are own biases (unconscious or otherwise) about weight, height, class, age, and ability.

All of the aforementioned biases (and even those I did not mention) are why practices like meditation, self-study, and discernment are so instrumental to our individual and collective progression and evolution. They are also part of the reason I offer biographic stories as well as religious stories as a focal point for self-study – even to people who may not know about or believe in a particular system. By learning about the world, we learn about ourselves. By turning inward, we confront our biases and open up to the possibility of seeing things differently. We start to think differently. Changing our perceptions and our understanding of our past means that we open up to the possibility of seeing a different future – maybe, even, a more inclusive reality.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet it sees only what the mind/intellect shows it.”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Here is something I played on that never-to-be-forgotten Holy Monday after I ate that aforementioned giant chocolate bar.

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Lent and Great Lent are based on Easter, which is a moveable feast in all Christian traditions and, therefore, occurs on different dates on the Gregorian calendar. I did not really incorporate the birthdays (or poetry) of Misuzo Kaneko (b. 04/11/1903) and Mark Strand (b. 04/11/1934) into this years practice. You can click here for the 2018 post and here for the 2019 post, if you are interested in their lives and poetry.

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“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

*

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

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### Get Your Mind Clean, And The Rest Will Follow (to paraphrase En Vogue) ###

First Friday Night Special #15: “A Reflective Moment” (a post practice post) January 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Love, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy 2022, Everyone!

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #15 from January 7th. This practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians (but with a little more back bending than the last two Yin Yoga practices.

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

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

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

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Yoga practice (on or off the mat) is an opportunity to grow and to learn about one’s self and the world around us.  It’s a safe time and place to turn inward and observe how our mind-bodies respond and react to ourselves and the world around us. It’s a great time to is a place to explore, experiment, learn, and play. For this reason, I sometimes liken the practice (on the mat) to time in a laboratory or classroom, or even on a playground. And I think it’s appropriate to show up with a sense of curiosity, wonder, possibilities, and faith – prepared to see what happens.

Curiosity, wonder, possibilities, faith, and preparation are concepts that I have repeatedly highlighted during this week’s practices, because they are concepts shared by explorers, (physical) scientists, philosophers, and the (religious and/or spiritually) faithful. When we show up on the mat, we have the opportunity to be all of the above and also  to embody all of those attributes. We have the opportunity, as Dr. Beau Lotto has said (in defining science), to “play with purpose.” We can look at that “purpose” as finding out more about ourselves; however, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali makes it very clear that by going deeper into ourselves, we go deeper in to the world. We are, after all, microcosms of the world… which is a microcosm of the solar system… which is a microcosm of the galaxy… which is a microcosm of the universe. Which is kind of a long way to say that by observing our self, we can learn about the cosmos.

Just because we can, theoretically, learn about the cosmos by going deeper into ourselves, does not mean that we are the center of the universe. Some ancient philosophers perpetuated a geocentric model of the Universe, whereby everything revolved around Earth. In 1543, one of the last things Nicolaus Copernicus did was present a mathematical “theory” – based on observation – indicating that the Sun was actually the center of everything. This heliocentric model created a paradigm shift for almost everyone in the Western world, with the exception of the Catholic Church… and it’s scientists. In fact, as the Scientific Revolution ushered in more advanced technology and better observations, scientists like Tycho Brahe used their more accurate data to develop a geoheliocentric model, whereby the Sun still revolved around the Earth, but everything else revolved around the Sun.

Other scientists, in other countries, had developed similar models based on their own observations, but the Tychonic model was more than a collection of data points. In some ways, it was a desperate attempt to stay in the Church’s favor and to hold on to the old status quo. However, when Tycho unexpectedly died in October of 1601 (from an issue related to his urinary bladder and kidneys, see the practice), his assistant Johannes Kepler took over his work. Kepler and Tycho had a decent working relationship, but Kepler was convinced Tycho was coming to the wrong conclusions and proceeded accordingly as the imperial mathematician. Galileo Galilei, also a believer in Copernicus’s ideas, would further expand the ideas of Kepler. He did so, through more observations and the realization of what he was seeing.

But now, Most Serene Prince, we are able to augur truer and more felicitous things for Your Highness, for scarcely have the immortal graces of your soul begun to shine forth on earth than bright stars offer themselves in the heavens which, like tongues, will speak of and celebrate your most excellent virtues for all time. Behold therefore, four stars reserved for your illustrious name, and not of the common sort and multitude of the less notable fixed stars, but of the illustrious order of wandering stars, which, indeed, make their journeys and orbits with a marvelous speed around the star of Jupiter, the most noble of them all, with mutually different motions, like children of the same family, while meanwhile all together, in mutual harmony, complete their great revolutions every twelve years about the center of the world, that is, about the Sun itself. Indeed, it appears that the Maker of the Stars himself, by clear arguments, admonished me to call these new planets by the illustrious name of Your Highness before all others. For as these stars, like the offspring worthy of Jupiter, never depart from his side except for the smallest distance, so who does not know the clemency, the gentleness of spirit, the agreeableness of manners, the splendor of the royal blood, the majesty in actions, and the breadth of authority and rule over others, all of which qualities find a domicile and exaltation for themselves in Your Highness? Who, I say, does not know that all these emanate from the most benign star of Jupiter, after God the source of all good?

 

– quoted from Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo Galilei

Despite (or because of) the fact that he was in the middle of a long lineage of notable astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, Galileo Galilei is the one remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense when you consider that “insight” is “seeing things in a special way.” Thanks to advancements in telescope technology, Galileo was able to see things others had not seen. Similar to the Magi, he looked up instead of down (as others did) and sometime between December of 1609 and the beginning of January of 1610, he noticed three bright, shiny objects near Jupiter. At first he thought he was seeing stars (or new planets), invisible to the naked eye, but clear when using a telescope that magnified up to 20x. Over time, however, he chronicled the movement of these “stars” and realized there were four, not three, and that they weren’t giving off their own light, they were reflecting light. They weren’t stars/suns; they were moons orbiting Jupiter.

And, as it turns out, there were more than four – but that’s another story, for a different day.

Galileo first mentioned the celestial orbs in a letter dated January 7, 1610. He tracked and documented the movement of the spheres from January 8th until March 2nd. After seeking the counsel of an advisor to Cosimo II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609-1621), Galileo named the objects the “Medicean Stars” and published his findings on March 13, 1610. In order to secure the Medici’s as patrons, he had a copy of his work, and the telescope he used the see the heavens, delivered to the Grand Duke a few days later. In 1632, he would dedicate his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to Cosimo’s oldest son, Ferdinando II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1621-1670). This “dialogue” exploring the scientific merits of the Copernican view of things (heliocentric) versus the Ptolemaic view of things (geocentric) eventually landed Galileo Galilei in hot water with the Catholic Church.

A German astronomer, Simon Marius, made similar observations in December of 1609 and started documenting his observations on December 29th (according to the Julian calendar). Even though he was exonerated, because his documentation started on January 8th (according to the Gregorian calendar), Simon Marius’s reputation was tainted by accusations of plagiarism and an ongoing dispute with Galileo. If you have ever been confused by the names of Jupiter’s moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (names suggested to Marius by Johannes Kepler) vs I, II, III, IV (as Galileo noted them in his notebooks and discussion) – you can blame it on the calendars… or the scientists’ egos.

“There was no doubt in Galileo’s mind of the authenticity and importance of the discoveries he announced, and since he wished to have them reach astronomers and philosophers all over Europe as quickly as possible he addressed his book to them and wrote it in Latin. He called it the Sidereus Nuncius, which was generally taken to mean ‘the messenger of the stars,’ not only by Galileo’s contemporaries but by the translators in succeeding generations. Several booklets appeared in reply with titles referring to this ‘messenger,’ and there were allusions to this idea in many poems and literary works. Galileo did not correct these authors, but he may not have meant the title to be so interpreted. Several years later a Jesuit critic assailed him for having presented himself as the ambassador of heaven; in the margin of his copy of this attach Galileo noted that the word nuncius means ‘message’ as well as ‘messenger,’ and asserted that he had intended only the humbler meaning. On the basis of this and other evidence, modern scholars have suggested that the word in question has always been mistranslated in this title.

 

– quoted from “Introduction: First Part” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stillman Drake

It may seem like a “stretch” to connect Galileo Galilei (and the moons of Jupiter) with one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance; however, in many ways, Zora Neale Hurston was first and foremost an observational researcher. Born January 7, 1891, her science was people and her “message” was for the people. She was an anthropologist, as well as an author of fiction, plays, short stories, and essays. Like Galileo, she changed the way people saw the world. In her case, she changed the way African-Americans and Caribbeans were portrayed in literature. Also like Galileo, she based her work on real time observations.

Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, Black people in America were mostly portrayed as stereotypes and caricatures, often without any redeeming independent qualities or motivations. Ms. Hurston’s own lived experiences didn’t fit into those commonly circulated boxes. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama and moved to Eatonville, Florida – one of the first all-Black incorporated towns in the United States – when she was three. Her father was a man of certain means, who became the town’s mayor and the Baptist minister of the town’s largest church. When her mother died (when Zora Neale Hurston was thirteen), and her father married soon after, the future writer was shipped off to boarding schools and relatives in in Jacksonville, Florida.

The stark difference between her two environments and the class differences between her primary family and her extended family was notable. Furthermore, those differences left an impact on a young woman who’s curiosity was being fueled by her education. After graduating from the high school division of a prominent HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), she started her undergraduate degree at Howard University, another prominent HBCU, and started establishing herself as an influential part of the literati. She was one of the early members of Zeta Phi Beta, the third African-American sorority; co-founded the university’s student newspaper, The Hilltop (which was the first, and is still the only, HBCU daily paper); and was invited to join Dr. Alan Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.

“’Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.’”

 – Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching Gog by Zora Neale Hurston

She left Howard without her bachelor’s degree, but was eventually offered a scholarship to Columbia University’s Bernard College. She was the only black student at the all women’s college. Once again, she was in a unique position to observe the differences between people and cultures; but, what really interested her were the similarities. She studied ethnography and conducted research with Dr. Franz Boas, known as the “Father of American Anthropology” and Dr. Ruth Benedict, and was a student during the time that Dr. Margaret Mead was finishing up her graduate studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1928 and spent an additional two years pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia.

It was while she was conducting research with “Papa Franz” that Zora Neale Hurston discovered her scholastic approach to research wouldn’t get her very far in the field(s). It was also during this time that she received the patronage of Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white socialite and philanthropist who also supported other Harlem Renaissance artists, like Langston Hughes. Like Galileo, Ms. Hurston found that the support of the wealthy was a double-edged sword; because the “Godmother” of the Harlem Renaissance wanted control over the artists and their work – even scholastic research around music, folklore, hoodoo (also known as “Lowcountry Voodoo”), and other aspects of Southern culture. Trying to balance the academic requirements of her advisor, along with the demands of her patron – not to mention her newly formed friendships within the Black arts community and her own burgeoning career as an author – proved to be too much, especially since she was also a newlywed.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

I was extremely proud that Papa Franz felt like sending me on that folklore search. As is well known, Dr. Franz Boas of the Department of Anthropology of Columbia University, is the greatest anthropologist alive, for two reasons. The first is his insatiable hunger for knowledge and then more knowledge; and the second is his genius for pure objectivity. He has no pet wishes to prove. His instructions are to go out and find what is there. He outlines his theory, but if the facts do not agree with it, he would not wrap a jot or dot of the findings to save his theory. So knowing all this, I was proud that he trusted me….

My first six months were disappointing. I found out later that it was not because I had no talents for research, but because I did not have the right approach.”

 – quoted from the autobiographical essay “Research” in Dust Tracks On A Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Ultimately, however, she didn’t need the degree so much as she needed the experience and the material. Her work includes the semi-autobiographical novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published in 1934, and Mules and Men, an autoethnographical collection of African-American folklore, in 1935. She received support from the Guggenheim Foundation in order to conduct research about voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, which resulted in Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (published in 1938). Her published views on race relations and, in particular, how race relations in the United States affected women of color led her to cover the trial of Ruby McCollum for the Pittsburgh Courier (Fall – Winter, 1953). In 1937, she published Their Eyes Were Watching God, her best known (and arguably) most influential novel, and followed that up, two years later, with Moses, Man of the Mountain, a re-telling and re-centering of The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus (from the Bible) based on an African-American perspective – which, given the timing, has also been viewed as an overall criticism of fascism and the Nazi regime.

Throughout her career, Zora Neale Hurston received criticism for using dialects, for her conservative political views, and for [not doing enough for the Black race]. Even though the she was influential during the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston spent her final days in a welfare home and was buried in an unmarked grave. Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, and Hurston-scholar Charlotte D. Hunt commissioned a grave marker for the woman who had inspired them and were responsible for helping new generations discover short stories like “Spunk” (1925) and the folklore in Every Tongue Got To Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States (collected in the 1920’s and published posthumously in 2001).

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. ”

 – quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“And when [Nanny] gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”

– quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“’I love myself when I am laughing.

And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’”

– “Zora Neale Hurston, in a letter to Carl Van Vechten, December 10, 1934, referring to a series of photographers he had taken of her” as quoted in I Love Myself when I Am Laughing.. and Then Again when I Am Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader Edited by Alice Walker (Introduction by Mary Helen Washington)

### Love No Matter What ###

First Friday Night Special #14: “What’s at the Edge of Your Light?” (a “missing” post practice post) December 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” for those who are celebrating. May everyone’s light shine long after the holiday.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #14 from December 3rd. This Chanukah-inspired practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians.

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

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

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

“We have arranged and furnished the different spaces in our Cove to reflect the brain’s movement between the two poles of creativity and efficiency, as well as the fact that spaces strongly affect our perceptions while we are occupying them. For instance, dimmer light increases creativity, whereas brighter light improves analytical thinking. Ceiling height improves abstract and relational thinking, and lower ceilings do the opposite. A view of generative landscapes improves generativity, whereas mild exertion temporarily improves memory and attention.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

An asana (“seat”) practice involves moving the body around, positioning the body in different ways to generate different effects – in much the same way one might shift around their living/working space. Of course, people have different needs and different understandings of the needs. Not to mention the fact that different configurations can produce similar effects.  So, it’s no wonder that there are a lot of different ways to physically practice yoga.

The different styles and traditions of the physical practice of yoga range in intensity and quantity of movement. There are very active, solar, yang-like practices on one end of the spectrum. These are practices like Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and other forms of vinyasa (as well as Hot Yoga) that tap into the sympathetic nervous system and involve a lot of doing. Then there are very passive, lunar, yin-like practices on the other end of the spectrum. These practices stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and are all about resting, digesting, and creating. These practices can feel the most like seated meditation and, therefore, are great for contemplation.

For the most part, these physical practices of yoga – along with their sister science, Ayurveda (as they come to us from India) – are based on the energetic mapping system consisting of nadis, marmani, and chakras. YIN Yoga, on the other hand, is based on the energetic system found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which consists of meridians (and points along those meridians). According to each system, the vitality of the mind-body (and the mind-body’s organs) can be accessed in very specific ways. On the outside, YIN Yoga can look like Restorative Yoga; however, the intention and execution of the practices is very different. Ultimately, the effects of the practices are also very different. 

Urinary bladder and kidney meridians are associated with water, the emotion of fear (which, in Eastern philosophies, is often considered the opposite of wisdom), and winter. The pair are also associated with the month of December and 12 AM, which are considered the most YIN time(s) of the year/day. From the perspective of Nature, these are times of stillness… and darkness. These are times to turn inward.

“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”

 
 

– Anna Freud, psychoanalyst and teacher

Many people might think of Anna Freud (born December 3, 1895) as living in her father’s shadow. Really, as the youngest of six, some might think that she lived in her whole family’s shadow. It’s possible that being in everyone’s shadow gave her the perspective needed to see possibilities for other children. Either way, she didn’t stay in the shadows for long. She made a name for herself – first as a primary (or elementary) school teacher and then as a psychoanalyst. Her work as a psychoanalyst was slightly different from that of her illustrious father. She focused on the functions and benefits of a healthy ego and was able to parlay her experience in as an educator to become one of the pioneers of child psychology.

In her late twenties, Anna Freud presented a paper to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society and then became a member. Within a year of joining the society, she was serving as its chairperson and had established her own practice (for children). In 1925, she started teaching her techniques and approach at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. In 1927, she published her system. She spent nine years as the Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute and then, ten years after she started teaching, she became the institute’s director. A year later, in 1936, she published her groundbreaking study, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, which postulated the ways by which humans protect themselves. Her ideas around these methods – including repression (which she said develop naturally and unconsciously in children); projection (of one’s own feelings onto another); directing aggressive behavior towards one’s self; identification with an overpowering aggressor; and divorcing ideas from feelings – became one of the cornerstones of adolescent psychology.

After the Nazi’s annexed Austria in March of 1938, Anna Freud was interrogated by the Gestapo. Being a Jewish woman and an intellectual, she had good reason to fear the worst and was prepared to protect herself using one of the same methods she had described in her work. She was eventually allowed to return home and, when her father was offered a way out of Vienna, she organized the Freud family’s immigration to London. In England, she not only continued her work, she broadened it. First she focused on the effects of war on children and their development. Later, after she had spent some time traveling and lecturing in the United States, she broadened her horizons and began studying the effects of being emotionally and/or social deprived and/or disadvantaged. She also did some work around how crime affected children’s development and published her collaborations with regard to laws and policies that could help children thrive.

“When she was eighty-five, a depressed young man sent her a lament about the chaotic state of the world, and she sent him a succinct statement of her credo: ‘I agree with you wholeheartedly that things are not as we would like them to be. However, my feeling is that there is only one way to deal with it, namely to try and be all right oneself, and to create around one at least a small circle where matters are arranged as one wants them to be.’

 

– quoted from “Preface to the First Edition” of Anna Freud: A Biography (second edition) by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

This week’s practices were inspired by Chanukah, the Jewish festival of light, and a series of light-related question:

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

With the exception of question number 2 (on Tuesday), I provided some information related to the questions, but no real answers – because (spoiler alert) the questions are not for me to answer. What I mean is that they are not for me to answer on your behalf. The questions (even Tuesday’s) are for you to contemplate, meditate, live and breathe. They are a form of practice.

Just to be clear, all of these light-related questions are connected to each of our “fields of possibilities” and are an opportunity to consider how you might arrange that “small circle” that Anna Freud referenced. 

Friday’s question, like Monday’s question, can be taken in more than one way. It could be asking you to consider what you can see sitting right on the edge of your light, just before there is darkness. In other words, what is an obvious possibility for you? What aren’t you doing right in this moment, but you could be doing in the next few (metaphorical) moments?

If, on the other hand, you think of the edge of light as twilight (like dusk or dawn), then the question becomes about those little whispers of possibility in the back of your mind or heart, that you’re not necessarily working towards… but in a direction that you could start working. Of course, in this case, you could also start working in a different direction.

Or, the question could be asking you to consider what you can’t (yet) see, because it is sitting on the dark, just beyond the light. This might be something that someone else might be able to see you doing –  because they have a different picture of you – but you have to move (i.e., change your perspective) and/or “shine a little brighter” in order for that possibility to come into the light. 

Finally, it could be asking all of the above. 

“Darkness. Few things frighten us more. The fear it creates is a constant in our existence: The living darkness of our bedrooms after our parents turn out the lights. The pregnant darkness beyond the glow of the bonfire as we listen to ‘spooky’ stories. The ancient darkness of the forest as we walk past deep shadows between trees. The shivering darkness of our own home when we step inside wondering if we’re alone.

Darkness is a fundamental, existential fear because it contains all the fears that we carry with us in our brains – fears both real and imagined, engendered from living life and from the life lived in stories, from culture, from fairytales.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

Of course, as you consider your light – and what it symbolizes – you must also consider the dark. After all, we don’t really appreciate the light, until we contrast it with the dark. During Friday’s class I shared a little fear I experienced driving my old truck in the city (where there were so many bright lights that I couldn’t see my own headlights) and how that fear was, ironically, alleviated, when I was driving in the country where there were less cars and street lights. It’s a weird scenario, I know; but in the latter case I had a better understanding of my reference points, a better (and more consistent) understanding of where the light ended and the darkness began. You can think of it as a better understanding of the safety of what is known/seen versus the danger of what is unknown/unseen.

This holds true with all the different paradigms: good and evil, life and death, love and hate, knowledge and ignorance, kindness and anger/frustration, hope and despair, wisdom and fear; etc. We appreciate what we have more when there is the possibility of not having it. However, we can’t truly appreciate what we don’t have (or can’t see ourselves having).

Another way to look at this idea is vis-à-vis proprioception. Remember, when the “brain finds the body in space” and realizes it has more room, it stretches out. When the mind-body bumps into an obstacle, it pulls back. In was very similar to the defense mechanisms described by Anna Freud, when we faced with the danger that we perceive as failure (or other people’s judgements), we pull back.

The Chanukah story (and the miracles within the story) highlight how all of the things that can be symbolized by darkness are overcome by the things that are symbolized by light. The story is very different if people – specifically Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that follow them – don’t let their lights shine (metaphorically speaking). If we think of fate as history and destiny as their future, the story is really different if they don’t know (and believe) the stories of their ancestors. The story is very different if they cannot see beyond the darkness. 

“‘Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of inextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.'”

 

– the character Charles Marlow speaking of Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychiv, Russian Empire (in what is now Ukraine, but was originally part of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland) in 1857, Joseph Conrad was known as “Konrad” by his Polish family. If you look at his family history, you might think that he was fated (or destined) to be a writer. Given the cultural interactions and socio-political clashes that he experienced growing up, perhaps he was even destined to write the dark plots and twisted characters that are found in his novellas. Dark plots and twisted characters that are often the subject of criticism and debate and sometimes analyzed through a (Sigmund) Freudian lens. Personally, I wonder what Anna Freud might have said about how his experiences informed his topics; but she was only three when the Heart of Darkness was serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine (February, March, and April of 1899) and only five when the last portion of Lord Jim appeared in the same magazine. 

When Anna Freud said, “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training,she could have easily been talking about the “Prince of Darkness,” John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne. Born in November 3, 1948, the lead singer of Black Sabbath has a reading disorder, was abused as a child, dropped out of school at 15, spent some prison (as a young man), and discovered late in life that he was suffering from an undiagnosed central nervous system disorder. He worked at a variety of trades, but was inspired to be a singer at a very young age. Despite (or maybe because of) his childhood trauma, he persevered. But, there was a cost and a toll and a lot of darkness that played out in the music and on the stage. That cost, toll, and darkness have included years of substance abuse, mixed in with periods of sobriety, and criticism about how his music and behavior have (negatively) impacted young people. That criticism has included him being banned from certain cities and several lawsuits surround death and violence that people have attributed to his music.

“People look to me and say
Is the end near, when is the final day?
What’s the future of mankind?
How do I know, I got left behind

Everyone goes through changes
Looking to find the truth
Don’t look at me for answers
Don’t ask me, I don’t know”

– quoted from the song “I Don’t Know” by Ozzy Osbourne

For some, there is only one answer to all the mysteries, coincidence, and miracles that occur within the Chanukah story: that answer is God. For others, however, the answer is like the that song and lyric by Ozzy Osbourne: “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” is also one of the the reason I don’t answer all the questions I ask in class. Or, at least, one of the reasons I don’t answer them for you. At the end of the day, each of us to focus on our own inner light; figure out how we show up shine in the world; notice the situations that enable us to shine our brightest; and also notices “what’s at the edge of [our] light.” There’s a few more questions in this rubric, but consider how the answers start pointing you in certain directions. Notice how the questions and their answers can start opening up your field of possibilities.

Sometimes it may seem like you are wearing a head lamp (or heart lamp) and you’re moving in a way that changes your field of awareness. And that’s fine, that happens – it’s part of life and part of the practice. But, sometimes, we experience a brightening and a widening of our field. Sometimes we find that what we couldn’t imagine was actually just outside our field of vision: It was always there, waiting for us.

Yes, eventually, what is waiting for us all is Death. But, prior to that, there is an opportunity, “one tiny moment in time / For life to shine to shine / Burn away the darkness /”

“An old woman living in a nightmare, an old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won. Now she’s faced with a grim decision—whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

“There was an old woman who lived in a room. And, like all of us, was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us in, or out of, the Twilight Zone.”

– “Opening” and “Closing” narration, quoted from “Episode 81 (3.16) – ‘Nothing in the Dark'” of The Twilight Zone (premiered January 5, 1962)

Friday’s music is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Eve/Day 6) for 12032021”]

Note: The YouTube and Spotify playlists are slightly different. Track 12 on YouTube is Track 1 on Spotify (and can be used interchangeably).

“‘Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“‘” The horror! The horror!’

“I blew the candle out and left the cabin….”

 

– the character Charles Marlow describing Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

### “…take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. Outside the dividing curtain of the testimony in the Tent of Meeting, Aaron shall set it up before the Lord from evening to morning continually. [This shall be] an eternal statute for your generations.” (V-L 24:2-3)

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

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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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. ]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###