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Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

*

When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

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– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

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– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

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– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

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– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

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– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

*

– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

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“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

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The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

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– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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

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

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### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###

Curious About… You (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 14th. 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. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

Q: What’s the perfect gift to give a Tibetan Buddhist nun on her birthday?

A: Nothing.

I have more “punny” Buddhist jokes where that came from; however, since some people appreciate seriousness in their practice, I will move it along.

Wednesday was the 85th birthday of the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. About eight years ago, Ani Pema Chödrön, who was born in New York City on July 14, 1936, asked that people observe her birthday by practicing peace. Of course, even if we were to practice in a vacuum, peace requires some compassion and loving-kindness. The practice also requires going a little deeper into our sore spots, our tender spots, our tight and raw spots. You know the spots I mean: those spots people poke and push to get us “hooked.”

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

We begin each practice with what some might call a prayer, a wish, or a plea for peace. We also begin with a personal intention. Sometimes we breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Every once in a while I remind you to remember your personal intention. Sometimes we even end with a reminder that peace begins within. However, it can be hard to find peace when someone is continuously doing something (to us or around us) that doesn’t feel very peaceful – or loving and kind. Perhaps we can cultivate some softness, some compassion even, when we recognize that the other person is doing their best. But, even then, there are times when we just feel ourselves getting hot under the collar and losing our awareness. That’s what happens when our buttons get pushed: we lose awareness of who we are and what we’re all about. To borrow a metaphor from Anushka Fernandopulle, we get on the “Peace” Train and suddenly find ourselves headed towards, “OMG, I’m So Pissed”ville.

In the process of that journey, we forget our original intention and we forget all about that “peace within us” (let alone that “peace all around us”).

For almost ten years now, I have spent the month of July sharing Pema Chödrön’s teachings around shenpa and the four R’s: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve. I like to also add a fifth R: Remember. This is not the only time I share these teachings; however, it is nice to have a dedicated period of time to really focus-concentrate-mediate on the ways we can get “unhooked.” It also coincides nicely with the Dalai Lama’s birthday and, since it’s midway through the year, it’s also a nice time to remind people that what we do on the mat, can translate into practices off the mat.

A lot of times I use examples similar to the very obvious ones in the quote above. However, since we are usually hooked by our ego – and since I recently mentioned the power of familiarity – this week I pointed out that sometimes the really pretty, shiny lure that hides the sharp hook of suffering is actually our habit of doing things a certain way.

Yes, big surprise (and another Buddhist joke in the making) – we get hooked by our attachments.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

– Ernő Rubik

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy have practices around attachment that involve our belief (sometimes our mistaken belief) that we know something. Maybe we know something is right; maybe we know something is wrong. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we have the belief, we’re attached to the belief, and (therefore) the belief can cause suffering.

Both philosophies encourage us to not only question what we believe, but also to be curious about what we believe, why we believe it, and what’s on the other side of our beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) is the practice of approaching a subject as if for the first time. In Yoga, the second niyamā (internal “observation”) is santoşa which is “contentment.” Both practices require the openness and eagerness to learn that we observe in small children. Both practices cultivate an open-heartedness that, when applied in our relationships, can allow us to be more generous with the attributes of our hearts and less generous with our judgement. Both practices require us to show-up and be present with what is – and both practices give us insight into ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to a new yoga class with a new teacher. You’ve been practicing for a while, maybe you even teach or have been through a teacher training – either way, you “know your stuff.” The practice starts in a pose that you would normally practice after you’ve warmed up a bit and the teacher offers no other options. So, depending on the day you’re having, maybe you just go into a modification you know; maybe you struggle to get into the pose the way would if you were warmed up; maybe you ignore the suggestion and go into something else; or maybe you are already so fed up that you leave and that’s the end of that.

But, let’s say you stay. You breathe in. You breathe out. Your body is starting to warm up; your mind is starting to focus and – BOOM, they do it again! They cue something different from what you were expecting (and had already started doing) or something that you and the people around you clearly aren’t safely in a position to practice. And, again, they offer no other options. What do you do?

This could continue through a whole practice. And, to be clear, maybe it’s not the sequence that’s the problem. Maybe they just say things in a way that really grates on your nerves. Maybe they consistently call Downward Facing Dog a resting pose (but it’s a pose you recognize is really challenging). Maybe it’s the fact that they never offer alternative options even though most of the people in the practice are not doing what they are suggesting. Maybe there’s too much philosophy for you, maybe there’s not enough. Maybe their voice reminds you of the person with whom you just had an argument. Ultimately, the nature of the issue doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do when you’re getting annoyed.

Do you RECOGNIZE that something was happening that didn’t meet your expectations? In other words, do you Recognize that you are getting hooked? If so, do you pause for a moment and – instead of doing the thing you would normally do – REFRAIN from doing anything? Do you just take a breath and RELAX? If so, do you RESOLVE to continue with that relaxation, with that mindfulness, and with that intentionality? Do you REMEMBER why you decided to attend the practice in the first place?

Or do you leave the space, completely annoyed, frustrated, angry, and not at all peaceful?

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Years ago, I think it was on my 45th birthday, I had plans for a whole day of “wise women.” Even though it wasn’t part of my original plan, it turned out that I was going to be the first “wise woman” in my day, because I agreed to be a guest teacher at a university class on mindfulness. Then I had plans to attend a yoga practice led by one of my favorite teachers, a teacher whose practice inspires me to this day. Finally, I was going to have dinner with a group of some of the wisest women I knew at the time. The university class turned out to be an awesome way to start the day. Then I headed across town for some yoga and encountered a problem; my favorite yoga teacher was nowhere in sight. I figured she just wasn’t at the front desk; so I signed in and got settled, trying not to be too annoyed at the music that was clearly not what my favorite teacher would be playing. I was having one of my best birthdays ever… until the class started and it was being led by someone I wasn’t expecting.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I was “hooked” from the minute the sub said their hello. If you’ve heard me tell this story before you also know that instead of settling in during the integration, I was getting riled up. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a reason this teacher was at the front of the room. They had to have something to offer. And, if I could let go of my expectations, maybe I would learn something.

Ultimately, the day goes down as one of my favorite days with some of my favorite memories and the birthday rates as one of my favorite celebrations. While I never took from that (substitute) teacher again – and part of me wants to rate it as one of my least favorite classes in almost twenty years of yoga – I definitely got something out of the practice… and it’s something that continues to serve me.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

Every culture and tradition around the world places a certain level of value on the virtues of the heart. In yoga, we find instructions to meditate on the various attributes of the heart. We can also view at least three of the “powers unique to being human” as heart practices. I even think of the physical practice of yoga as a way to prepare the mind-body for those heart practices. In Buddhism, four of the “heart” practices are referred to as the “Divine Abodes” (Brahmavihārās): loving-kindness (maitrī or “mettā), compassion (karuņā), sympathetic or empathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekşā or upekkhā). Again, you find these virtues all over the world; however, what you find in contemplative traditions are the practices to cultivate these innately human powers.

Pema Chödrön’s teachings around the concept of shenpa are just one set of many practices found in Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, kōans are statements or stories (sometimes considered riddles or puzzles in a Western mind) used as a form of contemplation (although not always of meditation). Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, people use lojong or “mind training” techniques which can be held in the heart and mind during contemplation. To “sit” or even live with a phrase does not require a great deal of “thinking,” but it does require a certain amount of patience and openness. One of the goals, in practicing with such statements, is to let the teaching unfold in the same way the heart opens… in the same way a fist unclenches or a flower unfurls. In the process of these practices, one also discovers more and more about themselves, as well as about the world.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable….

 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”

 

– quoted from “1. Loving-Kindness” in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07142020 Compassion & Peace for Pema”]
 

“Prince Guatama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

Check out last year’s post on this date (and follow the dates for more on the practice)!

 

### WHY ARE YOU HERE, AGAIN? ###

LIFT YOUR LIGHT, LET YOUR POWER SHINE! June 17, 2020

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FRIEND [Old English, with Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German words “to love,” also related to “free”] 1. One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.

 

“FRIEND’SHIP, noun frend’ship. 1. An attachment to a person, proceeding from intimate acquaintance, and a reciprocation of kind offices, or from a favorable opinion of the amiable and respectable qualities of his mind. friendship differs from benevolence, which is good will to mankind in general, and from that love which springs from animal appetite. True friendship is a noble and virtuous attachment, springing from a pure source, a respect for worth or amiable qualities. False friendship may subsist between bad men, as between thieves and pirates. This is a temporary attachment springing from interest, and may change in a moment to enmity and rancor.”

– partially excerpted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828

 

“Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? “

 

– President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address (March 4, 1861)

 

Let’s talk about cultivating friendships and tokens of friendship. For the last few days, I have focused on the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) we all have and, in particular, those powers or abilities which are considered by Indian philosophy to be “unique to humans.” You can read what I’ve already posted here, here, and here. Now, however, I’m going to hone in a little more on how we use those “supernormal” powers and how we express or manifest those powers.

Whenever I talk about the symbolic and energetic aspects of the chakra system, I tie each chakra to the preceding chakras in order to highlight the connection between biography and biology. Hence, when I talk about making relationships “outside of our first family, tribe, or community of birth,” I mention that how and/or if we make friends with people we (and the world) perceive as being different from us is partially determined by where we come from – our first family. (Remember, as always, that just as we are genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we are energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet.)

“Sacred Truth: Honor one another. Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” by Caroline Myss

Geography, general proximity, definitely plays a part. Even with the internet “bringing” people closer together – and despite the pandemic enforced social distancing – our strongest bonds tend to be with people in close physical proximity with us. We meet people in the middle of their stories, and we get to know them backwards and forwards (literally and metaphorically) by spending time together. The more time we spend with someone the more vulnerable we are together and the more we know each other’s hearts. The stronger the bond, the tighter it holds when friends are not physically together.

Another thing that plays a part in cultivating friendships is a common thread. We may share a common ideology, based on a correct or incorrect understanding of the world – an understanding that we started learning as a child (see first family). More often than not, however, the common thread is something we like or dislike. Whether it is a shared love of tortillas, yoga, movies, music, books, sports in general, and/or a specific sport, musician, or author, people form bonds around an attachment that is rooted in pleasure. Conversely, we can also form really strong bonds around something we don’t like, an aversion or attachment rooted in pain. And, yes, if you are following along, I’m using the same descriptions that are used to explain two of the three afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. But, before we get to that, there’s another way we bond: We bond over a shared experience.

“All people who died on that day, to me, it is like they did not die in vain. As people we managed to take out good things from bad things, to live by today, to shape ourselves and our country.”

 

– Antoinette Sithole talking about the Soweto student Uprising (06/17/1976) and the unknown “gentleman” (Mbuyisa Makhubo) and woman who helped her after her 12-year old brother Hector Pieterson was killed

 

“Mbuyisa is or was my son. But he is not a hero. In my culture, picking up Hector is not an act of heroism. It was his job as a brother. If he left him on the ground and somebody saw him jumping over Hector, he would never be able to live there.”

 

– quote from Mbuyisa Makhubo’s mother Ma’makhubu explaining why her son picked up a stranger during the Soweto student Uprising (06/17/1976)

 

Sometimes we bond over a beautiful experience. However, more often than not, really strong relationships form over a shared experience involving a very tragic or traumatic experience. Think of people that came together, and stayed together, after 9/11 or any number of mass shootings. Yesterday, at the end of class, I mentioned that it was “Youth Day” in Soweto, South Africa, a commemoration of the anti-apartheid student uprising that occurred on June 16, 1976. It was a horrible day that brought people together – just as so many horrible events are bringing people in the United States, and around the world, together today. And that’s the other thing: people can become friends because they went through similar experiences – like a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or a war – even when they didn’t go through the experiences together.

If you look back, you will note that all of the ways I mentioned about friendship involve at least one of the five afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns; thought patterns that create suffering – and all of those afflicted thought patterns are born out of ignorance. That is not to say that friendship is ignorant. In fact, it is easy to argue that friendship, community, and belonging are wise. There is a definite reason why the Buddha described sangha (“community”) as one of the three jewels. But, when we look at how we become friends with someone it is almost always based on the outside. How we stay friends, however, is based on the inside.

Granted, sometimes we stay friends with someone, because of that final afflicted thought pattern: fear of loss or death. We can all look in our circle of friends and find people we have known for some extended period of time. We may even still spend time with them. However, if we’re being honest, we don’t spend a lot of time with these people. We don’t call them – or even have a strong desire – to call them when we are struggling. They are not our go-to people in troubling times. If they reach out to us, we may wrap up the conversation quickly. These are the people that make us think, “Wait, why am I still friends with this person?” These are the people you have recently “unfriended” if you are on social media. Be honest: You’re still “friends” with some people simply because you’ve known them since preschool, grade school, high school, college, or your first job. While seem interacting with some friends may leave you feeling lighter and brighter, interactions with this latter group of friends leaves you feeling a little dull, disempowered.

“Because of these powers we are able to comprehend the invisible forces of nature and harness them to improve the quality of life. With the decline of our inner luminosity, we lose these powers to a significant degree.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 (as it relates to “dana”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

I have mentioned this week, that the first three “powers unique to humans” are mental abilities that are directly related to the final three. These final three are the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (which requires being able to identify the cause of these sorrows), the ability to cultivate “a good heart; finding friends,” and dana (“generosity” or the ability to give). I have described the last three as “heart powers,” but really and truly all six are heart powers – as they are related to discernment, the interior movements of the heart. When we look at our friendships though this lens, we can definitely see the power of our hearts. We can also see times when, and the ways in which, we are disempowered by ignorance. Society will definitely allow, even condone, a rural Republican, white man in law enforcement (who grills over 50 types of burgers on the side) to not be friends with a liberal black, vegetarian woman from a big city in the South. But, thanks in part to geography, a friendship formed – and I, for one, am richer and more powerful for it. What initially connects people is on the outside, and that may also be what inevitable separates people. What keeps people connected, however, is on the inside.

“There are many of selfish people in this world. People who think first of themselves. Don’t be like them. Don’t give in to the tyranny of your ego and self. Don’t be hateful, don’t be racist, don’t be ignorant or foolish. Learn to appreciate diversity by actually experiencing it and not just talking about it or watching it on TV or in a movie. Talk to and build a relationship with someone that the world would fully let you get away with not interacting with, simply because it’s the right thing to do and you understand that it will benefit you. It’s harder to stereotype when you actually learn someone’s name.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

 

What is on the inside is something that can only be felt. It doesn’t always have an external reference point. Yes, we can see an expression of love, a token of friendship, and understand it from our own experiences. However, when we see a parent and a child hugging, or even two children hugging, we don’t exactly know what they are feeling. We can only know how we have felt in similar circumstances. We can use those first three “powers unique to humans” (“intuitive knowledge,” words/meanings, and the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend”) in order to have an emotional, embodied experience. So, we feel the love. And, when we feel the love, we may eliminate some sorrow of our own; cultivate friendship; and/or “have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others.”

“Our power of discernment and intuitive wisdom enables us to distinguish good thoughts and feelings from bad ones, and cultivate the good ones further to enrich the virtues of our heart. The same capacity enables us to see beyond the boundaries of our little world and share our goodness with others. This capacity also motivates us to pass our achievements on to future generations.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 (as it relates to “finding friends”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Today in 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. It was a token of friendship from France and the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. Bartholdi wanted to commemorate the anniversary of the American Revolution and also acknowledge its connection to the French Revolution. He felt kinship between the nations because of how each populace had overthrown royal sovereignty and oppression. He wanted also to honor the concepts of liberty, freedom, and equality smashing the chains of slavery. Initially inspired by the image of an Arab peasant woman and his own mother, he called the statue “Liberty Enlightening the World” and felt the words and symbols of the statue would do just that – enlighten the world.

The 450,000-pound copper-colored statue arrived in 350 individual pieces shipped in over 200 cases. This included the iron scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel, who would later create the Eiffel Tower. Lady Liberty would be reassembled and dedicated the following year; but, there was a moment where this symbol of freedom and democracy seemed destined to collect dust like a puzzle someone decided not to put together. The project ran out of money. Who knows what would have happened if not for the general populace in both countries. The statue cost France an estimated $250,000 (about $5.5 million today). The United States was responsible for funding and building the pedestal, another $##. Fundraising efforts on both sides of the Atlantic included auctions, a lottery, and boxing matches. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer started a drive that attracted over 120,000 contributors. Remember, this was long before the internet and social media. Some people could only donate a dollar, but most donated less than that.

Emma Lazarus, an author and Jewish activist, wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883 and auctioned it off during one of the fundraising efforts featuring original art and manuscripts. Lines from the poem would eventually be inscribed on the pedestal, but Lazarus initial declined the opportunity to participate in the auction. She said she couldn’t write a poem about a statue. In fact, what she eventually wrote was a gift of empathetic friendship for Jewish refugees. Part of her philanthropic efforts in the world included helping refugees who had fled anti-Semetic pogroms in Europe and Lazarus saw the refugees living in conditions that were outside of her privileged experience. Lazurus used her first three powers to supercharge her final three powers and, in doing so, she empowered the heart encased in Bartholdi’s statue and generations of hearts who have since read her words.

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

 

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 17th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice where we will empower the extensions of our hearts. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlist starts with instrumental music. If your Spotify is on shuffle, you will want your music volume low at the beginning of the practice.)

 

 

 

### MO’ METTĀ, LESS BLUES ###

Abe Lincoln’s House June 16, 2020

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“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’”

The Gospel According to Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

 

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed –

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

“Have we no tendency to the latter condition?”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Ask any historian, biographer, or movie maker (not to mention some serious Civil War re-enactors) and they can easily identify a handful of defining moments in the life of President Abraham Lincoln. These moments that highlight the evolution of Lincoln’s life as a public figure also outline the shape of the United States – then and now. I say “then and now,” because when you read or listen to the words of Abraham Lincoln you find they still resonate and hold true. It doesn’t matter if you consider his “House Divided” Speech (in Springfield, Illinois, today in 1858), which launched his unsuccessful bid to unseat the Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas; his Union Cooper Speech (in New York City, February 27, 1860), which solidified his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate – and some say contributed to him winning the race; the very short, yet incredibly memorable and poignant  Gettysburg Address (on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863); or his Second Inaugural Address (in Washington, D. C., March 4, 1865). Pick one, it doesn’t matter which one, and you will find that his words regarding the issue of slavery in the United States and its territories are still relevant. You need not even change the words. Although, one must note that he was referencing Biblical text and “current events,” the details of which did not always need elaboration in the 1860’s, but which may be unfamiliar to some modern-folks.

“At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that quarrel the latter [Senator Douglas] declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

Just as I am astounded when I feel the relevance of 19th century speeches and essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I am flabbergasted by the similarities in Lincoln’s America and our modern day America – specifically as it relates to what divides us. The difference, however, is that what I feel whenever I look at Emerson’s work is awe and fascination. What I feel when I look at Lincoln’s work, today, is sick to my stomach.… Because, for all intents and purposes, Lincoln is talking about me…and most of my family.

“The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. The working points of that machinery are: Firstly, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of that provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that – ‘The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.’

Secondly, that ‘subject to the Constitution of the United States,’ neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory. This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

As I post this, I have not decided exactly how I will approach today’s class. Part of me feels that I cannot approach it in the same abstract, philosophical and symbolic way I have approached previous classes on Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech or the Gettysburg address. Part of me feels we all need more than a historical reminder. Part of me feels we need to activate something powerful.

That feeling of wanting to activate something powerful was part of the inspiration for yesterday’s blog and Common Ground Meditation Center class. I focused on the siddhis or “powers” described in the yoga and sāmkhya philosophies – and, in particular those six abilities or powers which are “unique to humans.” The first three (related to intuition, communication, and analysis (with comprehension) lead to the final three. The final three (related to the elimination of three-fold sorrow, the cultivation of friendship, and the power of generosity) can be considered heart practices, just as wisdom and the brahmavihārās (or divine abodes of loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy) are heart practices in Buddhism. Notice that there is a definitive overlap between wisdom, friendship, compassion, and generosity. The other thing that strikes me is how Lincoln’s words dovetail with the commentary of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, (specifically as it relates to generosity): “This joy is the architecture of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

“We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. That is what we have to do. But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us, that he wishes any such object to be effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion.’ Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advance of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.”

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

However you look at it, the reality is that “our house” is divided [still…once again, you pick]. We are divided around the same issues of race, state rights versus civil rights, and federal sovereignty. And, we can’t go back. Going back just takes us to another form of divided.

We can talk all day about how we move forward, but we must move forward – and that requires moving out of the sympathetic nervous response of fight-flight-freeze/collapse. We can argue/debate the merits of starting something over from scratch and building from the ground up or just redecorating, but either way we have the same tainted building blocks and scorched earth. If we are to make something out the ruins, if we are to rise out of our own ashes, we must do so with the awareness that we are the same human beings that got it “wrong” the first time. Moving forward as a house divided, we are faced with the same problems and pitfalls as our ancestors. Those problems and pitfalls require us to figure out a way to come together and move forward together or, conversely, we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong, things may look different. The new normal, however, can too easily settle into a different verse of the same song. Ask yourself if you want your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren to be dealing with the “instant replay” of these same issues 50, 60, 100, 200, or 400  years from now. If you’re younger than me, do you want to be dealing with these same issues 50 or 60 years from now? ‘Cause, I’m going to be frank, we’ve been here before. This may feel new and different to some, but to others of us….

“Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser today than he was yesterday – that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong. But, can we for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish to not misrepresent Judge Doulgas’ position, question his motives, or do aught that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle. But clearly, he is not now with us – he does not pretend to be – he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends – those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work – who do care for the result.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 16th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page.)

 

A House Divided” (audio with text) by Abraham Lincoln

 

 

### “We shall not fail – if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.” AL ###

STILL RISING, STILL SINGING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

April is not only the standard month for Kiss My Asana, it’s also National Poetry Month. Every year I figure out a way to treat each class that I teach to at least one “April is Poetry Month” practice, full of poems set to music. For my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offering, I profiled poets, featured poems, and offered a practice inspired by the poet and their poetry. Since I don’t always teach on Thursdays, this year’s offering will include “Throwback Thursday” links and, at least once, a profile and poems that didn’t get posted last year.

As it happens, I am subbing today ( Thursday, April 4th) – which also happens to be the anniversary of the birth one of our greatest poets, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou would have turned 91 today.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

The more I see people suffering, fearing, and living in confusion, the more I am amazed by the heart’s ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, and even playful. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that we have a limited capacity for pain – there is only so much anyone of us can handle before we pass out – but an unlimited capacity to experience love and joy. The heart rises up, always.

In Buddhism, there are four (4) Bhramaviharas (Divine Abodes, meaning that they are the “special dwelling places of the Divine”). I call them the heart practices, even though (technically) there are more than 4 “heart practices” in Buddhism. The bramaviharas are the unlimited capacity for loving-kindness or goodwill (metta), an unlimited capacity for compassion (karuna), an unlimited capacity for empathetic joy (mudita), and an unlimited capacity for equanimity (upekkah) – which serves as a checks and balance for the others. While these are attitudes believed to be inherent to the human spirit – something found deep within each heart – these are also attitudes to cultivate. And, you find techniques to cultivate these attitudes in various Buddhist traditions, but also in other major philosophies and religions.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are Lojong or “mind training” techniques, which consist of approximately 59 aphorisms or slogans that can be used as meditation points. The first states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” There are four (4) preliminaries: maintaining an awareness of the preciousness of life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; contemplate on how ego driven pursuits result in suffering.”

The other statements are also simple. One such slogan is “In all activities, train with slogans.” Another is, “Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

As you move through your practice, take a moment to offer yourself loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity awareness that all beings suffer and all beings deserve an end to that suffering). As Dr. Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Try a little tenderness.

FEATURED POSE for April 4rd: Camel Pose, hands on floor variation (Ustrasana)

Begin in table top (hands and knees to the mat), in a seated position, or in a standing position with knees bent and hands braced on the thighs. Inhale love, exhale kindness. Move though a few cycles of breath until the mantra (“love” on the inhale and “kindness” on the exhale becomes seamless.) Continuing the mantra, inhale and lift the heart and hips into cow pose. With an exhale, shift into a Halloween cat pose. Move one-breath-one motion, waking up the spine and engage the spirit of metta.

After 5 – 10 full cycles, sit back on the floor or a block with the knees and feet two (2) fists width apart or stand up straight on your feet. Make sure your knees are comfortable. Offer yourself some compassion. Scan your body and as you notice the places where you are holding discomfort and disease, think to yourself, “I see your suffering/I care about your suffering/May you be free of suffering/May the causes and conditions of your suffering end.”

Adjust your body so that it becomes more comfortable. If needed move through a series of sun salutations changing the back bend with each one so that the back bends are progressive (e.g. cow the first time, sphinx the second time, any cobra the third time, extended cobra or Upward Facing Dog the fourth time.) If needed add a twist before the first set or after the last set. Return to the earlier kneeling position with hips between the knees. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and energetically.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

The standard way to start Camel Pose is to stand up on the knees, giving yourself a little cushion (again with the thighs apart about 2 fists width apart) and bracing the hands at the waist or behind the back. If you are practicing this pose while standing on your feet, start with the standard variation. However, if you are kneeling or seated try the variation with knees and feet 2 fists width apart, but sit back (so hips are grounded on the floor, the chair, or a block) and place the hands on the floor, your feet, or a block. For all variations, gaze is right in front of your eyebrows.

If you are standing on your feet, inhale and lift your heart up and out towards your focal point. As you exhale, move your gaze a little higher up or, once you’re gazing at the ceiling, a little further back. The heart keeps rising as you inhale, opening as you exhale – until you reach a physical limit with your hands still at your back or (if it’s accessible to you) you can walk your hands down a wall into an extreme variation of full wheel (Urdhva Dhanuarasana).

If you are seated and leaning back, take an extra round of breath to extend your spine and then begin lifting your hips towards your focal point as you inhale, ensuring your core is engaged as you exhale. Once you’ve lifted the hips almost over the knees you may hold where you are or start lifting the heart on the inhale and moving the gaze on the exhale (as described above). The hands can stay grounded or move to the low back for support if the hips are stacked over the knees.

In all variations, make sure the neck is long. There is a tendency to drop the head back, over extending the neck, in order to go deeper. This actually compromises the integrity of the pose. Make sure, also, that the hips stay in line with the knees. This pose is prenatal-approved and can be practiced with a wall to support the front of the hips and also with a combination of props behind the hips.

After a few rounds of breath, come into any pose where you can relax and release without strain. Close your eyes and breathe. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One lojang statement says, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” When you feel joy in your experience, cultivate that attitude so that you can feel it for others when they experience good fortune.

Round out your practice with a forward fold that matches the intensity of your back bend. For example, if you felt comfortable in the pose and did not feel you were overexerting, you might take Child’s Pose. If you felt like you were working very hard – but still not overexerting – you might take Child’s Pose or a forward fold with your legs stretched out in front (Paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (Uttanasana). If your back feels strained even after you release the back bend, come into a supine forward fold: either lay on your back with legs lifted up in the air or practice Legs-Up-the-Wall (or on a chair). Remind yourself that each part of your body, and each part of your mind, deserves to be free from suffering.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

Allow your body to relax, release, rest – and breathe. As you settle into Savasana or the final pose of your choice, remember all beings everywhere deserve to be free from suffering.

Want more? Here’s the “Throwback Thursday” link to last year’s profile and practice.

### Dr. Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###