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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? ###

Curious About… You (mostly the music) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Pema Chodron, Yoga.
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“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

– Ernő Rubik

“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

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 14th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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 to Common Ground and Mind Body Solutions are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

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

 

### “Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve, [Remember]” ###

Some Things are Universal August 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“There can be no doubt, that, in most cases, their judgment may be equal with the other sex; perhaps even on the subject of law, politics or religion, they may form good judgment, but t would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men, although their powers of mind may be equal to the task.”

 

– quoted from “II: Becoming an Advocate” in Observations on the Real Rights of Women , with Their Appropriate Duties, Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense  by Hannah Mather Crocker (published 1818)

 

Believe it or not, Hannah Crocker was advocating for women’s rights when the wrote the above, in 1818, and stated that “It is woman’s peculiar right to keep calm and serene under every circumstance in life, as it is undoubtedly her appropriate duty, to soothe and alleviate the anxious cares of men, and her friendly and sympathetic breast should be found the best solace for him, as she has an equal right to partake with him the cares, as well as the pleasures of life.” Taken out of context, and viewed with a modern mind, it is easy to think that Crocker would have disapproved of Maria Mitchell, who was born today in 1818 (on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts).

Miss Mitchell, as the king of Denmark would refer to her, was the first acknowledged female astronomer. Her Quaker parents believed in equal education for the 10 offspring, regardless of gender, and her father shared his love of astronomy with all of his children. Miss Mitchell, however, was the only one really interested in going deeper into the math and science of what they viewed as “a hymn of praise to God.” She was assisting her father by the age of 12; opened and taught at a school for girls by the age of 17; and starting working as the librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum in her twenties.   On October 1, 1848 she observed what she initially thought was a distant star, but quickly suspected was actually a comet. Further observation proved her correct and, after her father wrote to the Harvard Observatory, her conclusion was reported to the King of Denmark who awarded her a gold medal and named the newly sighted object “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Maria Mitchell would go on to be the first woman appointed to the American Association of the Advancement of Science (also in 1848), the first woman to earn an advanced degree (1853), the first woman appointed to the faculty of Vassar Female College (as their astronomy professor and head of their observatory, in 1865), and, therefore, the first woman in American history to earn a position as an astronomy professor. She is what I refer to this week as an impossible woman (more on that in a later post) and Hannah Crocker may or may not have approved.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

 

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell

Whether or not Hannah Crocker approved of Maria Mitchell’s life choices is kind of beside the point. What’s relevant here is the idea that all things being equal, there are still people who believe there should be different rules (and therefore different rules of moral conduct) for different people based on gender, race, or other external factors. A quick glance at religious and philosophical commandments and precepts, however, indicates that (in most cases) the big commandments and precepts are intended for all, they are universal.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

 

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.31: jātideśakālasamayānavacchinnāh sārvabhaumā mahāvratam

 

– “[The five restraints] are not affected by class, race, ethnicity, place, time, and circumstance. They are universal and become a great vow.”

There are times when I am quite perplexed by the different ways people will twist things around so that the  rules and laws no longer apply to them. Hold off (for just a moment) on jumping to conclusions and let me be specific. Over the years, I have been involved in several discussions regarding the Buddhist precepts. There are five basic precepts or rules of training for lay Buddhist: non-harming (or non-killing), non-stealing, not engaging in illicit sex, a commitment to truth/honesty, and not imbibing in intoxicants. Notice how the first four overlap with the yamās from the yoga philosophy and how both philosophies overlap with the last five of the 10 Commandments. Also, just as Jewish practitioners adhere to more than 10 commandments (613 in total), there are additional precepts for people on retreat and people who are taking vows.

Regarding what might be viewed as discrepancies in practice, all the categories include non-harming/non-killing, but I have heard people very clearly argue that they are not violating the precept/commandment/yamā if they didn’t actually kill the animal that results in their burger. Here, now, I am not judging that argument except to say that it can be confusing (to me), because I think it all comes down to intent. And, speaking of intent, I have listed the third precept as “not engaging in illicit sex” versus “not engaging in adultery,” just as I refer to bramacharyā in the more literal sense so that (in both cases) the focus is on the cause of the action (i.e., intent), rather than on the resulting action.

Intention is important. Yes, you can unintentional harm someone or something. And, sometimes, that unintentional act can be tremendously more harmful than something you did intentional (knowing it would cause “a little” harm). Most legal systems back me up on this, hence the reason there are different penalties for manslaughter versus murder, and even within each of those categories there are various degrees with different punishments. Intention also comes into play when you look at why there are more commandments in Judaism and why there are more precepts if you are on retreat of taking vows as a monk or nun. Intention is also the key to why some would say, from the outside looking in, that Islām only has one rule: avoid what is harām (“forbidden”). That said, if we are going to be dedicated to the truth (i.e., not lie), we have to be honest with ourselves about why we want to practice – or not practice – some aspect of our particular belief system(s).

Ask yourself why you follow certain rules. Is your intention in following the rule(s) to be good? To be holy? To be saved? To be enlightened? To not be reincarnated? To not have people judge you harshly? To not get in trouble? To mitigate (or lessen) harm to yourself or another?

In the commentary for yoga sūtra 2:31, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and others point to the fact that the intention is always to start where you are, given your particular situation. These practices are intended to set up for success and so the expectation is that you (again) practice with dedication and devotion to the best of your ability. As stated in the sūtra, these restraints can be applied to every situation. They are universal. The last part of the sūtra is equally important, because by practicing where you are and as you are, on every plane of existence, these practices become habit. They become ingrained in your psyche. They become the great vow and you start to think, speak, and act in a way that is mindful of all living beings…without actually having to think about it.

But, of course, we start off thinking about it.

“Killing a human being is murder, but killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is a spiritual offense for a strict vegetarian, but not for a fisherman. Hunting in and around a shrine is an offense, but hunting in the forest is not. For a Hindu, eating meat on the fourteenth day of the moon is an offense, but eating meat on other days is not. In day-to-day life it is a grave offense for a soldier to shoot someone, but it is not an offense for a soldier to kill and enemy on the battlefield.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Speaking of “killing a fish,” today is also the anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. Born today in New York City in 1819, exactly a year to the day after Maria Mitchell, the author shared a love of the sea (and certain other experiences) with Nathanial Hawthorne. During Melville and Hawthorne’s brief friendship, they were both their most prolific and published what would become their most popular works, including Melville’s Moby-Dick and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Both wrote about people who obsessively purposed their goals (something that is encouraged in yoga), but their characters did not always temper their determination with devoted surrender and non-attachment (which is something that is also encouraged in yoga). Lest you think it was only Hawthorne who focused on commandments, read on.

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

Per my email, I have cancelled class today due to a family emergency. I still have tomorrow’s class on the schedule, but stay tuned here to see how that works out. If you were planning to practice today, please, practice with yoga sūtras 2.30-2.31 in mind. Since this week’s sūtra focus is a continuation of last week’s, you can use last week’s recording. If you are not on my email list, you can request the audio recording from last week via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

As this is the anniversary of the 1-35 bridge collapse, please hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds today. So many people are suffering with current events, but let us not forget that some people are still grieving and healing from past events. To quote my dad, “Sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

###” CALL ME ISHMAEL, GOD LISTENS” ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Listening July 28, 2020

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

 

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

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

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

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

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

 

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

 

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

### LISTEN ###

 

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

Compassion and Peace for Pema July 14, 2020

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“I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others.

Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however… it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”

 

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

There’s a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the last few years: persistence, staying with it, stick-to-itiveness, leaning in, being present. I would argue that the ability to be present is part of being human, but so is the ability – even the desire – to get away from something (or someone) that is toxic or challenging. You could say that these two sides of the coin are two sides of human nature and, so, it’s natural that abiding (i.e., enduring) is part of the practice. The problem we run into when we move aspects of human nature from the practice – be it Buddhism or Yoga – and into business or personal relationships, without the benefit of the practice and/or an understanding of human nature, is that we take it out of context.

Born today in 1936, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is the author of almost two dozen books and countless articles. She is one of the teachers credited with spreading the teachings of the Buddha into the Western world. She was married and divorced, twice, in her early twenties and thirties and calls her second ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. She is a mother and a grandmother, as well as the principal teacher and director at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in North America for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She might appear to be the poster child for “leaning in” – and yet, she recently resigned (in protest) from her leadership role at Shambhala International after a series of accusations related to the misconduct of other teachers and leaders led her to conclude that the governing organization was going in an “unwise direction.”

Just to be clear, calling something “the unwise direction” is very definitely calling it antithetical to the tenets of Buddhism.

“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

Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings often center around the concept of shenpa, a Tibetan word she defines as “attachment” and the practice of the 4 R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve), which is the practice of getting unhooked. From the outside looking in, this could look like the opposite of stick-to-itiveness.  Yet, the core of the teachings is what she refers to as “compassionate abiding.” It is being present with what is, leaning in (if you like that phrase), but without engaging the additional layer of suffering that can come from dealing with a toxic or “unwise” situation. It is, absolutely, recognizing the reality of the situation and also offering oneself the opportunity to let go of what no longer serves them. It is breathing in to what is, recognizing and acknowledging it, and then breathing out, relaxing and “giv[ing] the feeling space.”

That’s it, that’s the practice. I realize that sometimes I may explain this in a way that seems opposite of what Chödrön teaches; so let me clarify. Both the inhale and the exhale are opportunities to recognize/acknowledge what is and relax into it. Both the inhale and the exhale create space around what is. When I say, “let go of what no longer serves you” (on the exhale), it is not a suggestion to run away. Instead, it is an opportunity to release the tightness that comes from the shenpa: It’s an opportunity to get unhooked. As attachment is the root of suffering in Buddhism (and in the philosophy of Yoga), the ultimate act of self-compassion is any act of non-attachment or detachment. This, the compassionate part, is what is missing when we take the practice and/or human nature out of the “leaning in” equation. After all, we can leave a toxic situation and still be attached to the toxicity.

“This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

 

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct.”

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

“Compassionate abiding” is sustained by metta/maitri (“loving-kindness”) and it is an inherent part of the practice of the Four R’s. Ani Pema Chödrön says that it can be a stand-alone practice and also a way to prepare for tonglen meditation, a form of compassion often defined as “taking in and sending out” or “giving and receiving.” Either way, it is breathing with intention and that intention is related to the end of suffering. It is, again, recognizing/acknowledging the ways in which we are suffering and, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others are suffering in this same way. It is recognizing/acknowledging our own desire to be free of suffering while, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others also want to be free of this same suffering. It is simultaneously working towards our own liberation as a means of liberating others – and it opens us up to the reality of people whose suffering is different and/or greater than our own. The desire, the work, the effort are not separate. In fact, the minute we start separating our own needs, desires, and suffering from the needs, desires, and suffering of others is the minute we create more avidyā (“ignorance”) and therefore more suffering.

“By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos.”

 

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

 Please join me today (Tuesday, July 14th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom to experience a little heart melting. 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.

 

“Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.”

 

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

 

Check out the full article at Tricycle and

 

Fill your cup with Ani Pema and Oprah

 

 

 

### “May [all of us] be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” ###

 

Fill Your Cup! (It’s Compassion and Peace Week) July 13, 2020

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It’s Compassion and Peace Week! At least, that’s what I’m calling this week.

It’s an opportunity to practice peace and compassion on several different levels. I’ll explain later this week the reason why I often place a special focus on this time, but (for now) let’s just dive into the practice.

 

“We have the capacity to discover the tools and means to overcome our sorrow.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.24 (referencing one of the six “powers unique to human”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Just so we are all on the same page, remember that in the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali identifies afflicted (kleśāh) thought patterns as the cause of suffering; breaks down those afflicted thought patterns into five specific types of thought (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death); and further breaks down ignorance (avidyā), as it is the bedrock of the other four afflicted thought patterns. He then proceeds to outline ways to end ignorance, and therefore suffering.

If you’ve studied or practiced any Buddhism, this all sounds very familiar for a reason. I have heard that the Buddha was aware of the philosophy of yoga, maybe even practiced it for a bit, but found that it was not practical. Keep in mind that during Prince Siddhartha’s time practicing yoga stereotypically involved renouncing the world and renouncing the daily activities of the general populace. There were no classes you slipped in during your lunch hour or streamed before work. There was no separation between the physical and philosophical practices.

And this, some commentators say, is exactly why modern practitioners run into a problem. The problem being, perhaps, that we are already not on the same page. Take a moment to consider what you believe to be the state of absolute liberation and freedom from suffering.

After you’ve paused, and really considered yourself in a state devoid of freedom consider the following: Are you still in the world? Or, is your idea of enlightenment/heaven some place outside of this physical existence? Does your viewpoint make the achievement accessible or nearly impossible to achieve?

“The wisest course (so we are told) is to attain moksha, salvation, which in effect means extricating ourselves from the world as quickly as possible.

Patanjali’s understanding and experiences are antithetical to this view. According to his predecessor, Kapila, the impetus behind our birth and manifestation of the universe is anugraha, divine grace. Divine grace is suffused with unconditional love and compassion. Purusha, the intrinsic intelligence of [primordial matter/power], knows everything about each individual soul…. As purusha is spontaneously moved by its own realization, [primordial matter/power] begins to pulsate….

Compassion is the sole cause of the initial pulsation – the power of compassion is itself the pulsation (anugraha shakti). Thus, spiritually speaking, the power of compassion is our origin…. And we thrive due to the power of compassion inherent in us. The power of compassion is the power of the divine.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.5 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Remember, just last week, I quoted the 14th Dalai Lama, who said “that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Makes sense, right, that once again the Eastern philosophies mesh. But, before we get into that part of the practice, let’s take a side trip from Eastern philosophy into Western religion. (Consider this the scenic route.)

Because of where and how I was raised (Hello, Bible Belt!), so much of the language above reminds me of the language in The Gospel According to John. Specifically, in John 17, theoretically written by the youngest of the apostles, Jesus lays out a prayer and some very specific (although, I guess, easily forgotten or misunderstood) instructions. John the Apostle recounts Jesus foretelling his own death and asking that his disciples be protected by the same power he (Jesus) used to protect them in life. He then goes on to state, repeatedly (for emphasis), that he and they are not “of the world,” but that he and they have been sent “into the world” with a purpose. That purpose, again, is salvation and the end of suffering – through love (and many traditions agree). Note, however, that in the very middle of this passage, Jesus explicitly states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world….” (John 17:15, NIV) So, here, again, the instruction is to find, seek, teach, and discover the end of suffering in the material world. Patanjali even explicitly states that that is the purpose of the material world. (YS 2.18)

“Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

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

 

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Compassion comes to us from the Latin phrase, by way of Old French and Middle English, for “to suffer with.” Take a moment to consider with whom you ALWAYS suffer. Take a moment to consider with whom you are closest. Take a moment to consider who you know the best.

The answer should be obvious, but for many it’s not: it’s us. Likewise, we ourselves are in the position to be the most respected by us, the most loved, the “most dear,” and the one we understand to have “the right to be happy and overcome suffering” – and yet, somehow we lose sight of this. Somehow we think that someone else is more worthy of happiness or the end of suffering. It used to seem odd to me that while the traditional way to practice “Metta” (loving-kindness) meditation is to start with oneself and work outwards to those who are most challenging for us to be loving and kind, “Karuna” (compassion) meditation traditionally starts with the one who is enduring the most. It seemed especially odd when you consider that the person suffering the most is sometimes the most challenging person in our lives. But, ultimately it’s not odd; it’s just a reflection of human nature.

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, NIV)

 

“I want you to know that I love you very much, and I’m very proud of you. I want you to know that if you can love me, you can love your… self. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to do a little mantra with you. I want you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything.’ I really want you to say that, because I believe that we can save the world if we save ourselves first.”

 

– Lizzo at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England

 

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

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

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

 

Today is a good day to train your mind to offer yourself compassion. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 13th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice that begins with yourself.

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

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles. If you are hungry, you have to find something to eat. But everyday problems are very mixed – they’re not clear. The Cube’s problem depends just on you. You can solve it independently. But to find happiness in life, you’re not independent. That’s the only big difference.”

 

– Ernő Rubik (b. 07/13/1944)

 

### MORE HEARTS ###

 

Lessons of the Teachers July 6, 2020

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“What is the purpose of life?”

 

– A question people ask (or want to ask) their Gurus and gurus

Yesterday was all about teachers and all the ways they teach us to remove the darkness. And, speaking of teachers, one of the “Big G” Gurus I mentioned turns 85 today! Born today in Tibet in 1935, Lhamo Dhondup was given the religious name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (which is shortened to Tenzin Gyatso) and he is known to the world as the 14th Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, although he is currently exiled in India. Lama is the Tibetan word for Guru. Dalai is a Mongolic word for “ocean” or “big.” “Dalai Lama” is the highest spiritual title assigned to individuals believed to be the incarnation of the last Avalokiteśvara (or Padmapani), the bodhisattva of compassion.

Avalokiteśvara is considered a “Big G” Guru in a variety of culture and is sometimes identified as male, sometimes as female. He is called Avloketesvar in Cambodia; Nātha in Sri Lanka; and Seto Machindranath, Janabaha Dyo, and Karunamaya in Nepal Mandal. He is called Lokanat or Lokabyuharnat in Myanmar and Lokesvara in Indochina and Thailand.

She is called Guanyin (a shortened version of Guanshiyin, which means “Contemplating the World’s Sounds”) or Guan Yin (various spellings include Kuan Yin) in Chinese Buddhism. She is Kannon or Kanzeon in Japan, where at least 29 notable temples are dedicated to her; Gwan-eum in Korea; and Quan Am in Vietnam. I could go on. The point is this is someone who is honored by many people, in a variety of cultures, because it is believed that they prolonged their ultimate enlightenment in order to ease the suffering of the world.

In Tibet, Avalokiteśvara is called Chenrezig or, sometimes, Şaḍākşarī (“Lord of the Six Syllables,” as he is associated with the lotus-focused mantra “OṂ MAŅI PADME HǕṂ”). Sacred text in Tibetan Buddhism explains the special relationship the original bodhisattva had with the people of Tibet; the story behind his prolonged enlightenment; and clues to finding each successor. Additionally, researchers will examine the writing, words, and the memories of close friends and relatives to find the next successor – as well as the Dalai Lama’s advisors. Gendun Drup was designated the “First Dalai Lama” 104 years after his death; in part because of the verification of his successor who announced himself at age 2 (not that anyone believed him at the time). The 2nd Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso, died in 1542 and the lineage has continued from then onward – as has the teachings.

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

 

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

The current Dalai Lama was selected at 2 years old and publicly presented at 4 years old. He assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5 and his full political duties at age 15. He fled his homeland at the age of 18, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and became a refugee. He received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize (at 54 years old) and the 2006 United States Congressional Gold Medal (at 71 years old). Like any other religious and political figure, the Dalai Lama has weighed in on a variety of world issues, including the rights of women, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA+ community; the practices of the United States CIA; the importance of caregivers; and the current global pandemic. Sometimes his words are comforting to people, other times they are confusing – and, like anyone else, he has made mistakes and had to decide how to respond to the suffering.

“From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion….

Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

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

Yesterday, in anticipation of his birthday, the Dalai Lama was asked to give “A Short Teaching on Mind Training” to a group in Taiwan. (He was in India.) He focused his dharma talk on the end of Geshé Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses for Training the Mind. In Tibetan Buddhism, lojong are “mind training” techniques to prepare a practitioner for a variety of loving-kindness and compassion practices. They are aphorisms designed to cultivate bodhicitta (the awakened of enlightened mind/intellect). The most common lojong practices in the West are approximately 59 statements found in a 12th century text by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. Geshé Chekawa based his instruction on the teachings of Geshé Langri Tangpa (which is whole story unto itself). While the Dalai Lama spent part of yesterday focusing on the end of the text, he has previously taught and written about the entire text – and in particular, the eight verses.

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice focused on “the 8 verses” with commentary from the Dalai Lama.

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

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

Mo’ Mettā

 

### METTĀ • KARUNĀ • MUDITĀ • UPEKŞĀ ###

A Thought from “Anne no Nikki” June 25, 2020

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[The embedded video/link at the end of this post can be used as a soundtrack for reading this post.]

“Dear Kitty,

 

It’s lovely weather outside and I’ve perked up since yesterday. Nearly every morning I go to the attic where Peter works to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.

 

He stood with his head against a thick beam, and I sat down. We breathed the fresh air, looked outside, and both felt that the spell should not be broken by words…. I looked out, of the open window too, over a large area of Amsterdam, over all the roofs and on to the horizon, which was such a pale blue that it was hard to see the dividing line. ‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.’”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Diary of a Young Girl was first published today in 1947. It was the saved writing of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 14. The book was published 13 days after what would have been her 18th birthday. At the beginning of this month I referenced her birthday (and death), and several other events, in a post about avidyā (“ignorance”) as it relates to how the way we see the world can create suffering. Ignorance, like stuffy air in our lungs, affects the way we move through the world. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the stuffy air out of our lungs. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the ignorance out.

Both types of elimination require being very deliberate and intentional on a daily basis – just as Anne Frank recommended. We all know, however, that it can be challenging (even during the pandemic) to set aside time just to breathe. We all know it’s challenging even when we know the importance of it, and even when we “do it for others.” So, consider how much harder it is to very deliberately and intentionally – and on a daily basis – eliminate ignorance. Consider that is especially hard when the layers and layers of avidyā are deeply imbedded in our subconscious and unconscious mind.

As recently as yesterday, I mentioned samskāras, those layers and layers of past experiences that inform her present (and possibly future) thoughts, words, and deeds. These karmic impressions are established in a way similar to how we form neural pathways: we experience something for the first time and impressions are created; every future experience hardwires these impressions become hardwired. They determine how we experience everything that comes after they are established. Some would say these samskāras are always problematic, because they always include at least a smidgen of avidyā – which means that everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by bits of ignorance. At least, that’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario: everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by a lot of ignorance.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God…. As long as [the simple beauty of Nature] exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

In this moment, we may not know how ignorant we are. We can only, really, assess our level of suffering and the level of suffering around us. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, collectively, our level of suffering and the suffering around us points to levels of avidyā that’s out of the exosphere. There’s no clear (upper) boundary to the Earth’s exosphere and there’s no clear boundaries between our layers of samskāras or between our ayers of avidyā. Which means that, for some, the challenging job of working through our layers is extra challenging.

Maybe you haven’t started the work (but you’re thinking about it). Maybe you’ve started (but you’re getting a little frustrated). Maybe you just need the reminder today. Either way, there’s a really simple way to remind yourself to turn inward. You may have heard some version of this reminder. You may have even heard a simpler version, but I offer this one from Maha Ghosananda, because it feels pretty comprehensive (to me). It comes to mind today, because Maha Ghosananda experienced similar tragedies as those experienced by Anne Frank.

“We miss so much here, so very much and for so very long now: I miss it too, just as you do. I’m not talking of outward things, for we are looked after in that way; no, I mean the inward things. Like you, I long for freedom and fresh air….

Riches can all be lost, but that happiness in your own heart can only be veiled, and it will still bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens….”

 

— Anne Frank’s “A Thought” written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Maha Ghosananda was a Theraveda Buddhist monk in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot and he shared the teachings of the Buddha with people in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. During the Pol Pot regime, 1.5 to million people died in and around “the Killing Fields.” When the Pol Pot regime fell, Maha Ghosananda was one of the 3,000 Cambodian Buddhist monks who survived. Those 3,000 represented approximately 5% of the monks who had lived in Cambodia before the regime. After the Pol Pot regime, Maha Ghosananda worked to restore his country and his faith within the country. His many efforts included service as a representative to the United Nations and annual peace walks. The peace walks (dhammayietra) were simultaneously protests and pilgrimages that included terrain which still included land minds.

I mention all of this to point out that Maha Ghosananda ministered to people who were suffering in ways many of us can barely imagine and during incredibly challenging times – so he had to keep it simple.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…”

 

Excerpt from Larry Yang’s Huffington Post article, “Buddhist Intention: Being Kind in Unkind Times” 11/07/2011

 

 

Anne no Nikki (anime) soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman

 

### HONOR YOUR HEART >> THOUGHTS >> WORD >> DEEDS ###

BE THE HERO(INE) THE STORY June 5, 2020

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“The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.”

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

“Democracy doesn’t work without citizen activism and participation. Tickle-down politics doesn’t work much better than trickle-down economics. Moreover, civilization happens because we don’t leave things to other people. What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it as if the cause depends on you, because it does.”

– from Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times by Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers, born today in 1934, is more than a journalist. He is an ordained minister who served as the 13th White House Press Secretary (working with both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) and produced, along with his wife, “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” (filmed on George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, in 1988), “Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas” (also filmed at Skywalker Ranch, in 1999), and “Faith and Reason.” A big fan of Moyers, Campbell, Lucas – as well as faith and reason – I look forward to celebrating June 5th of every year with a yoga practice which features the symbols and archetypes of the Hero’s Journey / Cycle. Even when I don’t teach on the 5th, I usually practice the mandala, which moves through the core elements of every adventure story, as outlined by Joseph Campbell: Being in the Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of Call, Supernatural Aid, Crossing the Threshold, Belly of the Whale, Road of Trials, Meeting the Goddess, Temptation, Atonement (usually with the Father), Apotheosis, Refusal of Return, Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, Crossing the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live.

In mid-April, my friend Julie K. sent me this pandemic version of the hero’s journey, which I was going to use as a fun way to highlight today’s post. Fast forward to the last couple of weeks and this very creative take on an old classic seems dated and, for some, not that relevant.

“All my life I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer, but I’ve never prayed, ‘Give me this day my daily bread.’ It is always, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Bread and life are shared realities. They do not happen in isolation.”

 

– from “Pass the Bread,” baccalaureate address at Hamilton College (20 May 2006), as quoted in “Moyers on Democracy” by Bill Moyers

Don’t get me wrong. How each of us recognizes ourselves as the hero of our own story and how we engage each stage of the hero’s cycle is still relevant. We can still identify our version of the “Ordinary World” – it’s just that how we defined that world on Memorial Day or May 26th is very different from the way we defined it on April 15th.  Now, we’ve all heard the Call and, while some answered the call right away and started moving into the mythical world that eventually leads us to a boon/reward for society, some of us are still in the “Refusal of Call” stage. Which is, dare I say, OK; because we are all going to get there. Part of the Role of the “Supernatural Aid” is to pull, us, drag us, push us – sometimes, kicking and screaming – into this experience.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

What happens next is always painful, often dangerous, consistently challenging, and (eventually) satisfying/rewarding. (At least, that’s the promise of the myth.) There will be moments when we are not sure we can (or want) to keep going and times when we experience some relief (or the great love of the Goddess) and we want to stay right where we are – even if it is in the “Belly of the Whale.” But, in the end, we are promised a boon, a reward, something that we can bring back to our community – something that serves all of mankind. We are also promised that, through this experience, we will become the “Master of Two Worlds,” and that mastery leads to the ultimate freedom: Freedom to Live. This final stage is partially defined as the freedom to live “in the moment, neither anticipating the future, nor regretting the past” – which is also one of the goals of Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism, to be fully present in the moment.

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

“Allow yourself that conceit – to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there’s one candle in one citizen’s hand.”

– from Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times by Bill Moyers

If you need a little of that “Supernatural Aid” or to feel the divine love of the Goddess, get on the mat or the cushion. Take a walk. Sit by the water. Or, check out the free (outdoor) acupuncture happening on Saturday (11 AM – 5 PM, see details here). Either way, I’ll see you when you cross the threshold.

### “I’M A DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD” (VM) ###