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It’s There (Even When You Can’t See It) June 27, 2020

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Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

 

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born yesterday (June 26th) in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.) She also co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era. In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy.

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

 

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

 

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

 

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post. No, don’t read it… just look at it. What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

 

– Virginia Satir

 

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, today in 1880, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

 

– from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

 

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (10/20/1936), and Thomson (03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

 

– from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912)

Helen Keller, like Pearl S. Buck, is notable for many reasons, but both women were (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about their family histories and some of their views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda. Keller’s father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, history has shown us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics, the idea that we could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Besides the basic humanitarian issues, one of the problems with eugenics is that at its core there is a lack of faith in humanity.

In referencing the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, Keller wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that you are connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside one’s self. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us right – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

Please join me for a little discernment in the form of a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 27th) 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 playlist is dated 06032020.)

 

 

### STILL HUMAN ###

Not So De-Lovely Circumstance(s)? June 9, 2020

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“You can never give up because quitting is not an option. No matter how dark it is or how weak you get, until you take that last breath, you must fight.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale, professional musician and basketball player

 

“Sad times, may follow your tracks
Bad times, may bar you from Sak’s
At times, when Satan in slacks
Breaks down your self control

Maybe, as often it goes
Your Abe-y, may tire of his rose
So baby, this rule I propose
Always have an ace in the hole.”

 

– from “Ace in the Hole” by Cole Porter

 

Here’s a question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability? We all have, on some level, and we all will before we leave this earth.

So, here’s a better question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability that changed the way you viewed yourself and the world? Many who would have answered “no” to that question a month or two ago (or even a year ago), might answer “yes” now.

I specifically mention two months ago, rather than two weeks ago, because two months ago I was participating in the seventh annual Kiss My Asana yogathon, which benefited Mind Body Solutions. Known for their adaptive yoga program, which includes teacher training, and training for care givers Mind Body Solutions “helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.” Founding teacher Matthew Sanford is constantly reminding us that at some point we are all going to experience trauma, loss, and disability. Even if we do not become physically disabled, we can experience trauma and loss that disables us and makes it impossible to do things the way we did them before. The practice of yoga, especially as it is applied by the teachers at MBS, is both simple and complex – because the way we deal with trauma, loss, and disability is simultaneously simple and complex… because humans are both simple and complex. Ultimately, it’s not the if/when/how we experience the trauma, loss, and disability that’s important. Ultimately, what’s important is how we deal with it.

“I am only half a man now.”

 

– Cole Porter to his friends in 1958

 

“Cancer might’ve taken my leg, but it can’t take my smile.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before he died (The reporter noted that he followed the words with “that famous, ear-splitting grin.”)

 

Depending on how you look at them, Cole Porter (who was born today in 1891, in Peru, Indiana) and Wayman Tisdale (who was born today in 1964, in Fort Worth, Texas) don’t have a lot in common. Except for the whole birthday thing… and the fact that they were both professional musicians whose parents started their musical training at early ages. (Porter’s mother started him on violin lessons at 6 and piano lessons at 8. Tisdale’s father bought him his first bass guitar at age 8.) Tisdale said music was his “first love” and, undoubtedly, Porter would have shared the sentiment. They both ended up being known for jazz – although slightly different kinds of jazz. Oh, then there is the fact that they both engaged in highly physical activities (outside of music); Porter as an equestrian, Tisdale as a professional basketball player who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2009), the Oklahoma Hall of Fame (2009), and played in both the Olympics (1984) and Pan American (1983) Games. Both men were extremely well-liked and remarked upon because of their sunny dispositions.

Oh, and they were both (right leg) amputees.

Weird coincidence, huh? But, that’s not really the point today. The point today is how they dealt with their trauma, loss, and disability.

“The doctor had never given anyone chemo that was my size. They just calculated how much chemo to give me and said, ‘We hope it doesn’t mess up your kidneys. If it does, sorry.’”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before his death

In 1937, a horseback riding accident resulted in the horse crushing both of Cole Porter’s legs. In 2007, Wayman Tisdale fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg – an accident that revealed he had osteosarcoma in his knee. Both men were bound and determined to live, despite their situations – which involved immense amounts of pain and uncertainty. By all accounts, including his own words, Wayman Tisdale accepted the amputation and focused on using the support around him to help him heal and move forward. He even appreciated the attitude of one of his master teachers/precious jewels, who he didn’t think wanted him to get better, stating in a 2008 ESPN interview, “At the time, I frowned on that. I look at it today that had I not persevered through a lot of the stuff [USA Team coach Bobby Knight] put me through, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I thank God for that dude because he pushed me.” Cole Porter, on the other hand, seems to have given up. He fought the amputation until he was given no other choice and, while he wrote an immense amount of music after the accident that ultimately cost him his leg, he wrote (so far as we know) not a lick after the amputation.

“The lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face…I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly.”

 

– Noel Coward writing in his diary about his friend Cole Porter, after Porter’s leg was amputated in 1958

 

“But when we first talked on the phone, he [Wayman] made me feel better. Ninety-five percent of us would’ve gone into a deep depression, but he didn’t.”

 

– Arthur Thompson, drummer and friend of Wayman Tisdale, in a 2008 ESPN interview, after Tisdale’s diagnosis and amputation

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 9th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where you can check in with your attitude. 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, with links, shortly before the Noon class. NOTE: Spotify users may have 2 Eartha Kitt songs. Enjoy.)

 

“For a man who lives by schedules to not know the next day because of being so fatigued, that puts things in perspective.”

 

– Dolphin Davis, Sr., Wayman Tisdale’s friend and personal trainer

 

 

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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) ###

The Power of Being Seen & Heard June 4, 2020

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TANK MAN

 

If you are a certain age or older (as I am) and from certain countries (ditto), and you don’t even have to click on the link above to see the photo. Just the name immediately conjures up the general timing (1989), if not the exact date (which is June 5th), and circumstances. Even though the picture is still, you can probably “see” the little bits of motion that surround this “incident” in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That’s how the people in China refer to it (if they refer to it): the “June 4 incident” or the “six-four incident.” Not the protest and (definitely not) the massacre, unless they are outside of China. The Chinese government initially referred to the events in 1989 as a “counterrevolutionary riot,” but then started diminishing the impact. The “counterrevolutionary riot” became just a “riot” and then a “political storm.” Now, the government calls it “political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989.” They did not initially acknowledge that anyone died in and around Tiananmen Square, after what started out as peaceful student-led protests against the government. Later, they would acknowledge that “some” people were injured and “a few” died…but they still distance the injuries and deaths from the “incident.”

Keep in mind, “some” and “a few” are calculated in the thousands.

More telling than how they speak (or don’t speak) about what happened over the next couple of days in 1989, is the fact that if you grew up in China and you are 35 years old or younger, you can probably identify the location (after all, it is a landmark in Beijing), but you may not be able to identify the time, date, and circumstances associated with this picture. At least this was the finding of PBS interview dated April 11, 2006. When I watched the interview, I was a little surprised. What surprised me even more was that if you grew up in the United States and you are 35 years old or younger, you might not even be able to identify the location. (I asked around.)

Now, consider this second picture.

Do you know this woman? Do you have any idea why (or what) this woman would have been celebrating today in 1919? It’s not surprising if you don’t, regardless of your nationality or age (since if you are reading this blog, you probably weren’t alive at the time). But there are some clues, in particular the date: June 4, 1919. Ring a bell? Does it help if I say she’s connected to the United States?

Feel free to Google it. I’ll wait.

Even if you somehow know this woman is a suffragist, her name (Phoebe E. Burn, “Miss Feeb” or “Feeb” to her friends) may not mean a whole lot to you. Even if you’ve attended one of my August 18th classes and heard me mention her name (and that of her son, then 24-year old Harry T. Burn, Sr. of Tennessee), it still might not immediately register that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was approved by Congress today in 1919. It was passed with 56 “ayes” and 25 “nays,” and ratified by the required three-quarters of the Union on August 18, 1920. Harry Burn, the Republican Representative from Tennessee, was the youngest congressman and was expected to vote against the amendment; which would have killed the legislation. When he voted, he was wearing a red carnation, indicating he was against the amendment. However, unbeknownst to those around him at the time, he carried a note from his mother telling him, “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” And, so he did.

Some states got on board relatively quickly, but it would take a while for other states to make the law officially valid. In fact, women would not “officially” and legally have the right to vote (without impediment from the state) in Alabama (until 1953), Florida (until 1969), Louisiana and Georgia (until 1970), North Carolina (until 1971), South Carolina (until 1973), and Mississippi (until 1984).

If you’re wondering why it took so long, consider the fact that many people in power (i.e., men) saw women as little more than children or property. Additionally, they feared what would happen if the power dynamic shifted and women were not only seen as their equals, but also given equal time to be heard as they voiced their concerns about the country. (Speaking of power dynamics, don’t even get me started on how long it took some states to ratify the 13th Amendment, which didn’t even include the right to vote. Yes, I’m looking at you, Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi.)

Protests, revolution, and change: it always comes down to this. It also comes down, once again, to perspective. When leadership does not get on board with the changes their constituents are demanding, progress is slow and painful. When individuals do not do the little bit that they can do, for as long as they can do it, very little to nothing happens. When people do not speak up to those they love who may be on the wrong side of history, we find ourselves at a stalemate.

Just consider the historical examples of today.

Despite the quarantine, the political landscape in China looks similar to 1989 – people are once again protesting. And, while women have the right to vote in the United States, own property, drive, and operate a business (that’s not a brothel, boarding house, and/or saloon), there are still major discrepancies in the lived experiences of American men and women.

But, wait a minute. I’m kind of leaving something (or should I say, someone) out of the discussion. Do you see it? Can you see it? If you can’t, you’re in “good” company, because some people couldn’t see it in 1919 either.

 

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