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Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

*

‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

We Do What We Do September 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hope, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Taoism, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Beauty cannot exist without ugliness.

Virtue cannot exist without vice.

Living, we know death.

Struggling, we know ease.

Rising high, we know the depths.

Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite, therefore we work without conscious effort and teach without agenda.

We enjoy everything and possess nothing.

Our accomplishments do not emerge from our ego, so we do not cling to them.

Thus they benefit all beings.”

– (2) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

A few months back, I posted about chaos theory; and if you watch one of the pendulum models (see below it can seem like so much craziness. However, when faced with so much confusion, I have to remind myself of the following:

  • we’ve seen this pattern before;
  • it makes no sense if you get caught up in the momentum;
  •  all the movement is, in fact, moving towards stillness;
  • and that, from the perspective of natural law, there is a moment when all of the movement is, in fact, “effortless effort.”

As someone with a type-A personality, I sometimes struggle with the idea of “effortless effort.” Don’t get me wrong; I can be still, I can relax. However, there are certain times where “doing nothing” feels like the wrong choice. I’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe this. Many in the Western world have been conditioned and socialized to believe this. But, not doing is still doing and “effortless effort” is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, sometimes, it takes a great deal of effort to let go.

In a 2009 blog post, Meditation Oasis (Mary and Richard Maddux) refers to a the Wikipedia description of “Wu Wei” – which literally means “not-doing doing” – as “’natural action’ giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing.” This makes me think of Alan Watts meditation where he describes breathing as something that happens to us, but also something we can engage – and, once engaged, it is something we do deeply without effort. Meditation is like this. Life is like this too, and Taoist philosophy points to “Wu Wei” as a way to act and/or experience action in daily life. On Meditation Oasis’s blog, they describe meditation as “the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.” This too, is what Patanjali advocates in the Yoga Sūtras, “resting in your own true nature.” (YS 1.3)

 “The most fluid and yielding substance will flow past the most rigid with the speed of a racehorse.

That which does not hold a particular form can enter even that which seems impenetrable.

This is why we practice “effortless effort.”

We act without ado.

We teach without arguments.

This is the way of true happiness, but because people prefer distractions and noise, it is not a popular way.”

– (43) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

In commentary on wu-wei, Dr. Martin says, “This phrase implies pure action in the present moment without any accompanying resistance, second-guessing, or worry. In the practice of wu-wei we just “do what we do.” The more awareness and acceptance we bring to the present moment, the more wu-wei is possible. This can take the form of either energetic activity or relaxed waiting. Like acceptance, wu-wei is not passive….” The sounds great, but I wonder how it works in situations where things are steadily spiraling out of control, where there is deadly chaos and we can’t seem to find the center point. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker and am reminded that we have to bend the arc. But, how do we do that without more harm? How do we do that with ‘effortless effort?”

 “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker

Dr. William Martin wrote a book on the Tao and activism, which I have not read yet. However, Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga are philosophies that encourage experiencing the present moment – which requires stillness. So, today we are going to move into stillness.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. 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. (Today’s playlist is dated March 29th or 03292020.)

Going with the flow…

### BE THE FLOW ###

Let’s See…Where We Go May 23, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

 

“‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

There are some things that once seen (heard, felt), cannot be unseen (unheard, unfelt). Those things – whether we like them or dislike them; whether we truly understand their nature or not – become part of us and part of our world. Those things – whether we recognize/identify them as part of ourselves and/or part of our world – become how we perceive ourselves and the world. Those things – whether they are specific, unspecific, barely describable, or absolutely indescribable – play a part in how we understand ourselves and our world. Those things… are (almost) everything: and everything can lead to fulfillment and freedom.

The statements above are a way to view Yoga Sutras 2.17 – 2.20, which we’ve covered on Saturdays in the last few weeks. (The calendar on the side will link you to posts on any given date if you want to review.) Those statements are also the scaffolding for this week’s sutra (2:21) which gets to the heart of why (to paraphrase the anonymous quote) everyone can only understand from our level of perception – as well as why one person doesn’t automatically “get” what another person “gets.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

One of the reasons I share/teach the things I share/teach is that I understand we (read: our minds) have to be prepared for epiphanies. In other words, we (our minds) have to be prepared to understand what we are seeing. Also, once we have that epiphany – that “aha” moment – where we start to see things in a different way (a special way), we can’t “unsee” that different perception of reality. It’s like the dress or the sound or the picture of the animal or the picture I once shared in the downtown studio.

Some people only ever see/hear/experience things a certain way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we can only believe what we understand; and so, you can talk until you are blue (or gold) in the face and some people will never understand anything other than what they first perceived. Their minds have not shown them any other possibility (YS 2.20). On the other hand, some people, when presented with the truth about the reality of the dress, the sound, or either picture will start to perceive the object in a different way. And, once they do, that new perception becomes part of their understanding of reality (YS 2:18 – 19). When presented the object of experience again, they may first still see what they initially perceived, but their mind/intellect will now also present them with the other option(s). Add to this the fact that there are some people who will initially experience both/all options (YS 2:15 – 17). While people in this last category can isolate what others perceive, they will also still understand the ultimate reality: it’s all about perception, baby.

And, our perceptions play a starring role in our actions, our suffering, and our ultimate freedom from suffering.

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

 

– from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

 

We have reached the end of the month of Ramadān, which can be viewed through the Yoga lens of Kriyā Yoga (a prescription or path to union). Part of the reason I share some of the history, pillars, and articles of faith related to Islam (as well as to Judaism and Christianity) is because if one person gains insight or additional understanding it not only changes their perception, it changes the way they relate to themselves and to the world. Sure, I hold out for the possibility of more than one person, but I also acknowledge that one person can make a big difference… if you know where to look for the change.

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

 

“ Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornadoes; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

 

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972

 

It might seem random that a technical talk to a science organization in 1972 would popularize a theory that dates back as far as 1800. Turns out, however, that it’s not random, it’s chaos (theory) and changing a seagull’s wings to a butterfly’s wings was just the beginning of a ripple of effect with a “strange” legacy. According to Edward Norton Lorenz (born today in 1917), he did not submit a title for his now famous speech (“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”). The title, which came from the session chair, Dr. Philip Merilees, carried “the idea that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology. It carried it everywhere – even into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. (Even though sometimes people don’t actually understand – or even know – the actual theory.)

If you are interested in experiencing some theory and “seeing” where it takes you, please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, this time using the lens of Ramadan and chaos theory. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020 75+ mins” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music (or use this “chaos” music).

 

(A little theory to go.)

### X Y Z ###