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A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. 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.]

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. 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.]

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

Mind Over Mind (on April 20th) April 20, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 1.17: vitarkavichārānandāsmitārūpānugamāt samprajñātah

 

– “[The process of concentrating] happens in four ways: gross/noting, subtle/examining, joy/bliss, and I-ness (self-identifying with object of concentration)”

 

“To observe attentively is to remember distinctly.”

 

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Every meditation or mindfulness-based practice starts the same. Regardless of style, tradition, or format, the beginning of the practice is always to bring your awareness to something. Noticing something is the first step. Then, you notice what you notice. In noticing what you notice, you bring your awareness to your awareness. That final step (bringing your awareness to your awareness) becomes the practice.

I hear somebody now, thinking very loudly, ‘No, no, that’s not how it works! When I….’

Right…. Finish the sentence above and you will see the veracity of my earlier statements. Or, you can just start practicing.

Wherever you are take a moment to bring your conscious awareness to something that’s been teasing your senses. Notice a taste, a smell, the feeling of anything (and everything) rubbing against your skin. Play “I Spy” or “I Hear.” Notice what is on your mind…and how that thought feels in your body. Notice your breath, and the parts of the breath. Notice your body, reacting to your breath. Bring your awareness to the concept of love, kindness, friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, generosity, equanimity, grief, or peace. God, or G-d, or god. Notice how it feels to make a sound, sing a song, dance. Repeat, and repeat. Notice how it feels when you finish. Notice how you play. Notice how you feel in a pose. Notice how you feel as you move between poses. Breathe.

Take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. And notice what you have decided to notice. Notice if it is something that holds your interest and holds your mind without a lot of effort. That is one way to practice. Notice if your mind is continuously jumping to something else. That is part of the practice. Notice if you go with the flow of the thoughts in your mind or if you are continuously pulling your awareness back to that which you first started to notice. Those too are ways to practice. Breathe.

Take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. Repeat it all again.

Seriously, read those two paragraphs again and that’s 90 – 120 seconds, during which you focused and – in focusing – you started the process of concentrating, which leads to meditation. If you paused along the way and really focused, concentrated, (contemplated), and meditated – even for a moment – on any of those elements, you could have easily spent 5 – 10 minutes meditating. It’s that simple.

What is just as simple, but sometimes harder to explain is how you feel during all that. Did you notice your breath slowing down or speeding up as some sections of the sentences were easier to read than others? Did you notice that some parts felt really sweet to you, while others seemed boring or nonsensical? Did you ever feel uncomfortable? Did you notice your mind sometimes wandering off on a tangent or trying to jump ahead to figure out where I was going? That’s how the mind works. All of that…is how the mind works.

The mind/brain is responsible for keeping the body moving and operating, which means that the it is also responsible for keeping the body safe (and healthy). I’ve mentioned before that the mind/brain is constantly processing information, in the form of sensation, and then sending information (in the form of sensation) back to the different parts of the body. This is how it does its job. Successfully doing its job, however, sometimes means the brain has to solve puzzles that are missing pieces and mysteries with contradictory evidence. When our minds get in the habit of being Edgar Allan Poe’s Daupin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, we find ourselves making up a story even when we don’t need the story – and then we make decisions based on that story. That’s how the mind works.

“There are few persons who have not, at some period of their lives, amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is often full of interest and he who attempts it for the first time is astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence between the starting-point and the goal.”

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Some of the mind’s mental processing is conscious, but much of it is unconscious and/or subconscious. In fact, some of the ways in which we make decisions is due to this unconscious and subconscious processing / puzzle solving / mystery solving. When we take a moment to pause, and really notice what it is we are noticing, we bring some of that processing into the conscious mind. The more we get in the habit of paying attention to our mind-body-spirit, the more we get in the habit of understanding how we ended up where we are and where we could be going. The more we understand the cause-and-effect of our lives, the more we can alleviate some of our (physical) pain and much of our (mental) suffering.

It all starts by noticing what you notice, and bringing awareness to your awareness.

Please join me, if you are able and interested, today (Monday, April 20th) at 5:30 PM for another 75-minute practice where we notice things. This practice will be different from the Saturday and Sunday practices this weekend – except in the fact that we will be noticing things, virtually. Some of the new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicked in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

Have you noticed I’m gearing up for Kiss My Asana to start on Saturday (April 25th)?

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days

Hey, I still need your Kiss My Asana story!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 20th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 20th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 20th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 20th Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above for an actual preview)

 

“Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”  

– from The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Daupin Tales (published 4/20/1841) by Edgar Allan Poe

 

### OM OM AUM ###

 

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

 

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

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.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

 

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

 

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Price Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

 

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

 

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

 

### AMEN, SELAH ###