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[Love] Letter to the World May 11, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

By this name it shall be revered and studied and observed. What does this name mean? It means that when the Buddha named it, he did not have in mind any definite or arbitrary conception, and so named it. This Sutra is hard and sharp, like a diamond that will cut away all arbitrary conceptions and bring one to the other shore of Enlightenment.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (13)

I have heard that the oldest (surviving) book with a printed date is a Chinese copy of The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, a sacred Buddhist text commonly known as The Diamond Sutra. It was translated from Sanskrit and printed today (May 11th) in 868 A. D. on a 17-and-a-half-foot-long grey scroll using a block printer commissioned by one Wang Jie. A handwritten note along the lower right hand side of the scroll indicates that it was “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wand Jie on behalf of his two parents.” The text itself indicates that there is great merit in being a “person who simply observed and studied this Sutra and, out of kindness, explained it to others.”  (DS 24)

While the merit is great even if a person only understands and explains “four lines of this Sutra” (DS 8 & 12), it is a relatively accessible and short text, at about 6,000 words. The Diamond Sutra consists of a conversation between the Buddha and his pupil Subhūti, during which there is a continuous emphasis on the temporal and illusory nature of all things – including the teachings within the text! Despite the temporal and illusory nature of all things (including the teachings within the text) – or maybe because of it – there is great wisdom here. Wisdom that is summed up in the Tom Waits song “Diamond in Your Mind:” always keep a diamond in your mind (no matter the situation or circumstance).

This text can be studied and explained, out of kindness, with dialogue similar to the Buddha and Subhūti’s conversation. It can be explored through a deep seated mediation. Or, it can be studied, explained, and explored through a little movement – maybe even a little heart-centered dance.

“They say that dance and architecture are the two primary arts. That means that you have to have the gesture, the effort – the real effort – to communicate with another being and you must also have a tree to shelter under in case of storm or sun.”

 

– Martha Graham on Technique

 

“To walk out of one’s door each morning requires that you believe you are needed beyond your four walls and can offer something. To be grateful for the opportunity to simply walk out and live a life offers blessings and insight.”

 

– Martha Graham in 1990 telephone and in-person interviews with James Grissom

 

Martha Graham, born today (May 11th) in 1894 was a revolutionary dancer and choreographer, whose passion was partially inspired by her father’s work as a doctor, who used movement as a treatment for nervous disorders, and the art of Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Her greatest influence, however, was the work of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Graham once said, “Everything I did was influenced by Denishawn.” And, like St. Denis, Graham would go on to leave an indelible mark not only on dance, but also on music, theatre, and performance art.

Graham developed a technique based on the importance of breathing and movement that was, she said, “fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.” The Graham Technique is based on the idea of “contraction and release” (which is one way to describe the body’s natural response to breathing); combined with “spiraling” (diagonally positioning parts of the body, via a 45⁰ rotation of the spine, that is reminiscent of Kandinsky’s paintings) and Doris Humphrey’s “fall and recovery” (Humphrey’s principle regarding an individual’s constant engagement with gravity, as well as the life-death experience of living). Even though a Graham dancer’s hands and feet can have specific placement, the movement of the arms and legs (as well as the hands and feet) begins in the core, with awareness of the heart.

“The palm of the hand should be forward, and straight out (in) the audience. I give you myself, I give you what I have to give; that’s what it really means.”

 

– Martha Graham instructing dancers during rehearsal

 

“When I was young I studied with Martha Graham; not to learn to dance, but to learn to move on the stage. If Martha Graham could have had her way, she would have taught us all how to move – through life. That has been and will be her goal: proper movement through life, the relationship of the body to the mind and the body to the spirit. Martha Graham is a compulsive student of the human heart.”

 

–actor Gregory Peck on Martha Graham (in a documentary)

 

The mind needs what it needs to understand something, even ourselves, until it no longer needs a reference point. (People who attended Saturday’s practice will notice a theme here.) The Diamond Sutra tells us that the concepts of a self or no-self, as well as the ideas that all beings are separated or connected, are such reference points. They are used in the text “the way that a raft is used to cross the river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded.” (DS 6) Martha Graham used dance as a bridge – a way to express life experiences and emotions, as they were simultaneously shared and unique. Here, with the bridge as well as with the raft, there is the opportunity to go back and forth until you have what you need to live nobly through this thing we call life.

“Each one of us has all of life in us. And it is our choice to decide what we will reveal…. How many drops of blood have gone into the making of you? How much memory is in that drop of blood?”

 

– Martha Graham on life, living, and dancing

 

 “Art is memory. It is the excavation of so many memories we have had–of our mothers, our best and worst moments, of glorious experiences we have had with friends or films or music or dance or a lovely afternoon on a sloping, green hill. All of this enters us and, if we are artists, must be shared, handed over to others. This is why it is so important to know what came before you. It is also important to understand that things will follow you, and they may come along and make your work look pedestrian and silly. This is fine; this is progress. We have to work with what life presents to us, and we have to work as well as we can while we can”

 

– Martha Graham in a 1990 telephone interview with James Grissom

 

Please join me for Graham-Diamond-Sutra inspired virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Monday, May 11th) at 5:30 PM. This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices (however, today, I do offer additional inspiration).

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all about the compassion the Buddha speaks of in The Diamond Sutra and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

 

– Martha Graham to biographer Agnes de Mille (printed in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, 1992)

 

### DANCE LIKE NOBODY/EVERYBODY IS WATCHING ###

 

A Fearless River Runs Through This One! April 29, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

{NOTE: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it comes to you courtesy of the “Wayback (Wednesday) Machine.”}

“And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores”

– “The River” by Garth Brooks

Let’s go way back, for minute. Way back to 2016, when the Kiss My Asana yogathon was, for the first and only time ever, in February instead of April – and it was leap year. I needed 29 yogis to not only answer 7 questions about their yoga practice, but to also let me post a recording of their answers along with (what I thought at the time would be) super short introductions on my blog. Being the generous soul that she is and having the work ethic that she does, Yogi #29 (Meghan M) was the first to volunteer – and also the first to start recruiting others.

This was not her first Kiss My Asana rodeo. If you have seen and enjoyed any of the 2015 KMA practice videos, you were probably watching a video recorded by Meghan M. She is an artist and a craftsman with a steady hand, an eye for putting things together, patience, and a heart as wide as the world. Given all that I knew about her, I didn’t think twice about her volunteering to be the first recording. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive: You see, Meghan M likes to wave the introvert banner and while she wanted me to succeed in my Kiss My Asana campaign and while she wanted to support Mind Body Solutions, she also wanted to make sure I had enough volunteers that I wouldn’t actually need her video.

“But when I’m alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the big blackfoot river, and the four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops; under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

– from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Coming from one of the bigger states in the country and being raised in a house-full of outdoorsmen, Meghan M may claim to be introverted, and even a little shy, but she is far from retiring. She may not always understand the injustices in the world, but she will stand up against them and fight for what’s right. She won’t often walk behind you, but if there’s a chance you’ll need an ally she will walk beside you – or even clear the path ahead. People that know her, love her, and recognize how fortunate they are to have her as a friend.

Meghan M is, in many ways, the best part of what it means to be human – and also the best part of what it means to be an American and a citizen of the world: she is responsible; she is considerate; she is strong; she is compassionate; she is intelligent; she respects the earth, the water, air, and sky; and she is (artistically) creative, as well as innovative. She is constantly learning and growing as a person. She’s also resilient (although we disagree on why that is). And while you will be hard pressed to find someone with a better laugh, you are highly unlikely to find a harder or more self-motivated worker on the planet. She can get more done in an hour than most people get done in a day.

“If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we lose our power and momentum. That’s what I would say to you of these difficult times. If you are going to that place of intent to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the wild lands in Utah, you have to know how to dance.”

– from Two In the Far North by Margaret “Mardy” Murie

So, flash forward to the 7th annual Kiss My Asana in April 2020, and I am finally (finally) wrapping up my 2016 offerings. As you read this, you may be thinking, ‘Oh, does this mean you didn’t end up with enough yogis back in 2016?’ No, quite the contrary (as you shall see) and in no small part thanks to Meghan M. She persists and she succeeds even when others stack the odds against. However, there is a method to the madness and a little nod to Anton Chekov (as I have mentioned before), as well my own fondness for rabbit holes and numbers. So, if you were to go back over the different offerings or even to how I choose my themes for each class, you will find that numbers are important. Dates are important. And, in my head, Yogi #29 was always going to be on the 29th.

Pardon the shaky hands and lack of focus. Did I mention Yogi #29 is hilarious?

Speaking of focus: One of the things that is easy to overlook about Meghan M is her ability to focus and (again) to get things done. People like to say they can multi-task – despite the fact that studies have shown multi-tasking is a myth…or a misnomer. Consider a juggler, they hold something in one hand, toss or catch with the other, and scan for what’s already in the air (or, heaven forbid, crashing towards the ground), but in some ways it’s all an illusion. Lots of things are happening (lots of balls in the air), but the juggler is always doing one thing; focusing on what comes next. If you watch Meghan M in action you will see that same ability at work: she gets each thing in motion (in its own turn); keeps track of what’s coming down (or out); and cleans up after herself with a flourish.

On and off the mat, Yogi #29’s ability to focus is directly connected to her ability not to be distracted.  If you want to explore what it takes for you to focus, please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Wednesday, April 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM. Both practices will engage “fearless play” and dance (in honor of International Dance Day), plus a lot of jazz. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Are you focused and Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” 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, starting yesterday (Saturday), 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.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, 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 29th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 29th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 29th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Tuesday’s story was, philosophically, story number 5, a bridge of sorts. Which makes today’s story number 6. Are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 1 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### “DANCE LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING” ###