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Coming Together Again (the “missing” Wednesday post) October 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Religion, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 29th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.]

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”

 

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 18:20

 

“Even very subtle actions—like moving together in time—can exert a significant effect on the mind. We see synchrony in almost every religion the world over: Buddhists and Hindus often chant together in prayer; Christians and Muslims regularly kneel and stand in unison during worship; Jews often sway, or shuckle, when reciting prayers together. These actions belie a deep purpose: creating connection.”

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– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

Speaking of coming together to celebrate an ending that is also a beginning… today, September 29th, is Michaelmas (in the Western Christian traditions), also known as the Feast of the Archangels. In England it is one of the “quarter days” – along with Lady Day on March 25th, MidSummer on June 24th, and Christmas on December 25th – that mark the changing of the seasons (in accordance with the solstices and equinoxes). These religious festivals marked not only the seasonal changes, but also how the changing seasons changed the business of the day. Michaelmas, for instance, marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new farming cycle in the Christian community, much like Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah distinguish time in the Jewish community. As a day with religious and (some would argue) secular intersections, Michaelmas was also the time, traditionally, when people hired servants, bought and sold land, and/or paid debts. For some (even in the United States), it still is. In modern times it has also become associated with elections and the beginning of legal, financial, and academic terms/semesters.

The angels and their roles as messengers (Gabriel), healers (Raphael), and defenders (Michael) are documented in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Christian Old Testament), as well as in Islamic texts. However, they are honored in different ways in different religions and traditions. Saint Michael the Archangel is the leader of the heavenly armies and the highest ranking defender against evil. As such, he is connected to the “pilgrims” or “Church Militant,” Christians on Earth who are struggling to live a righteous life. In the United States, Saint Michael is also the patron saint of police officers and the military. Thus, today is celebrated by some Catholics with a Blue Mass (for all public servants).

In the Roman Catholic tradition, this feast day is now known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The Archangel Uriel/Auriel (who is sometimes seen as the Holy Spirit or the agent of the Holy Spirit), is also named in some traditions. In the Anglican Church, Michaelmas is officially known as the Feast of Saint Michael and All the Angels. For some Lutheran Christians it is a principal feast day. Eastern Orthodox traditions do not observe Michaelmas, but they do celebrate the archangels on November 8th. There are at least two other celebrations of Saint Michael (plus at least two others that were associated with other angels). The honoring of the archangel Michael dates back to the 4th century AD.  

“3 They never rest nor sleep as we;
Their whole delight is but to be
With Thee, Lord Jesus, and to keep
Thy little flock, Thy lambs and sheep.”

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– quoted from the Michaelmas hymn “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise” by Philip Melanchthon (translator: Paul Eber)

While Michaelmas was once a Holy Day of Obligation, which required the observant to attend mass and refrain from “unnecessary work,” this day has become more about tradition than ritual. One Scottish tradition is to harvest and eat carrots, which serve as symbols of Michael’s trident and shield. People in Pennsylvania have celebrated Michaelmas as Goose Day since the late 18th century, a tradition that can be traced back to the Old Country – although some people now substitute other fowl and most do not still believe that doing so will ensure their financial stability in the year ahead.

Legend has it that when Saint Michael banished Lucifer from heaven the “poor” devil fell on a blackberry bush and cursed it (awhile doing some other unseemly things) and therefore it is considered bad luck to pick blackberries after Michaelmas. While many still bake blackberries into a Michaelmas pie, they may or may not realize that the custom was once the way people ensured the blackberries were eaten before “Old Michealmas Day,” which is based on the Julian calendar and falls in October. (For some, Old Michaelmas Day is the last day to pick blackberries.) Finally, it is traditional to hide a ring in a Michaelmas pie, but – like the baby or the coin in the Three Kings cake – people now do it more for the fun of discovery than the possibility of impending nuptials.

People still enjoy making and/or eating St Michael’s Bannock, a sweet bread – and some of the treats may even be blessed and distributed to the poor in honor of a loved one who has died. However, they may not always be made as they were in the old days. Traditionally, the scone-like cake was made by a family’s eldest daughter, using grains grown in a family’s field and held together by sheep’s milk and lamb skin from the family’s flock. Each element, including the baker’s identity, was considered symbolic and associated with the family’s future prosperity (not to mention progeny).

Speaking of progeny, it is the custom in many Catholic and Christian communities to name a child after a saint when that child is born on said saint’s feast day. Ergo, children born today are sometimes named Michael, Mikail, Michaela… or even Miguel. In fact, Miguel de Cervantes is believed to have been born September 29, 1547, in Alcalá de Henares, Crown of Castile (near Madrid), Spain. The author is so acclaimed that Spanish is considered “the language of Cervantes” in some literary circles. While he wrote a number of novels, poems, plays, and farces, Cervantes is primarily remembered (especially outside of literary circles) as the author of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha). The novel is considered the first “modern novel” and is the second most translated book in the world – after the Bible.

Here’s a 2021 post about how Don Quixote’s fascination with windmills and the fair Dulcinea parallels Patanjali’s teachings on how the mind works and how we can work the mind.

“‘Now look, your grace,’ said Sancho, ‘what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.’

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‘Obviously,’ replied Don Quijote, ‘you don’t know much about adventures. Those are giants – and if you’re frightened, take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them.’”

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– quoted from  “Chapter Eight – the great success won by our brave Don Quijote in his dreadful, unimaginable encounter with two windmills, plus other honorable events well worth remembering” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

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“4 The ancient dragon is their foe;
His envy and his wrath they know.
It always is his aim and pride
Thy Christian people to divide.”

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– quoted from the Michaelmas hymn “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise” by Philip Melanchthon (translator: Paul Eber)

 

If you saw kids running around with toy swords on September 29th, (or leaving a toy sword by their door so that it will be turned to gold) they were obviously fighting dragons, not tilting at windmills. As I mentioned before, there are lots of ways that traditions overlap and are deeply connected even though they seem very different on the surface. The similarities and common threads become obvious when traced back to their roots. For example, the story of Saint Michael the Archangel battling the Lucifer is often depicted in art – and recreated by children during Michaelmas – as the story of how Saint George (also known as George of Lydda, a Greek Christian in the Roman army) tamed and slayed a dragon in order to stop human sacrifices. The dragon story dates back to the 10th century and sounds a lot like the pre-Christian legends about Jason and Medea, Perseus and Andromeda, as well as the story of David and Goliath. Ultimately, it is the story of good overcoming evil. Therefore, it is not surprising that people like Austrian philosopher, social reformer, and architect Rudolf Steiner would see parallels between Saint Michael’s battle and the battle that serves as the back-story (or the story-within-the-story) described in the Bhagavad Gita.

One of Rudolf Steiner’s many contributions to the world was an educational philosophy that served as the foundation for the Waldorf schools, the first of which opened in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. Waldorf education, or Steiner education, is featured at thousands of schools, homeschool communities, and special education centers, and around the world. Steiner considered Michaelmas the second most important festival (second only to Easter) and it is celebrated at Waldorf schools as “the festival of the strong.” Michaelmas, this simultaneous ending and beginning, thus becomes a day when people celebrate and honor inner strength – much as people in the Jewish community do when they say, “Chazak,” when they finish a book of Torah.

Is it a coincidence that Simchat Torah and Michaelmas coincided this year? Not at all. But the fact that it did brings awareness, again, to the power of coming together and the power that each and every one of us has inside.

“Quiet I bear within me,
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong.
Now will I be imbued with their glowing warmth.
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve.
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being
When by my steadfast striving
I become strong
To find within myself the source of strength
The strength of inner quiet.”

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– “Inner Quiet” by Rudolf Steiner

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[NOTE: In previous years, I have focused more on the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes and started off using a Cervantes-focused playlist for the 4:30 practice, which is also available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “01162021 Quixote’s Zamboni”)]

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”

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– quoted from “Chapter Nineteen – An account of the second discourse that passed between Sancho and his master: the succeeding adventure of the corpse, and other remarkable events” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

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Many thanks to LW for sharing some of her passion and wisdom after Wednesday’s practice!

### WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE BELIEVE? ###

Generally Coming Together (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 28th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.]

“Another classic definition of yoga is ‘to be one with the divine.’ It does not matter what name we use for the divine – God, Allah, Īśvara, or whatever – anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

 

– quoted from “1 – Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

If you take even the most rudimentary survey course on the Yoga Philosophy, you will learn that the Sanskrit word yoga means “union” (and you will probably learn that it comes from the root word for “to yoke”). Go a little deeper, however, and you will find a lot of different classical (as well as modern) interpretations of the word, including the idea that it is “to come together” or “to unite.” In our physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, there is often an emphasis on bringing the mind, body, and spirit together. The reality, however, is that there is already a mind-body-spirit connection. The practice is simply a way to recognize and reinforce the connection. And, just as we are individually connected in a variety of ways, we are collectively connected – we just need a way to recognize and reinforce those connections.

Dr. David DeSteno has a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group – a psychology lab that focuses on “ways to improve the human condition.” To be clear, the lab is not focused on technological hardware but on social behavior. As his bio states: “At the broadest level, his work examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue. Studying hypocrisy and compassion, pride and punishment, cheating and trust, his work continually reveals that human moral behavior is much more variable than most would predict.”

Recently, I came across a Wired article that was adapted from his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, in which he points out that in many areas of his (20 years worth of) research, psychologists and neuroscientists are simply (re)codifying systems that have existed for thousands of years in religions all over the world. The overlapping points –where east meets west; where ritual and tradition meet science and the scientific method; where faith meets reason – always fascinate me and also make me chuckle. I chuckle at the hubris that Dr. DeSteno identifies within himself (and other scientists), which relegates ritual and tradition to superstition and myth – forgetting that every old wives’ tale or story from the old country was a way for ancient civilizations to understand the university, just as “science” is the way the modern world understands the university. That same element of hubris is also why sometimes modern scientists forget that they don’t know everything.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the connection between faith and reason and by the way we human beings (sometimes) trust certain things when we experience them directly; trust things for which we have no other explanation than that it is; and at other times can only trust something that has been “scientifically proven.” In this case, “scientifically proven” means that it is quantified and also that the cause and effect can be duplicated. Of course, this makes me laugh, sardonically, because thousands of years of “evidence” is often thrown out as “anecdotal” because of who experienced it and how it was originally documented.

“But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Throughout the year I reference a lot of different rituals, customs, and traditions from a variety of different cultures, religions, and philosophies. I do this because I firmly believe that we human beings have more commonalities than differences. Some of those commonalities involve the ways in which we come together as spiritual communities and the power of those get-togethers. As I have mentioned before, there are certain times of year – often around the changing of the seasons – when everyone and their brother seems to be getting together for some communal ritual. These times are powerful in that they are steeped in faith; however, when you look at the Jewish community around this time of year, it becomes obvious that the power is in the faith as well as in the coming together – the yoga, as it were – of the community.

For instance, there are some devout Jews who will begin preparing for the New Year 40 days before Yom Kippur. Then there are people who only come to services during the High Holidays, the “Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement.” This latter group includes people who identify as culturally and/or ethnically Jewish. Then, just a few days later, people celebrate Sukkot – and now the coming together includes, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, people who are not Jewish in any way, shape, or form. Power is increasing, as is knowledge – which is also power.

“The Talmud tells us that one of the things that is in constant need of “bolstering” and improvement is Torah study. Thus, we say “Chazak” to strengthen ourselves in Torah study.

 

It’s crucial to review the Torah we’ve learned so as not to forget it. This is why, after finishing a portion of the Talmud, we say “Hadran alach,” “I will return to you.” Similarly, when we finish a book of Torah, we say “Chazak,” in other words, “We should have the strength to review what we learned.”

 

Likewise, when a person does a mitzvah, we say “Yasher koach” (“More power to you”), meaning, “Just as you did this mitzvah, may it be G‑d’s will that you do many more mitzvahs!”

 

– quoted from “Why Say ‘Chazak’ Afer Finishing a Book of Torah?” by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin (posted on  chabad.org)

When I explain Sukkot to my yoga community, I specifically mention that it takes place over seven days (as explicitly stated in Devarim – Deuteronomy 16:15) and is celebrated over eight days in the diaspora. The extra day is actually “a second day festival” which, when observed, applies to all major holidays. For the Jewish diaspora (i.e., the community residing outside of Israel), a “second festival day” was established about 2,000 years ago to reconcile the fact that a new month started with the sighting of the new moon at the Temple in Jerusalem and then that sighting had to be communicated to the world at large. In addition to building in travel time (since this was before telecommunication and the internet), religious leaders took into account the fact that messengers may not arrive (in an appropriate period of time or at all). People within the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are primarily the only people within the diaspora who still observe this second day, but the timeline can get a little confusing when holidays overlap.

 

While I often reference the extra day when it comes to Sukkot, I haven’t always mentioned that for some (excluding the diaspora) the eighth day is its own separate celebration: Shemini Atzeret, literally “The Eighth [day] of Assembly.” Furthermore, this eighth day has its own rituals, traditions, and prayers – specifically, the prayer for rain and the prayer to remember departed souls. Traditionally, this is NOT a celebration for “[all] who live within your city.” It is immediately followed by Simchat Torah (or, for some, the second day of Shemini Atzeret), which is a celebration of an ending that is also a beginning.

As prescribed by the Talmud, the Torah – which consists of the “Five Books of Moses” – is read publicly over the course of the year and traditionally people are not meant to go more than three days without reading the Torah. The five books are divided up into 54 portions, known as Parshah (or Sidra), which are read weekly and accompanied by special blessings. Each week a special group of people are selected to read the designated portion during services. There are times when two portions are combined. The most notably combination occurs when the end of Devarim – Deuteronomy (33:1 – 34:12), known as V’Zot HaBerachach Parshah, is immediately followed by the reading of the first chapter of Bereishit – Genesis. This double reading occurs on Simchat Torah (or the second day of Shemini Atzeret). Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with/of the Torah” and services are traditionally filled with singing, spontaneous dancing, and more gratitude… which is more power.

“Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous…. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06162020 Abe’s House & Soweto”]

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

 

– Mother Teresa

 

If you are interested in more information about the work of Dr. David DeSteno, click here to check out the Wired article referenced above.

 

### Peace, Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, YOGA ###