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To See In A Special Way (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) June 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Helen Keller, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Philosophy, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post-practice post for Monday, June 27th. 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.

“A healing story is my term for the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it. They can be as simple as ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or as sharp as ‘How come nothing ever works out for me?’ Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

*

– quoted from “Introduction: The Mind-Body Relationship in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

What Matthew Sanford wrote about his personal story is true of all our stories: They are full of healing stories. These stories are intertwined with the stories of others and we often find ourselves in the intersection between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive. This could be the “silence” of which Sanford also speaks – or it could be the shadow of the myth. Either way, we grow up in this in-between space and, at some point, we may realize that we can step out of the shadow. At some point, we may realize that we must step out of the shadow of the myth in order to move forward. Stepping out of the shadows of our personal mythology, however, often requires us to recognize that very little is as black and white as we thought it was and the only reason things seemed simpler “back in the day” was that we lacked awareness.

Of course, awareness can be painful, because it can lead to uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, as well as uncertainty. Awareness comes with the knowledge that no one is as perfect as they are portrayed in the story. The hero (or heroine) sometimes use their greatness to do and say really horrible and detrimental things. The anti-hero or the one that was demonized may actually save the day. Awareness can allow us to see cause-and-effect, in the past and (on a certain level) in the future. However, both hindsight and foresight require us to “see” clearly and to understand what we are seeing, which can sometimes be problematic. True hindsight and foresight require us to look at the facts (and the fiction) as if we are simultaneously viewing two sides of the same coin – something we can only do under special conditions and using a special tool.

Studying history can be the special conditions, but not everyone loves diving into a biography or a chronology. Even when we do appreciate history, we may only view it from one side – which means we still lack knowledge. Furthermore, our vision may still be impaired by our perception, which itself may be impaired. This is where the mind and mindful awareness come in, because paying attention to how we think (and why we think the things we think) creates the special tool we need to distinguish the difference between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive.

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

On a certain level, perception is one area where philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism dovetail with the physical sciences. All agree, in theory, that most of what we perceive is based on what’s happening in the mind and what’s happening in the mind is mostly based on past experiences. What we see/comprehend is based on what we have previously seen/comprehended. When there are gaps in our knowledge (i.e., where there is ignorance), the mind-intellect fills in the gap. What fills in the gap may not make sense to anyone or anything other than our mind-intellect. It may not even make sense to us, on a conscious intellectual level. However, we (often) accept what comes from our mind even when there is some part of us that says, ‘That doesn’t actually make sense, when you really think about it.’

The point is we don’t necessarily think about it. Or, we think about it in a way that makes it make sense – which is how confirmation bias works: we look for a reason to believe. We can say we all believe in the truth, but the truth is that we are all looking for something in which to believe – which is why philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism (and even some religions) have practices that revolve around being, rather than thinking.

Being and breathing, with awareness.

Vipassanā is a Theravada Buddhist meditation technique that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). It literally means “to see in a special way” and can also be translated as “special, super seeing,” “inward vision,” “intuition,” or introspection.” In English, however, it is usually translated as “insight.” This insight is achieved by sitting, breathing, and watching the mind-body without judging the mind-body. Part of the practice is even to recognize when you are judging and, therefore, recognizing when you are getting in your own way. It is a practice of observation – which is also part of our yoga practice. It is a way to parse out fact and fiction, myth and reality, and that place where they overlap like a wacky Venn Diagram.

I have heard that in Theravada Buddhism there are eighteen (18) stages or types of “insight,” which bring awareness to eighteen (18) pairs of opposites and create the opportunity to eliminate attachment to those dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns which lead to suffering. In some texts, this is how “opposites” are engaged, which is also a practice recommended in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. A connected technique in the Yoga Philosophy is svādhyāya (“self-study”), which includes the practice of bringing awareness to how one feels within a certain context. For instance, we can pay attention to how we feel – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually/energetically – when we learn different elements of someone’s story, as well as when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes: be it the hero(ine) of the story or someone inspired by them.

The following is a revised version of a 2020 post.

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

*

– quoted from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

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

All of this is part of the mythology of Helen Keller and also of Anne Sullivan. All of this is part of the “healing story” that have inspired so many people, some of whom are considered “able bodied” and some of whom are considered “disabled.” And while these are the most well-known facts, they are only a handful of facts. They represent an oversimplified version of a complicated story about complex people, their convoluted relationships, and their controversial legacies.*

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

*

– quoted from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912) [referencing St. Clair McKelway, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle]

Helen Keller is notable for many reasons, but she was (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about her family history and some of her views. Her father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, a woman who was blind and deaf publicly wrote and spoke in favor of the idea that humans could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Eugenics has been scientifically debunked and is rife with basic humanitarian issues. At its core, it also exhibits a lack of faith in humanity and human potential. Still, history continues to show us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics. But/and, one of those mind-boggling examples is Helen Keller: someone who used their very public platform to support a theory that, in practice, would not have supported their own existence.

Again, that’s just one side of the coin. Just as no group of people is a monolith, no individual is one-dimensional. Hellen Keller herself pointed this out when she referenced the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich. She wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that each of us is connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside ourselves. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us in a functional/skillful direction – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

That’s the lesson of “insight.”

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel”]

*NOTE: Radiolab recently aired a podcast episode entitled “The Helen Keller Exorcism” (dated Mar 11, 2022). While I wrote the aforementioned details about Helen Keller a couple of years ago, with minimal context, this podcast featured the perspective of fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, who is persistently resisting people’s limited perceptions of her and the myth of Helen Keller. (It also provides some of the backstory about Helen Keller’s most controversial views.)

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

*

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

*

### OBSERVE YOUR OWN SELF – BODY AND MIND ###

When Intuition Expands (the post for the First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearly”) June 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Baseball, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Nobly honoring all connections leads to a noble life.

“A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, ‘If only….'”

*

– quoted from the poem “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

In October 1967, American Heritage (volume 18, issue 6) featured an excerpt from Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey. Mr. Gardner was a popular mathematics and popular science writer – whose life and work is fascinating enough to have it’s own theme – and he was known for his work in recreational mathematics, magic, and criticism of fringe or pseudoscience. He was also known for annotating works that were popular with the masses, but not always understood by the masses. His book about a very popular baseball poem includes a history of how the poem became so popular, as well as a biography of the poem’s author. At times, it is also just as scathing and hilarious as the actual poem.

The poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888,” was originally published in The Daily Examiner (now The San Francisco Examiner) today in 1888. It was published under the pen name “Phin,” a diminutive of the nickname “Phinney,” which is what Ernest Lawrence Thayer was called when he attended Harvard University. Like Mr. Thayer, Martin Gardner studied philosophy (albeit at the University of Chicago rather than Harvard) and both landed in the publishing world. But they lived in different times, pursued different interests, and – I’m willing to bet – had really different egos. What is interesting to note, however, is how egos come up in their work – especially with regard to “Casey,” which is (ultimately) a poem about egos, emotions, and how our judgement and behavior can be swayed by our egos and emotions.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

*
– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

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

– Anonymous

*

Human beings are sensational beings. This means a few different things. First, it means that we are infused with sensation – we feel things. We have sense organs that soak up information and communicate via sensation or “feelings,” which the mind-intellect processes. Second, we place value on things (and people) that make us feel things; we call them sensational. Finally, we find sensational things appealing – meaning, we are drawn towards people and things that provoke a visceral reaction, (i.e., that make us feel things). Being sensational beings can be amazing; however, it can also be problematic. The problematic part is that our intellect can sometimes be so overwhelmed by sensation that we find ourselves doing irrational things, while simultaneously believing they are rational things. Sometimes, being sensational beings means we don’t “see” clearly.

To be transparent, part of the problem may be that we don’t always understand how we “see” things. We assume that we have the full picture and that what we see – and understand – is exactly what someone else sees, but for some reason doesn’t understand. (“I mean, for goodness sake, it’s right in front of them! How can they not see that?”) This disconnect can manifest as people arguing even though they are on the same side of a debate and/or “agreeing to disagree” and coming to a stalemate in a situation where movement towards resolution and reconciliation is vital to survival.

In these situations, everyone ultimately loses.

It would be great if we could take a deep breath, step back, and get more perspective. It would be great if we could really talk with each other and ask the right questions. But, there are certain things about which we are quite impassioned – which means we are quite literally infused with suffering. We don’t want to (or can’t) ignore what we’re feeling – especially in times when we are feeling quite a bit (or when we are feeling quite numb). Instead, we need to balance the mind-body experience – and, gain some insight into our sight (i.e., how we “see” things and why we “see” things the way we do when others “see” things in a different way).

“Intuition is important, knowing what questions to ask. The other thing is a passion for getting to the core of the problem.”

*

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Born today in 1924, Dr. Tosten Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with his collaborator Dr. David Hubel.

Click here to read my 2020 post about their research on ocular dominance columns and how their original thesis around neural pathways and the mechanisms of the visual cortex was way off center.

Please join me tonight, Friday, June 3, 2022, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearlyon Zoom. 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. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.
*
Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04012022 An “Important” Story””]

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all. 

Prop wise, this is a kitchen sink practice. You can practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.

You may want extra layers (as your body may cool down during this practice). Having a wall, chair, sofa, or coffee table may be handy for this practice.

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 to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*
– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

More ocular science…

(NOTE: Some blog quotes by Drs. Wiesel and Hubel are from a short biography produced by National Science & Technology Medals Foundation when Dr. Wiesel was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science.)

### I CAN SEE YOU. CAN YOU SEE ME? ###

Creating: Music for This Date II (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, January 26th. You can request audio recording of Wednesday’s practices 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.)

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) 

Yesterday, I said that we all are creative. I didn’t say it as a platitude. I said it because it’s true. We can go back century after century and find people telling us this same fact, sometimes even in similar ways. Patanjali talked about the power that comes from focusing on the space/ether between an object, our sense organs, and our mind-intellect. Marcel Proust described the way our sensory perception can be like an index of our memories. Drs. Gerald Edelman and Oliver Sacks studied the way the mind creates the story. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has explained how the body tells the story. Just by being alive, we create.

Creativity is an aspect of the divine that is inside all of us – and yet, there was a time when I didn’t think of myself as creative. Or, more specifically, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. This was during a time when I worked with a lot of really talented artists and, even though what I did required a similar kind of finesse as their work did, I saw my work as being more technical than artistic – which completely negated the technical aspects of their craft and was (frankly) reductive. Truth be told, I carried that mindset forward so that even when I started teaching and others saw me as a storyteller, I didn’t quite see it.

Now, of course, I am very intentional about the way I tell stories – on the mat (and the blog). Now, I use all the technical (and artistic) tools I used in theatre, all the literary and symbolic tools I learned in school, and all the philosophical and energetic wisdom I’ve gleaned from life and from my practices. Now, I tell the story with the poses, bits of information, and the music… ah, yes, the music. There’s always a message (or two) in the music – even when there’s no lyrics.

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

*

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Sometimes I pick music because of the tempi or the tones of the music. Other times I pick music for the message in the lyrics. And while I almost never pick music I don’t like, the playlists are definitely a reflection of what I love. That said, I recognize that we all have different relationships with music. Some people never notice the music. Some people vibe to it. Others find it distracting. My goal is that if/when someone notices the music, it is a consistent part of the overall experience. It is a reminder to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate on the theme of the day.

I also remember that everyone is going to feel the music. They may just feel the vibration and the vibe. They may be really tuned into the tempi or the tones or the lyrics. However, some will also feel it because of what it brings up for them. Western science has shown that hearing music we haven’t heard in a long time “awakens” the body. Similarly, it can awaken memories, reminding us of days gone by.

Of course, most of the time I’m really transparent about all of this. The fact that the music is part of the story is also part of the narrative in the practice.

But, what happens if I leave out one (or two) pertinent facts? What happens if I leave out names and dates and maybe just allude to a few trivial facts?

Then the story becomes a bit of a puzzle (or a riddle). And the mind loves puzzles (and riddles). It loves to fill in the gaps. It loves to get creative. It loves seeing if/when you will figure out that I was never really telling you the story. It was always you.

“In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers the reader so that he may discern in the book what he probably would not have seen in himself. The recognition of himself in the book by the reader is the proof of the its truth and vice-versa, at least in a certain measure, the difference between the two texts being often less attributable to the author than to the reader.”

*

– quoted from Time Regained, Volume 7 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Wednesday’s playlist was inspired by people and things related to this specific date in history. Tracks #2 – 15, plus Track #17 are (mostly) related to someone who was born on January 26th. There are two tracks in the before/after practice music that are actually related to an artist (Alicia Keys, b. 1981) whose birthday was the 25th, but that’s a whole other story. The earliest birthday year is 1925; the latest is 2009 – but the tracks are not in birthday order. Finally, I will admit that there are some historical (and current events) that influenced why I picked these songs rather than all the other similarly relevant songs.

The clues I gave out in class are below (mostly in the order they were given). If you highlight the space to the right of the “A,” you will find the pertinent name(s) and years.

*

Clue #1: Sometimes our bodies don’t feel the way we’re use to them feeling. They seem a little off and we can’t play the way we’re use to playing. We have to adapt, modify, or step back. A: Jacqueline Mary du Pré OBE was born in 1945, in Oxford, United Kingdom.

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Clue #2: In the first pose, when they body really hasn’t had a chance to warm up, just offer yourself a little love, sweet love – or, as Bryan Kest says, “… some sweet touches.” Just a little tenderness, a little kindness, a little compassion. If you get in the habit of offering yourself a little love (sweet love), tenderness, kindness, and compassion, then you have the skills to offer the same to others. A: Anita Baker was born in 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, United States.

*

Clues #3 – #4.5: When you give yourself, just a little bit, you also have what you need to give to others. You can tap into that sixth siddhi or “power” unique to being human, the power of generosity. If you were blessed with good looks, gorgeous blue eyes, and a lot of talent, it seems like giving back is something you might do. Maybe you give back to kids – really sick kids. Or, maybe you realize that other people – people who like to eat well – would appreciate giving back too… while they eat. (In Downward Facing Dog, you can alternate bending your knees like you’re riding a bicycle… as raindrops keep falling on your head.) A: Paul Newman was born in 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #4.5 & #5: Some people are known what they do and for their sense humor. Some people even credit their wit and sense of humor for their successful marriage. (Some of those people were always up for a seventh inning stretch.) A: Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecker was born in 1934, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.

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Clue #6: Remember, one things I was thinking of today (thinking of, fondly) was an actual thing – a living, breathing, thing. Even if it’s broad to say it was born, it might be more accurate to say that it’s American cousin was “born” today. A: After a couple of weeks of previews, The Phantom of the Opera officially premiered on Broadway in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre.

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Clue #7: There’s a point in every practice where someone, not every one, starts trying to calculate what comes next. But, it’s important to remember that the practice is fluid, we’re flowing – and sometimes fluid calculations are complicated. A: Dr. Susan Friedlander (née Poate) was born in 1946.

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Clue #8: There are several people on this birthday-inspired playlist that only be described as disrupters and erupters. They erupt on the scene and disrupt the status quo. They make a name for themselves because of what they do and how they do it – which has the power to blow you away. Sometimes they even name the things they do. A: Eddie Van Halen was born in 1955, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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Clue #9: Some of those erupters and disrupters are told that they can’t be who they are or do they things they want to do (or love the people they love), but they just keep on being, doing, living, and loving. Maybe they even shrug their shoulders and tell the naysayers, “I was born this way.” (They might also say that while they dance, in their seat, and smile.) A: Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #10 – #11.5: Everyone on the list was born into different circumstances. Some were born into different cultures (and even different countries) and those circumstances, over which they had no control, became part of their story. Sometimes their circumstances were also why people told them no or couldn’t imagine them being, doing, living, and loving the way that they did. But, by disrupting the status quo – by living their Truth – their very existence allows other people to imagine themselves living their best lives. A: Kirk Franklin was born in 1970, in Dallas, Texas, United States.

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Clues #11 & #11.5: There’s one thing about all the people on this list, that’s also true about everyone in the world: They were born to be loved. We are all born to be loved. The twisted, upside down, and backwards thing is that sometimes we have to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need someone to remind the naysayers of that. Yes, there are people on this list who were abandoned (at birth), forsaken, mistreated, and misguided. There’s a least one person who was treated like a slave; at least one person who was disgraced; and at least one person who was abused. But, all of them were born to be loved. A: Lucinda Williams was born in 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #12 (– #19): So far as I know, most people who inspired this list were born on their own. But some were born with seven other people. A: Noah Angel Solomon, Maliyah Angel Solomon, Isaiah Angel Solomon, Nariyah Angel Solomon, Jonah Angel Solomon, Makai Angel Solomon, Josiah Angel Solomon, and Jeremiah Angel Solomon were born in 2009, in Bellflower, California, United States.

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Clues #11.5 & #20: Despite their circumstances, despite sometimes feeling less than free – despite not always being (legally) free – at least one person has dedicated their life to liberation and education.   A: Dr. Angela Davis was born in 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, United States.

*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: I remixed the YouTube playlist after the 4:30 practice, because I had erroneously used the extended version of a song. The YouTube playlist also includes extra videos, which are not available on Spotify.)

Errata: As I was closing my browser tabs, I realized that I overlooked a birthday (and I’m kicking myself for it)! I’ve updated the playlist so that the before/after music includes a track for Maria von Trapp, born January 26,1905, in Vienna, Austria.

Yoga Sūtra 3.48: grahaṇasvarūpāsmitānvayārthavattvasaṃyamādindriyajayaḥ

*

– “Through samyama on the sense organs’ process of perception, essential nature, identification with I-am-ness, constitution and purposiveness, mastery over them is acquired.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.49: ato manojavitvaṃ vikaraṇabhāvaḥ pradhānajayaśca

*

– “Thence comes about quickness as of the mind, the state lacking sense organs and mastery over pradhana.”

*

### Embrace Your Creativity ###

Updated! Purpose Driven (a Thursday post, that’s also for Saturday!) December 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The commentary below was originally posted for the fifth day of Kwanzaa 2020 (which was today, Thursday, in 2021) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request last year’s audio recording of via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. The New Year’s information has been updated!

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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 or donations for New Year’s Day are not necessarily deductible.]

“There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it.”

 

 

– quoted from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

For those of you keeping count, Wednesday and Thursday make up the 5th,  6th, and or 7th “Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; and “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination).

Given the Oliver Sacks quote above, you might wonder if that musical “stimulus and reward” are the only reason I keep repeating aspects of this myth (that even advocates accept is not historically true). The truth is that while there is something truly appealing, on a musical level, to the whole idea, the main reason I keep referring back to myth is because it serves a purpose. And, if we’re going to talk about faith, we have to talk about purpose.

There was a time when everything people did had purpose, had meaning. Rituals were the way people made sense of the world and the way people stayed connected to each other and to what they valued. This is another reason why I like the “12 Days of Christmas” catechism idea. Over time, however, some rituals lost their meaning – or people became separated from the meaning. Rituals separated from their meaning became traditions; behavior people did because their elders taught them the ways of their ancestors… but without the deeper connection. In some cases, people lost so much of the meaning, became so separated from the meaning, that they were just things people said. I could be wrong about this, but I partially blame the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason for some of that lost / disconnected meaning.

The 18th Century Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason, which was preceded by the emergence of the modern sciences, was a time when people started feeling confident in their ability to find the reason behind all the mysteries in the world. Don’t get me wrong; there were, and are, still great unknowns / mysteries in the world. But, as the Western world (in particular) started moving out of the Middle Ages, there was a steadfast belief that the answers to everything were available to the human mind. As more and more people focused on “finding the truth,” some moved away from mysticism – and, when as there was less acceptance of mystery and less acceptance of the unknown, there was less “need” for ritual. Or so it would seem. The truth, however, is that even as we gained knowledge and lost mystery, humans craved ritual. In fact, some would say that our brains are wired for ritual.

“And I actually think one of the great things about getting older, about being in my 50s, they say that when we’re younger our brains are tuned to novelty, to be animated by novelty. But as you get older, you’re less tuned to novelty and I would say more naturally attuned to kind of take pleasure in what is ordinary and habitual. And I think that’s a great gift.”

 

 

– Krista Tippett, being interviewed by Pico Iyer, about her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, on “The Mystery & Art if Living” episode of On Being (with Krista Tippett (July 10, 2016)  

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the social pendulum swung back and people started seeking ritual, returning to mystery and mysticism as well as the comfort that can be found in repeated behavior. We see this in the resurgence of the physical practice of yoga in India and to the way the practice eventually spread into the Western world. We also see this in the emergence of mega churches and the wave of young women considering the convent. We even see this in the fact that some atheists have “church.” The only problem with this swing back to ritual was that sometimes people overlooked what was gained during the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason and focused on the outer (superficial) aspects of rituals rather than the inward (meaning-filled) experience. Moving into the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, this trend led people to spend copious amounts of money trying to recreate ancient rituals that were previously free – all to get that deeper feeling of connection. The problem was the lasting connection people were seeking doesn’t come from the outside. Yes, we can see it on the outside. Absolutely! But, deep, lasting, sustainable connection starts with an internal purpose.

A key aspect to ritual is the purpose behind what is done, how it is done, and when (i.e., the order in which it is done). Again, everything has a purpose and that purpose reinforces the repeated behavior which, in turn, reinforces the connection to others observing the ritual. In fact, that reinforcement of connection is another purpose found in ritual. A perfect example of this is the repetition of prayer or chanting, especially when there is an embodied component. The embodied component could be someone praying with a rosary, chanting with mala beads, whirling (in the Sufi tradition), or practicing 108 Sun Salutations; either way, there are very specific ways that the words are uttered or thought and very specific ways the body moves – even when it is just the fingers and the hands moving.

In Sanskrit, such a ritual is referred to as ajapa-japa, “without (mental effort) effort repeat-repeat” or “repeat and remember”. Over time, the practice reinforces itself in such a way that it turns into itself and, in doing so, turns the practitioner inward. Over time, the meaning of the words and/or movement is completely embodied so that there is seamlessness between the doer and the doing. The practice becomes ingrained. It becomes like breathing, which can be another form of ajapa-japa.

I could go into all kinds of scientific detail about how this happens and why it works. But, just for a moment, be open to the mystery… and just focus on the purpose.

“You can perform japa, repetition of a mantra or Sacred Word, in the midst of your day-to-day work. Then, when it becomes a habit, even when you are working intensely a portion of the mind will keep repeating the mantra always. That means you have locked one end of your chain to a holy place, while the rest of the chain remains still in the outside world.”

 

 

– a note written by Swami Satchidananda, quoted in Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace by Sita (Joan Weiner) Bordow

Feast / Holy Days are celebrations of sacred mysteries and significant events. Note that even when the focus is tied to a specific person (martyr or saint, including Jesus and the Virgin Mary), there is a connection to miracles, which are beyond science – in other words, more mystery). In addition to serving the purpose of commemoration / remembrance, feast days stimulate excitement around spirituality and help people embody the stories and history of their faith. In Christianity, particularly in the Catholic tradition, the order of the feast / holy days (throughout the year) is its own ritual storytelling. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a history of calendar reforms that have served the purpose of reinforcing the liturgical aspects of their rituals, thereby bringing faith into the foreground of people’s lives. Keep in mind, however, that this tradition did not start with the Christianity. The Hebrew Bible is full of commands from God about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“The philosopher Abraham Kaplan calculated that over 60 percent of Judaism’s 613 commandments involve physical ritual: lighting candles, ritual baths, etc. These deeds are a kind of language, a way of expressing things that are too deep for words.”

 

 

– quoted from a New York Times letter to the editor entitled, “There Should Be More Rituals” by David Brooks (dated April 22, 2019)

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday of light, incorporates rituals and traditions from several different faiths and several different cultures. As is often the case, these rituals are centered around symbolic objects: a mkeka (“mat”); kinara (“candelabra”); Mishumaa Saba (“seven candles,” one black, three red, and three green which symbolize the Black community, the historical struggles faced by the community, and the future possibilities of the community); mazao (“crops”); Muhindi (decorative as well as edible “corn”); a Kikombe a cha Umoja (“unity cup”); and Zawadi (ceremonial “gifts”). People often incorporate kente cloth and other Afrocentric decorations, such as black, red, and green Pan-African flag.

During Kwanzaa celebrations, people take a moment to pause and reflect, focus, concentrate, meditate, and contemplate one of the Nguzo Saba (“seven essential pillars”). On December 30th, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, people focus on the principle of Nia (“purpose”): To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. In other words, there is a reminder, in the middle of the week, that this is a purpose driven festival and that the future of the community depends on people being purpose driven in a way that brings about individual and collective healing.

When I started thinking about the posts and classes for this week, and in particular about how to address the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, I wanted to offer little bits of purpose about everything we were doing in the physical practice and also bits of purpose about various celebrations happening around the world. In considering all the different celebrations that fit under the rubric of ritual, and all the purposes behind the ways people are currently celebrating their holidays, it occurred to me that all these rituals share two common purposes: they bring people together (in peace) and they bring people closer to something bigger than themselves, something Universal, something Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

“My research over the last decade has helped understand why rituals in particular (and not any other behaviors like habits, for instance) are effective at battling negative emotions. Be it anxiety, stress, fear, doubt, sadness, grief – you name it. Rituals are there to save the day. The dread we feel after experiencing a loss happens because it feels like the situation is outside our control (and it usually is). Rituals reinstate that control.

 

Consider, for instance, in moments of grief, rituals help ease our pain and suffering. But, again I ask, how do they do this, and why rituals in particular? As my collaborators Mike Norton and Francesca Gino have shown, rituals alleviate feeling of grief and loss by increasing a feelings of control.”

 

 

– quoted from “The emerging science of ritual – a new look on an ancient behavior: And how you can use it to live life to the fullest” by Dr. Nick Hobson (contributing to the ThriveGlobal.com, Dec. 7, 2017)

For the last seven (going on eight) years, I have started the New Year by leading at least one 3-hour japa-ajapa mala of 108 Sun Salutations. For the last several years, I have wrapped up New Year’s Day with a 2-hour Yin+Meditation practice. The practices are very, very different. Although we do mix it up and break it down a little (so that it is accessible to everyone), the 108 mala is very vigorous and repeats 12 poses in a very specific sequence. (You can see some of the reasons for that number here and here.) The Yin+Mediation combines the meditative aspects of deep seated mediation with specific poses held 3 – 5 minutes in order to address the deep tissue, joints, and connective tissue. Props are useful for both practices, but are definitive part of the Yin Yoga practice – and you can use some household items as props.

 So, the practices are very different and yet they both help us to move through this liminal or “threshold” time between the old and the new years. Also, they each incorporate key elements of ritual and allow us to tap into the power of intention as well as community.

This year is different, obviously. Because of the pandemic we are on Zoom for both events (which means that there is no limit to the number of participants). It will feel different as we won’t be so close together and, unless you have your heat turned up, the 108 might not steam up the windows or get your walls all slimy.

However, for all that is different, there are some things that stay the same. I will still keep count and guide you through the experience. We will still set intentions and dedications for each round and plant some karmic seeds. We will still have the opportunity to “burn some karma” in the 108 and release some tension (in both practices). We will still have moments of reflection and insight – and, whatever comes, we will still begin and end and move through it all together.

Both practices are donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admitted if you get dumped from the call.)

 

Here are some of the many ways to mindfully start the New Year. Please note that this list includes a variety of practices, styles, and traditions (and it is only a sample of what’s available). Also note that some events are on Zoom and some are In-person, but I have noted all the distinctions here since some may change.

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration (Please register here.)

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Mindfulness, Recovery, and Twelve Steps meeting (Details are available here.)

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 PM – 12:00 PM Dharma Practice Reflections (meditation) with Ramesh Sairam (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM “Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat 2022 Vision Board & Sankalpa Cultivation” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Yin+Meditation with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM “New Year Mala Making and Charging ‘In Person’” with Kathleen “Kat” Sprole (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM “Our Sacred Garden Kickoff” with Amanda Brink (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat Yin, Restorative, & Yoga Nidra to Welcome 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Facing the New Year” with Tracy Vacura (see Yoga Sanctuary for details*)

 

Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. 

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 – The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

The Purpose of Naming (the Saturday post) January 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Mantra, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[Happy 2021 to Everyone!]

[This is the post for Saturday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’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.]

 

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet….

 

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

 

– Juliet (on the balcony) in Act II, scene I of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Here we are, a New Year and a new beginning – but we still have a big mess leftover from before. The world has been here before. In fact, Johannes Mercurius found himself here in 533 AD. He was a native of Rome, who became a priest at the Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) on Caelian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The basilica has an interesting history – not the least of which is that contains memorials and references to “Johannes surnamed Mercurius” and “Presbyter Mercurius.” I might dive into that rabbit hole one day, but I mention all this today, because Johannes made quite a name for himself in the church.

Quite literally, he made a name for himself: Today in 533, he was elected pope and decided to change his name to Pope John II. Nowadays, someone changing their name when they are elevated to the Papacy is the ruler rather than the exception. However, Pope John II was the first pontiff to take a new name to mark the beginning of his Papacy and he did it for two reasons. First, he was named after the Roman (and therefore “pagan”) god Mercury; which made his birth name highly inappropriate. Second, he wanted to send a message to the Church and the world about his intention and expectations as Pope.

Pope John II started his Papacy during a time when everything and anything within the Church was for sale. “Simony,” named for a Simon who is associated with sorcery in The Acts of the Apostles, is the practice of purchasing or selling religious appointments, offices, and positions. According to The Catholic Catholic Encyclopedia: Infamy-Lapparent (as published in 1910), the Church’s highest office was unfilled for two months and, during that time, people were very openly, and “shameless[ly] trafficking in sacred things…. Even sacred vessels were exposed for sale.” Given that the position was ultimately filled by a man bearing a Roman god’s name, who had given the Church quite a few “gifts,” one can’t help but wonder how Pope John II came into his position. Either way, simony was outlawed by the Church and the teenage king, Athalaric, right around the time the new pontiff was elevated.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (8:18 – 8:22, KJV)

The 533 decree outlawing simony is interesting in that this rule banning bribery required that whenever there was a disputed election, the Church had to pay the poor three thousand pieces of silver. King Althalaric gave Pope John II the responsibility of overseeing the collection and distribution of such penalties. At the same time, the new pontiff had to deal with an adulterous bishop and also decide whether or not to reinstate bishops in Africa who had started teaching and practicing a form of Christianity that rejected the theology of the Holy Trinity. Clearly, he had a lot on his plate and he wanted – nay, needed – a name that sent a very definitive statement about his intentions moving forward. He needed a name that held some esteem, especially as it related to the bishops in Africa. Ultimately, he choose to name himself after Pope John I, who had been beatified and venerated as a martyr after establishing a precedent in relation to Christians who denied the divinity of Jesus in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire.

Pope John II did not have a chance to make a ruling on the issue of bishops in Africa, as the controversy was brought to him shortly before his death on May 8, 535. But the practice of changing one’s name had been established. It didn’t take right away. In fact, it would be 450 years after Pope John II changed his name before another pontiff (this time, birth name Pietro Canepanova – a very good Catholic name, as he was named after the first Pope) would change his name: also to John. This Pope John (XIV) would immediately be followed by a “John” who actually kept his birth name, Pope John XV (born Giovanni di Gallina Aba), who would be followed by a series of pontiffs who would change their names. Thus far, Pope John is the most popular papal name, with 23 (excluding the ones known as John Paul).

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called , by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”

 

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

There is something to be said for naming things, and people – even, maybe especially, ourselves. January 2nd is a day when I usually ask people to consider what name they would use to indicate how they would like to move through the new year. The name would be something positive and active – something from the heart – that can serve as a message to others and a reminder to one’s self: something to bring the awareness back to your purpose, mission, or guiding principle. Something to keep you focused.

Yoga, Buddhism, and even modern Psychology all have practices centered around the naming of things. The naming, or sometimes labeling, of an object (even a non-tangible object) is a way of bringing awareness to awareness and also to one’s understanding (or lack of understanding) about the nature of things. This practice can be a vital aspect of practicing non-attachment. It can also help someone stay focused, in particular by continuously turning the awareness back to a single point and/or away from that which may be distracting.

You can try this by doing “that 90-second thing” with the intention of focusing on your breath and anytime your mind drifts away bring it back by thinking, “Inhale. Exhale,” along with the breath. Alternately, you can think there word, “Thinking,” or some combination thereof. There more you do this the less you may need to do this in order to stay focused, but never forget that there is merit/benefit to doing this type of practice every time you sit (if that’s what the mind-body needs).

“‘Every act of perception,’ [Dr. Gerald] Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

 

“Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness…. There is an analogous phenomenon in those who lose their sight; some people who become blind may have, paradoxically, heightened visually imagery.”

 

– quoted from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of the 8-limbed Yoga Philosophy, is often defined as sense withdrawal. People may think of it as suppressing the senses or ignoring sensation, but in fact the practice is more about acknowledging all that is and choosing on what to focus the mind. Additionally, the yoga tradition understands the experience of sensation as being an engagement of the sense organs and also the mind. So there is internal and external action, which makes the practice two-fold and as much, if not more, about turning inward as about turning away from something outward.

In the commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, explains that, “Following the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, it is translated from back to front: hāra means “to pull, to withdraw, to bring, to carry”; ā means “from every direction in every respect”; and prati means “toward.” Thus pratyāhāra means “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point.” The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali not only defines and lays out a path towards the practice; it also offers instruction on some beneficial focal points.

One point that consistently stands out as beneficial is the practice of drawing all awareness to the breath and the experience of breathing. (YS 1.34) Remember, however, that before one can really focus all awareness on the breath and the experience of breathing one’s mind-body has to stable and comfortable, steady and at ease, balanced between effort and relaxation. (YS 2.47) Even then, one has to be aware of all the parts of the breath and the different experiences of breathing in order to transcend the experiences of the various parts. (YS 2.49 – 2.51) Even then, one has to be willing to put in the time and effort… especially the time, because there is a bit of math related to the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah

 

– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.

 

“A minimum of 48 seconds is required for the bonding between prana and mind to fully mature. Thus pranayama is not defined by how long we hold the breath but rather by how long we hold our mind on the subtle movement of prana in the pranic field.

 

When mental concentration is 12 times longer than the period of concentration defining pranayama, it is pratyahara…. Dharana, concentration, is 12 times longer than pratyahara. Our capacity to concentrate increases with practice, allowing dharana to mature into dhyana and Samadhi.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.54 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

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

 

“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”

 

– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

 

 

### CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND ###

Purpose Driven (the Wednesday post, that’s also for Friday!) December 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!]

[This post includes information about the practice on Wednesday AND ALSO includes information about Friday (New Year’s Day)! You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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 or donations for New Year’s Day are not necessarily deductible.]

 

“There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it.”

 

 

– quoted from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

For those of you keeping count, Wednesday and Thursday make up the 5th,  6th, and or 7th “Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; and “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination).

Given the Oliver Sacks quote above, you might wonder if that musical “stimulus and reward” are the only reason I keep repeating aspects of this myth (that even advocates accept is not historically true). The truth is that while there is something truly appealing, on a musical level, to the whole idea, the main reason I keep referring back to myth is because it serves a purpose. And, if we’re going to talk about faith, we have to talk about purpose.

There was a time when everything people did had purpose, had meaning. Rituals were the way people made sense of the world and the way people stayed connected to each other and to what they valued. This is another reason why I like the “12 Days of Christmas” catechism idea. Over time, however, some rituals lost their meaning – or people became separated from the meaning. Rituals separated from their meaning became traditions; behavior people did because their elders taught them the ways of their ancestors… but without the deeper connection. In some cases, people lost so much of the meaning, became so separated from the meaning, that they were just things people said. I could be wrong about this, but I partially blame the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason for some of that lost / disconnected meaning.

The 18th Century Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason, which was preceded by the emergence of the modern sciences, was a time when people started feeling confident in their ability to find the reason behind all the mysteries in the world. Don’t get me wrong; there were, and are, still great unknowns / mysteries in the world. But, as the Western world (in particular) started moving out of the Middle Ages, there was a steadfast belief that the answers to everything were available to the human mind. As more and more people focused on “finding the truth,” some moved away from mysticism – and, when as there was less acceptance of mystery and less acceptance of the unknown, there was less “need” for ritual. Or so it would seem. The truth, however, is that even as we gained knowledge and lost mystery, humans craved ritual. In fact, some would say that our brains are wired for ritual.

“And I actually think one of the great things about getting older, about being in my 50s, they say that when we’re younger our brains are tuned to novelty, to be animated by novelty. But as you get older, you’re less tuned to novelty and I would say more naturally attuned to kind of take pleasure in what is ordinary and habitual. And I think that’s a great gift.”

 

 

– Krista Tippett, being interviewed by Pico Iyer, about her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, on “The Mystery & Art if Living” episode of On Being (with Krista Tippett (July 10, 2016)  

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the social pendulum swung back and people started seeking ritual, returning to mystery and mysticism as well as the comfort that can be found in repeated behavior. We see this in the resurgence of the physical practice of yoga in India and to the way the practice eventually spread into the Western world. We also see this in the emergence of mega churches and the wave of young women considering the convent. We even see this in the fact that some atheists have “church.” The only problem with this swing back to ritual was that sometimes people overlooked what was gained during the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason and focused on the outer (superficial) aspects of rituals rather than the inward (meaning-filled) experience. Moving into the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, this trend led people to spend copious amounts of money trying to recreate ancient rituals that were previously free – all to get that deeper feeling of connection. The problem was the lasting connection people were seeking doesn’t come from the outside. Yes, we can see it on the outside. Absolutely! But, deep, lasting, sustainable connection starts with an internal purpose.

A key aspect to ritual is the purpose behind what is done, how it is done, and when (i.e., the order in which it is done). Again, everything has a purpose and that purpose reinforces the repeated behavior which, in turn, reinforces the connection to others observing the ritual. In fact, that reinforcement of connection is another purpose found in ritual. A perfect example of this is the repetition of prayer or chanting, especially when there is an embodied component. The embodied component could be someone praying with a rosary, chanting with mala beads, whirling (in the Sufi tradition), or practicing 108 Sun Salutations; either way, there are very specific ways that the words are uttered or thought and very specific ways the body moves – even when it is just the fingers and the hands moving.

In Sanskrit, such a ritual is referred to as ajapa-japa, “without (mental effort) effort repeat-repeat” or “repeat and remember”. Over time, the practice reinforces itself in such a way that it turns into itself and, in doing so, turns the practitioner inward. Over time, the meaning of the words and/or movement is completely embodied so that there is seamlessness between the doer and the doing. The practice becomes ingrained. It becomes like breathing, which can be another form of ajapa-japa.

I could go into all kinds of scientific detail about how this happens and why it works. But, just for a moment, be open to the mystery… and just focus on the purpose.

“You can perform japa, repetition of a mantra or Sacred Word, in the midst of your day-to-day work. Then, when it becomes a habit, even when you are working intensely a portion of the mind will keep repeating the mantra always. That means you have locked one end of your chain to a holy place, while the rest of the chain remains still in the outside world.”

 

 

– a note written by Swami Satchidananda, quoted in Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace by Sita (Joan Weiner) Bordow

Feast / Holy Days are celebrations of sacred mysteries and significant events. Note that even when the focus is tied to a specific person (martyr or saint, including Jesus and the Virgin Mary), there is a connection to miracles, which are beyond science – in other words, more mystery). In addition to serving the purpose of commemoration / remembrance, feast days stimulate excitement around spirituality and help people embody the stories and history of their faith. In Christianity, particularly in the Catholic tradition, the order of the feast / holy days (throughout the year) is its own ritual storytelling. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a history of calendar reforms that have served the purpose of reinforcing the liturgical aspects of their rituals, thereby bringing faith into the foreground of people’s lives. Keep in mind, however, that this tradition did not start with the Christianity. The Hebrew Bible is full of commands from God about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“The philosopher Abraham Kaplan calculated that over 60 percent of Judaism’s 613 commandments involve physical ritual: lighting candles, ritual baths, etc. These deeds are a kind of language, a way of expressing things that are too deep for words.”

 

 

– quoted from a New York Times letter to the editor entitled, “There Should Be More Rituals” by David Brooks (dated April 22, 2019)

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday of light, incorporates rituals and traditions from several different faiths and several different cultures. As is often the case, these rituals are centered around symbolic objects: a mkeka (“mat”); kinara (“candelabra”); Mishumaa Saba (“seven candles,” one black, three red, and three green which symbolize the Black community, the historical struggles faced by the community, and the future possibilities of the community); mazao (“crops”); Muhindi (decorative as well as edible “corn”); a Kikombe a cha Umoja (“unity cup”); and Zawadi (ceremonial “gifts”). People often incorporate kente cloth and other Afrocentric decorations, such as black, red, and green Pan-African flag.

During Kwanzaa celebrations, people take a moment to pause and reflect, focus, concentrate, meditate, and contemplate one of the Nguzo Saba (“seven essential pillars”). On December 30th, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, people focus on the principle of Nia (“purpose”): To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. In other words, there is a reminder, in the middle of the week, that this is a purpose driven festival and that the future of the community depends on people being purpose driven in a way that brings about individual and collective healing.

When I started thinking about the posts and classes for this week, and in particular about how to address the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, I wanted to offer little bits of purpose about everything we were doing in the physical practice and also bits of purpose about various celebrations happening around the world. In considering all the different celebrations that fit under the rubric of ritual, and all the purposes behind the ways people are currently celebrating their holidays, it occurred to me that all these rituals share two common purposes: they bring people together (in peace) and they bring people closer to something bigger than themselves, something Universal, something Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

“My research over the last decade has helped understand why rituals in particular (and not any other behaviors like habits, for instance) are effective at battling negative emotions. Be it anxiety, stress, fear, doubt, sadness, grief – you name it. Rituals are there to save the day. The dread we feel after experiencing a loss happens because it feels like the situation is outside our control (and it usually is). Rituals reinstate that control.

 

Consider, for instance, in moments of grief, rituals help ease our pain and suffering. But, again I ask, how do they do this, and why rituals in particular? As my collaborators Mike Norton and Francesca Gino have shown, rituals alleviate feeling of grief and loss by increasing a feelings of control.”

 

 

– quoted from “The emerging science of ritual – a new look on an ancient behavior: And how you can use it to live life to the fullest” by Dr. Nick Hobson (contributing to the ThriveGlobal.com, Dec. 7, 2017)

For the last six (going on seven years), I have started the New Year by leading at least one 3-hour japa-ajapa mala of 108 Sun Salutations. For the last several years, I have wrapped up New Year’s Day with a 2-hour Yin+Meditation practice. The practices are very, very different. Although we do mix it up and break it down a little (so that it is accessible to everyone), the 108 mala is very vigorous and repeats 12 poses in a very specific sequence. (You can see some of the reasons for that number here and here.) The Yin+Mediation combines the meditative aspects of deep seated mediation with specific poses held 3 – 5 minutes in order to address the deep tissue, joints, and connective tissue. Props are useful for both practices, but are definitive part of the Yin Yoga practice – and you can use some household items as props.

 So, the practices are very different and yet they both help us to move through this liminal or “threshold” time between the old and the new years. Also, they each incorporate key elements of ritual and allow us to tap into the power of intention as well as community.

This year is different, obviously. Because of the pandemic we are on Zoom for both events (which means that there is no limit to the number of participants). It will feel different as we won’t be so close together and, unless you have your heat turned up, the 108 might not steam up the windows or get your walls all slimy.

However, for all that is different, there are some things that stay the same. I will still keep count and guide you through the experience. We will still set intentions and dedications for each round and plant some karmic seeds. We will still have the opportunity to “burn some karma” in the 108 and release some tension (in both practices). We will still have moments of reflection and insight – and, whatever comes, we will still begin and end and move through it all together.

Both practices are donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admitted if you get dumped from the call.)

 

Here are some of the many ways to mindfully start the New Year. Please note that this list includes a variety of practices, styles, and traditions (and it is only a sample of what’s available).

Thursday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration (Please register here.)

 

Friday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM New Year’s Day Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra with Shelley Pagitt (see Yoga Sanctuary for registration and details)

 

10:30 AM – 1:00 AM New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM “Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2021” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Embodying the Yoga Sutras” with Tracy Vacura (see Yoga Sanctuary for registration and details)

 

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM “2021 Vision Board and Sankalpa Cultivation” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Yin+Meditation with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Lovingkindness (meditation) Practice with Merra Young (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Yin, Restorative, & Yoga Nidra to Welcome 2021” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. 

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 – The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel? June 3, 2020

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

– Anonymous

 

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)  

 

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

The beginning of today’s blog post looks like a Saturday blog post. During the Saturday practices, we’ve spent the last year and a half digging deep into the Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali outlines the 8-limb philosophy of Yoga and spends quite a bit of time talking about the mind and how the mind works. The last few weeks (and really most of the quarantine), there has been an emphasis on the “seen” and the “unseen” and how we perceive the world around us (and how the world around us based of those same perceptions). Much of what we’ve been exploring on Saturdays fits in with this week’s theme of how perception connects to ideals.

Remember, what we “see” translates into what we understand (because we can only understand what the mind shows us) and what we understand leads to what we believe, which in turn forms our ideals – and how we live is determined by what we believe. Check to make sure you got that: We live not by what we say we believe (or what we claim are our ideals and values), but by what we actually believe in our hearts. Before, however, we get into the emotional and energetic side of this – before we go deeper into the metaphor of “seeing” – let’s take a step back, and consider how we (literally) visually see.

“The eye and the brain are not like a fax machine, nor are there little people looking at the images coming in.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel (b. 06/03/1924), co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

“We’re interested in how the brain works, and we work on the part of the brain that has to do with vision. And we…we record from single cells in the brain, and ask how it is you can influence those cells by shining lights and patterns.”

 

– Dr. David Hubel, summarizing research with Dr. Torsten Wiesel that won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

When Dr. Torsten Wiesel, born today in 1924, started working with Dr. David Hubel in the 1950’s, they were under the impression that animals (people included) saw whole images. By connecting the brain of an anesthetized cat to electrodes which produced a sound when the receptor cells within the visual cortex were activated, they thought they could map the cat’s neural pathways. Eventually they would not only map the cells associated with the visual cortex (and determine the mechanism by which they work), they would also win the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on ocular dominance columns. I say “eventually,” however, because they weren’t very successful when they started. Their basic premise was flawed, and it was by virtue of a “lucky” accident that they started making headway (pun intended). This, then, is one of those “aha” or epiphany moments I talk about all the time, where a realization occurs because someone is primed to recognize/understand what they are seeing.

“Science is not an intelligence test. Intuition is important, knowing what questions to ask. The other thing is a passion for getting to the core of the problem.”

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Wiesel and Hubel started off by shining bright lights at the cat, which resulted in no reaction from the electrodes, meaning no reaction from the receptor cells. They then moved on to slides of black dots. The black dots seemed to work – in that the cells fired and the electrodes engaged to produce a sound. However, the cells didn’t seem to fire consistently. When the researchers paid attention to the exact moment the cells fired, they realized the cat’s brain wasn’t reacting to the very pronounced black dot. Instead, the cells deep inside the visual cortex were reacting to the very faint line produced by the edge of the slide as it was moved in and out of the projector.

By experimenting with the placement and angle of lines (of various densities and from various sources), the scientist were able to identify and map “simple cells” and “complex cells.” Simple was the term applied to cells which reacted to lines presented at a specific angle (some cells reacting at one angle, others at another). Complex was the term applied to cells which responded to lines presented at a specific angle and moving in a specific direction. They were also able to determine which cells responded to light versus dark lines, which cells responded to bright versus dim lines, and which responded to lines of different colors and densities. All told, they expand were able to determine that the 125 million rods and cones in each retina sent information to 1 million fibers of optic nerve, which each transmitted signals to a variety of different regions in the brain. Those regions in the brain consisted of over 1 million cables of fibers which transmitted electric signals to additional regions before the signals finally reach the simple and complex cells in the visual cortex (about seven stages beyond the retina). All of this signaling and transmitting happens in the blink of an eye. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

As they went deeper, Weisel and Hubel discovered that if they covered one eye in kittens, preventing stimulation, the now dominate eye took over the areas of the brain (and the corresponding cells) which would normally be activated by the opposite eye. However, the cells of these kittens did not develop in the same way as kittens using both eyes. They did not develop binocular vision, which meant they did not see objects 3-dimensionally within their environment – and this lack of development was irreversible, which lead to a deeper understanding of ocular (and brain) plasticity.

“Innate mechanisms endow the visual system with highly specific connections, but visual experience early in life is necessary for their maintenance and full development. Deprivation experiments demonstrate that neural connections can be modulated by environmental influences during a critical period of postnatal development.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel

 

“We are born with this ability. So, as a newborn, open your eyes, visual system is ready to respond to the outside world.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, explaining significance of research that won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Consider, for a moment, what you (literally and visually) saw as a child. Did you see people from different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and races? Did you see different genders and sexualities? Did you see people of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds? Did you see people of different heights and weights? Did you see people of different abilities? How did you see these people? And, how did you come to understand these people and how they fit into your world?

These are important questions to ask ourselves, in part, because while science has shown that brains can experience quite a bit of plasticity over a lifetime, change and new neural pathways are only created when we understand what we are seeing/perceiving – and understand that what we are seeing/perceiving is different from what we have seen/perceived/understood before. Additionally, the neural pathways are only hardwired when repeated experiences reinforce the new experience. Ultimately, however, if we don’t have reinforced experiences (or we don’t understand what we are seeing/perceiving) then what is reinforced is our tunnel vision and lack of depth. Confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new information as confirmation or proof of existing beliefs is tunnel vision and a lack of depth. It can also be a bit of hallucination.

“We see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well. And seeing with the brain is often called imagination. And we are familiar with the landscapes of our own imagination, our inscapes. We’ve lived with them all our lives. But there are also hallucinations as well, and hallucinations are completely different. They don’t seem to be of our creation. They don’t seem to be under our control. They seem to come from the outside, and to mimic perception.”

 

– Dr. Oliver Sacks in a TED Talk, discussing Charles Bonnet syndrome (a condition where visually impaired people hallucinate)

“I saw people that had been incarcerated and, you know, the whole issue about the rights of people determining their own fate has always been close to my heart.”

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, discussing his humanitarian efforts as an academic and scientist

Dr. Torsten Wiesel turns 96 today. His career as a scientist, a researcher, and an academic allowed him to be exposed to people from all over the world. And, it seems, he always kept his eyes open. He served as chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the National Academies of Science in the US, as well as the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies for 10 years. He is a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, a nongovernmental nonprofit established in 2004 to support collaborative research between scientists in Israel and Palestine. In addition to his many scientific awards and accolades, he was awarded the 2005 David Rall Medal from the Institute of Medicine and the 2009 Grand Cordon Order of the Rising Sun Medal (in Japan).

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 3rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice that’s as much about the brain as it is about the body and the heart. 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. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“For me ‘plus tôt’ is a piece that talks about the sort of space and time that you’re in before things happen to you. The sort of calm you can feel when you don’t know that some events are about to change you. It’s the beginning of the trip. It’s the beginning of the inscape.”

 

– Alexandra Stéliski explaining the inspiration for the first piece on her album Inscape (the song title translates to “earlier”)

More ocular science…

 

(NOTE: Some blog quotes by Drs. Wiesel and Hubel are from a short biography produced by National Science & Technology Medals Foundation when Dr. Wiesel was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science.)

 

### I CAN SEE YOU. CAN YOU SEE ME? ###