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& What We Know (the “missing” Saturday post) September 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is a “missing” post for Saturday, September 10th. You can request an audio recording of this 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.]

“Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Earlier this year, during a practice for the Lunar New Year’s birthday celebration for all humans, I got to ask some of my dharma/yoga buddies what it means to be human. People had great answers: it means we’re part of a community; it means experiencing the dichotomy of being compassionate but also holding grudges; it means we’re imperfect; it means messiness. That last one tied back into a point someone made at the beginning: we make things up. 

Yes, well….

As someone who makes things up and loves reading and experiencing things that other humans make up, I have to admit that our penchant for making things up also makes things complicated, messy, and it leads to suffering. The world, as it turns out, is really simple. Each of us is a microcosm of the families and groups to which we belong, which are themselves microcosms of the macrocosm that is the world. So, as we learn in the Yoga Sūtras, if we really pay attention to ourselves – focus, concentrate, meditate on different aspects ourselves – we can learn more about ourselves and also more about the world. 

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.” 

 

– Martin Buber 

So we embrace ourselves and, along the way, we learn to embrace to others. Although it is really that simple, I can already hear someone sputtering, “But, but, what about…?” 

Yes, sure, as I’ve already acknowledged, life can be complicated and messy; but we make it that way. And despite all the nuances, which I have mentioned before, all the great religious and philosophical teachings say the same things: Love yourself and love all others. Sure, different religions, philosophies, and cultures have different ways of phrasing that. For instance, we could substitute the word “respect” for “love” and maintain the same intention. 

Likewise, all the philosophies, religions, and cultures have different ways of explaining how the Universe works. Ultimately, however, all those different ways can be summed up with love/respect and the Laws of Motion. So, Robert Fulgum’s idea that “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is not as hyperbolic as some might think. That’s why I sometimes say that there’s a Garth Brooks song for every situation. It’s also why I have said that everything you need to know about this practice (or about life) can be learned from a Mary Oliver poem.

“You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Born today in 1935, Mary Oliver grew up loving the outdoors, reading and writing poetry. She went to college, because that’s what girls from good families in Ohio did in the 50’s, but then she dropped out and made her way to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 800-acre estate in Austerliz, New York. She met Vincent’s sister and husband and decided to stay. Eventually, she fell in love with another woman that came to visit, Molly Malone Cook, and eventually they moved to Massachusetts together.

Mary Oliver wrote and published and wrote and published and did the things one does when they love the woods and all that is natural in the world. In fact, she once said “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.” Then, in 1983, after publishing several collections, she won the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. Suddenly, everyone wanted more of and from Mary Oliver. She once said she couldn’t remember doing any readings before the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry announcement was made, but then, suddenly, people were calling for her to do readings and book promotions.

“Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a

little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from

one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And too tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists 

of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Black Oaks” by Mary Oliver

Molly Malone Cook, her love and life partner, was also Mary Oliver’s official photographer, literary agent, and the person most editors and miscellaneous strangers would talk to when the called the Oliver-Cook household. Cook would not only answer the phone, she would go to (what I consider) hilarious extremes to convince whomever was on the phone that the next voice they heard was that of Mary Oliver – even though it was still Molly Malone Cook.

Now I’m not suggesting people go around pretending to be people they are not – even when they have permission to do so – but, there is a lesson in that story. Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we all accepted each other as we are; supported the ones we love as they are; allowed others in the world to get what they wanted/needed from us without compromising our own wants/needs, and let go of all the rest. 

Simply stated: Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we love/respected each other, helped each other out, and let go of all the rest.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

I am woefully behind in my Saturday posts and so I apologize to anyone who was following along with our Saturday study of the Yoga Sūtras. Especially considering that I am just jumping back in with this one and, on a certain level, it is missing context and continuity. That said, I have to smirk at myself when I think about how attached I’ve gotten to posting these. Especially since I was not blogging as much when we started this study in January of 2019 and, therefore, I didn’t provide a post for all of those original practices. In other words, there’s already a gap and context and continuity and yet… We keep figuring it out and moving forward.

Not just on Saturdays, but on any other day that I teach, there is the possibility that someone new will enter the practice. Maybe they are new to yoga; maybe they are new to me; or maybe they have been physically practicing for a long time and are just new to the philosophy. Also, as I have to continuously remind myself, life happens and even people who are “Saturday regulars” sometimes miss a practice. Finally, people don’t absorb and remember things the same way. All of which means that I always need to include a little context and continuity. I just don’t always have to repeat everything I’ve ever said and every lesson ever explored chapter and verse. It’s not that complicated. Like everything else, it can be quite simple. It can be quite simple, because you already know everything you need to know.

“One day you finally

Knew what you had to do, and

began”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver

Right at the beginning of the sūtras, specifically in Yoga Sūtras 1.3-1.4, Patanjali defined the practice by explaining what comes from the practice. It is a promise, of sorts. As we move through the practice – which is just like the hero’s journey – we find ourselves faced with obstacles (and their accompanying ailments), trials and tribulations, challenges and triumphs. We encounter some people who seem to magically assist us along the way; some people we need to forgive and some who need to forgive us; and we experience great loves and great loss. All along the way, there are temptations and boons – which can sometimes be one and the same. In fact, after detailed explanations about the benefits of the practice and warnings about what happens when we get too attached – even to the rewards and benefits – Patanjali reveals that the biggest boon of all awaits us… if we don’t get distracted. 

That biggest boon is megah samadhih, which is sometimes translated as “a cloud of virtue” or “a cloud of clarity.” Along with that cloud comes the end of ignorance and, therefore, the end of suffering. Additionally, there is infinite knowledge or wisdom. This could all be interpreted as having every bit of knowledge that has ever existed suddenly rushing into you or raining down on you. But, honestly, it’s not that overwhelming or complicated. Simply stated, with clarity comes pure understanding of how everything is connected and how everything works. 

Yoga Sūtra 4.29: prasankhyāne‘pyakusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāterdharmameghah samādhih

 

– “[The one] who remains undistracted even when he is in possession of all the psychic powers, achieves, as the result of perfect discernment, that samadhi which is called the ‘cloud of virtue’.”

[Alternate translation: “When there is no longer any interest even in omniscience, that discernment allows the samadhi, which brings an abundance of virtues like a rain cloud brings rain.”]

 

Yoga Sūtra 4.30: tatah kleśakarmanivŗttih

 

– “Thence comes cessation of ignorance, the cause of suffering, and freedom from the power of karma.”

Yoga Sūtra 4.31: Tadā sarvāranamalāpetasya jñānasyānantyājjñeyamalpam

 

– “Then, by the removal of those veils of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, and the realization that there is almost nothing to be known.”

[Alternate translation: “Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.”]

 

It is important to note that this shower of clarity, knowledge, and wisdom is not a case of Dunning-Kruger Effect (i.e., someone thinking they are an expert on something about which they know very little). Instead, one is aware of what they don’t know and there is a true understanding of the Universe (and everything in the Universe) as described in Yoga Sūtras 2.18 – 2.19. This is truly understanding – through direct experience – how everything is “composed of elements and senses and having the inherent properties of illumination, action, and stability” and, furthermore, recognizing that everything has a purpose. It is recognizing the simplicity (and simple beauty) of the Universe.

Having that clarity of mind is not confusing or conflating a drop of water with the whole ocean, but rather recognizing that the drop and the ocean share qualities, traits, and properties. It’s recognizing that these qualities, traits, and properties are consistent whether the item is flowing freely, frozen, or boiling and then evaporating. It is understanding that it’s all water (H2O) and then also understanding that other elements have similar states of manifestation. Finally, it is understanding how that plays out inside of us and all around us. (Especially, in the case of water, when we note that our physical forms are mostly water.)

“To man in his ordinary sense-consciousness, the universe seems full of secrets. There seems so infinitely much to be discovered and known. Every object is an invitation to study. He is overcome by a sense of his own ignorance. But, to the illumined yogi, the universe does not seem at all mysterious. It is said that, if you know clay, you know the nature of everything that is made of clay. So, if you know the Atman, you know the nature of everything in the universe. Then, all the painstaking researches of science seem like efforts of a child to empty the ocean with a spoon.”

 

– commentary quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (4:31), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 (NOTE: A child gets a lot of delight from that spoon and ocean combination. As we journey through life, we too can take delight at what we have at hand – especially since that spoon can be rinsed off and used for dessert. Stay curious and enjoy the best parts of your life!)

 

Saturday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05252022 Pratyahara II”]

 

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into

my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made my life something

particular, and real.”

 

– quoted from the poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver 

Mary Oliver shared a birth date with one of my favorite people. Click here to read how I remembered my maternal grandmother when death came.

### SO HUM, HAM SA ###

 

FTWMI: The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Twosday post about movement and expressions) February 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s 22222! That makes this Twosday a universal palindrome date (“universal” because it’s a palindrome in all the major dating notation systems)! In thinking about common “threads,” here’s the 2021 post for this date. It has been updated with additional embedded links (to related posts). Class information has also been updated for today.

“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 22nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

*

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.)

### PEACE (PEACE) PEACE ###

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’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.]

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Monday post about movement and expressions) February 23, 2021

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Happy New Year! Many blessings to those observing Lent!

[This is the post for Monday, February 22nd. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

NOTE: This is a “leftover” day for those celebrating the 15-day Spring Festivals. Some are finishing off literal leftovers. Some fathers are hosting their son-in-laws, but mostly people are getting ready for Day 15.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

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