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Accepting Counts! June 20, 2020

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Happy Summer Solstice!

~ Today is the longest day of the year and a day full of rituals and traditions. A lot of times I mark the solstices, the equinoxes, and the (solar) new year with a ajapa-japa mala practice of 108 sun salutations – or however many sun salutations I can do in the time given. Sometimes I even get a little creative. As tomorrow is World Yoga Day, this is usually the Saturday when I would “flip the script” and start transitioning into a new asana sequence. This year, however, I’m not feeling it. You can check out previous posts if you are interested in a self-guided mala. Namaste. ~

“The Seven Stages of Grief during Coronavirus: Acceptance. You come to the realization that the world isn’t limited to the amount of suffering you’re personally capable of. And until every person is no longer hurting / every child no longer beaten / every future no longer stolen / there will be suffering. And there will be an obligation to alleviate that suffering. And there will be an obligation to atone….”

 

– from the poem (see end of post) by Emi Mamoud (@EmiThePoet)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.25: tadabhāvāt samyogābhāvo hānam taddŗśeh kaivalyam

 

– “Due to that lack or absence [of ignorance], the union or relationship [between our power to see and what is seen] ceases, and this leads to freedom known as absolute freedom, liberation, or enlightenment.”

Today’s sutra ties back into the beginning of the Yoga Sutras and summarizes the previous five sutras. In a nutshell, it comes down to this: As long as the mind is fluctuating (cittavŗtti) it will experience ignorance (avidyā) – believing something impermanent is permanent, believing something impure is pure, thinking something which brings misery will bring happiness, and confusing one’s self with what one sees/perceives – and this ignorance creates suffering (and disempowerment). If however, there is no ignorance, there is no suffering. Keep in mind, there is a distinction between eliminating ignorance and the absence of ignorance. Yes, eliminating ignorance creates the desired void. However, as Swami J illustrates focusing on the process rather than the goal is another form of ignorance.

“If we say that our goal is eliminating avidyā, it sets the stage for the mind to continue to produce ignorance or misunderstanding, so that we can fulfill our goal of eliminating it. If we want to take on the false identity of being an eliminator of ignorance, then more and more ignorance will be produced, so that we may fulfill the desire of eliminating. However, if we have the stated goal of the absence of ignorance, our mind will become trained to seek that state of absence of avidyā. The elimination of ignorance becomes the process along the way towards that eventual final goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.25 by Swami Jnaneshvara

Over the last week, I have spent a lot of time focusing, concentrating, meditating on the siddhis, or “powers,” unique to being human. This is one way to get on the path towards liberation. However, when I started this thread last Saturday, I mentioned that avidyā (“ignorance”) disempowers us and that there are 28 manifestations of disempowerment (which means there are at least 28 ways in which we can be powerful). Additionally, I mentioned in passing that the Sāmkhya Karika breaks those 28 manifestations down into 3 categories: “disempowerment of our mind and senses, disempowerment of our inner sense of fulfillment, and disempowerment of the powers unique to humans.”

We’ll get back to that the final category; but first I want to mention that one of the disempowerments that falls into the second category (disempowerment of our inner sense of fulfillment) is related to time. Specifically, it relates to time in connection to will and determination. Disempowered in this way means we procrastinate; we’re stuck in inertia, either not moving or moving under the will of another; and/or fail to accomplish our goals because we are not all in – while simultaneously blaming or explaining our lack of success on “poor” or “wrong” timing. Underlying this concept is the idea that we have a sense of time.

Even without a clock or a calendar, we can distinguish the passage of time. This is not a power unique to humans. In fact, every animal in the animal kingdom has some sense of time and timing – it’s just not quantified on a device. Instead, other animals pay attention to changes like temperature, daylight, moonlight, food supply, digestion, defecation, and gestation. We can also tell time in this way. It is, after all, just a matter of routine. We humans, however, have created “artificial” routines and we put so much energy into these manufactured routines that we disconnect from our natural circadian, ultradian, and infradian systems. This is part of the reason why so many people experienced a disconnect with regard to time during the pandemic – we lost or disrupted our manufactured timetables.

It’s hard to be motivated when you don’t have a schedule. It’s hard to be motivated when you are dealing with uncertainty – like not knowing where/when you’re next meal will be; where/when you will sleep; if you will have basic necessities (even those related to your bodily functions); and if you will be safe. Around the world, about 80 million people deal with these external factors which can lead to time-related disempowerment. They were dealing with these challenges before the pandemic – and now they have to deal with that too. If these people were all in one place, they could be a country whose population matched that of Turkey or Germany. These people, however, are not in one place. In fact, these people are often forced to keep moving. Their lives depend on staying motivated – not to achieve some spectacular and quantifiable goal, but just to stay alive. These people are refugees.

“I hope that this emoji will inspire people to show more solidarity and accept each other’s differences.”

 

– O’Plerou, artist and graphic designer, and creator of 365 African-inspired emojis and the Twitter #WorldRefugeeDay emoji

 

In addition to being Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (and the eve of a “ring of fire” solar eclipse), today is World Refugee Day. The United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th as World Refugee Day in December of 2000. The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defined a refugee as “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to ‘a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognizes that “many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.” Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Stateless Persons, and Returnees all fall under the Refugees category. Although they are granted certain rights and protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, because we often say one thing and do something completely different.

“This startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe points out the gap between what we say and what we do. On the one hand we publicly pronounce the equality of all peoples, discarding all racialistic theories; on the other hand, in our immigration laws, we embrace in practice these very theories we abhor and verbally condemn.”

 

– United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) speaking to the Senate about immigration quotes in 1948

 

World Refugee Day is an internationally observed day to honor the humanity of all refugees. It is a day to celebrate the strength, courage, and resilience of people who have held onto their families, cultures, languages, and dreams despite being forced to flee their home country either to escape war, famine, pestilence, persecution, or all of the above. It is also a day to raise awareness and solicit support, while cultivating empathy, compassion, and understanding. Finally it is a time to recognize the generosity of host countries. So, ultimately, it is a day to engage and honor those powers “unique to being human.” This year’s theme is “Every Action Counts. Everyone Can Make A Difference.”

“According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;

  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;

  • The right to work;

  • The right to housing;

  • The right to education;

  • The right to public relief and assistance;

  • The right to freedom of religion;

  • The right to access the courts;

  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory;

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents.

Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.”

 

– from the United Nations

The recent (June 18th) United States Supreme Court decision to support the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an action that makes a huge difference. And, it adds an extra bit of juice to this year’s stateside celebrations. Established in 2012 by President Barack Obama, DACA allows individuals who were brought into the US without proper identification, or who overstayed their visas, as children to be deferred from removal proceedings. “Dreamers,” as the DACA enrollees are often called, are eligible to lawfully work, travel outside of the United States, and participate in social services like Medicare. This program has allowed over 700,000 individuals to go to college, serve in the military, start families and businesses, and establish American roots as they contribute to society. This year’s SCOTUS decision is limited in scope, as it directly applies to a specific action attempted by the current administration; however, it’s still (as I mentioned yesterday) a civil rights victory.

“Today I pay tribute to the courage and resilience of refugees everywhere. Your journey has not been easy; you have experienced hardship and encountered difficulties. Yet, you have persisted in pursuit of a future which is free from fear, and full of possibility. We share your dreams of a better world for your children. Do not lose hope.

          We will leave no one behind. Together, we will build back better for a brighter future.”

 

– Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, OFR, President of the United Nations General Assembly

 

Please join me an empowering 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 20th) at 12:00 PM. You can 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Emi Mamoud, an incredible poet

 

O’Plerou, an inspiring artist

 

### DIVERSITY • ACCEPTANCE • SOLIDARITY ###

Yes, We Say “Happy Juneteenth!” June 19, 2020

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“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere”

– “General Order No. 3” read by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June Nineteenth, 1865

“Just outside the Oval Office hangs a painting depicting the night of December 31, 1862. In it, African-American men, women, and children crowd around a single pocket watch, waiting for the clock to strike midnight and the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect. As the slaves huddle anxiously in the dimly lit room, we can sense how even two more minutes seems like an eternity to wait for one’s freedom. But the slaves of Galveston, Texas, had to wait more than two years after Lincoln’s decree and two months after Appomattox to receive word that they were free at last.

Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news.”

– President Barack Obama’s “Statement by the President on the Observance of Juneteenth” (2016)

Today is Juneteenth – and for me, it’s personal.

Over the years, as I’ve taught yoga on June 19th and shared the story of this day’s significance I’ve been surprised at the number of people – including some  Black Americans – who didn’t know about Juneteenth. Coming from Texas, I thought everybody (outside of the State of Alabama) celebrated Juneteenth. Buddy, was I wrong! Here it is 2020 and some folks – even some who, theoretically, have commemorated the date – are just now hearing about it.

By now, as it has been in the news this week and will be all over the news today, you have heard some version of the story. My version involves a proclamation, a painting, a bill, a slew of presidents and legislators, the State of Alabama, and me. Here’s the short version with a little back story:

  • On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. The act essentially ended slavery in the capital city (although it did not apply to fugitive slaves who had escaped from Maryland) and set aside over $100,100,000 as compensation for the 3,185 people who were freed.
    • You can read my post on the Emancipation Act here. There’s also a playlist on YouTube and Spotify that works for today.
  • Five months later (on September 22, 1862), President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. Remember, the proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States of America that were still in rebellion. It did not apply to slaves in the so-called “border states” (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and the parts of Virginia that would become West Virginia), which were not in rebellion, or Confederate States that were under Union control (Tennessee, lower Louisiana, and Southeast Virginia).
    • In reference to the painting mentioned in the aforementioned quote, can you imagine being one of those people, watching the clock, anticipating a new year and a brand new start? Can you imagine being free when you and generations of your ancestors had been enslaved? Can you imagine what it would feel like to look forward to living what had previously been a myth or fairy tale?
    • Now, imagine the clock struck midnight – twice – and you were still a slave. How do you feel now?
  • On June 18, 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2,000 federal troops. The next morning, today, June 19th, he stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa and read General Order #3. “Juneteenth” is a portmanteau of June Nineteenth and this announcement is what people are celebrating today. (Although, some people call it “Emancipation Day.”)
    • Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or a special day of observance in 46 states. One of the exceptions is Alabama, which (last time I checked – in other words, as of today) has three official state holidays honoring the Confederacy. Yes, you read and understood that correctly: In the State of Alabama, Robert E. Lee Day (third Monday in January), Confederate Memorial Day (fourth Monday in April), and Jefferson Davis Day (first Monday in June) are paid holidays.

There were no cell phones or internet in 1865, but people had ways of communicating across the country and it is unlikely that no one in Texas, or other Southern states, had heard about the Emancipation Proclamation. Galveston was a major port in 1865. So, even if no rumors had drifted down from the Union, also unlikely, rumors could have easily come from other “international” sources. In all probability, slave owners and their slaves were aware that slavery had been abolished. There are all kinds of theories and conspiracies about what took so long, but that’s another story for another day. Bottom line, part of the reason General Granger came with troops was because he was prepared to meet resistance and needed to enforce all aspects of the general order.

General Granger and the federal troops were not only meant to ensure slaves were freed, but also to ensure the newly freed would keep living in their slave quarters and doing the same work. Sure, they would now (in theory) work for wages; however, the wages would be set by those who had kept them in bondage. To add insult to injury, those same “employers” would also now be “landlords” – and there was nothing keeping the employer/landlord from charging more for rent and board than they would pay in wages (which is exactly what they did).  Furthermore, the federal troops intended to enforce the last part of the order: “[The freedmen] are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Now, I personally have a problem with that last part, because I think – and believe most people would agree – that if you had worked all your life, you deserved a day off. If you and everyone you knew had always been forced to wake up, eat, sleep, even defecate according to someone else’s schedule, it seems like it would be reasonable to have a day or two where you did absolutely nothing – or everything – according to your own whim and desires. But, the general order made it illegal to do nothing and also illegal to seek asylum or refuge at a place people typically went for protection. (Remember, there were no police departments as we have them today.)

People still had impromptu celebrations back in 1865 and in subsequent years. However, segregation and Jim Crow laws made it challenging to have such celebrations. One of the big challenges was that it was illegal for Black people to congregate in public parks. To get around the law, communities of color would pool their money together to purchase land, essentially creating their own parks. If you have ever been to an “Emancipation Park,” there’s a good chance you were standing on hallowed ground: land purchased by former slaves and their descendants specifically to celebrate freedom.

But, there is more to the story. (Since I’m keeping it short-ish and sweet, I’ll leave out the rest of the bad news and get to more of the sweet stuff.)

  • Fast forward ninety-eight years and a day,* to June 20, 1963, when United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) introduced H. R. 7152 in the House of Representatives. This legislation had originally been proposed by President John F. Kennedy and would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would pass (with amendment) in the Senate on Juneteenth 1964 – exactly ninety-nine years after General Granger read General Order #3 in Galveston. The amendment would be agreed upon shortly thereafter, on another fateful date (July 2nd), and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It specifically prohibits “unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.” This is not to say that such discrimination ceased to exist. It simply made such discrimination unconstitutional.
    • Additional, amendments, acts, and laws would be proposed and/or approved over the years in order to ensure constitutional rights continue to be upheld.

“There were ‘things’ to be done. Nobody asked me what I meant by ‘things.’ I couldn’t have defined them if I had tried. ‘Things’ had to do with the study of music (this was a family interest), the books I read, and the dreams of travel, and the glimpses of elegance I caught on Fifth Avenue. But ‘things’ had also to do with the way people were hurt and how, because they were hurt, they were angry and quarreled and were jealous of one another.”

 

– from You Never Leave Brooklyn: The Autobiography of Emanuel Celler by Emanuel Celler, U. S. Representative (D-NY)

That’s more or less where I normally end the story. But, this year, there’s a footnote. Because, this week (specifically on June 15th), 155 years after General Granger arrived on Galveston Island and 56 years after the Civil Rights Act became law, the United States Supreme Court upheld a portion of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6 -3 decision, the highest court in the country affirmed that it is unconstitutional for an employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. That right there, my friends, is a civil rights victory that I plan to celebrate – even though it doesn’t directly affect me. (Not sure exactly where Representative Celler would stand on this verdict, but as a champion of immigration rights I think he would have loved the DACA decision that came yesterday!)

“Everything you do, every thought you have, every word you say creates a memory that you will hold in your body. It’s imprinted on you and affects you in subtle ways – ways you are not always aware of. With that in mind, be very conscious and selective.”

 

– Phylicia Rashād, née Ayers-Allen (born in Houston, Texas today in 1948)

 

“Memory is the story. Our memories are what make us.”

 

– Tobias Wolff (born in Birmingham, Alabama today in 1945)

So, that’s the story of Juneteenth – and for me, it’s personal.

You may think it’s personal because I’m a Black woman from Texas. But the story of Juneteenth is particularly personal to me because I’m BOI, Born on Island – yes, Galveston Island. I was born mere minutes from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. It’s part of my story.

Today, I’m taking a personal day. It’s going to be as much reflection as celebration, with a little bit of remembering thrown in for good measure. At some points along the way I will give thanks. I may go down the rabbit hole again trying to find out if there’s anything named for General Gordon Granger other than a “fort” that’s really a park. Or maybe I’ll just spend my lunch break fantasizing about Fort Rucker (or Fort Hood) becoming Fort Granger…or even Fort Emanuel Celler (remind me to tell you his fascinating story some day)! You can wish me a Happy Juneteenth, but I probably won’t respond until tomorrow.

*NOTE: An extra day is noteworthy, because, historically, it provides a legal marker for the completion of a year. In European feudal societies, a serf who escaped and was absent from their place of servitude for a year and a day, was legally recognized as free and granted certain rights and privileges – just as former slaves in America were granted certain rights on July 28, 1868, with the ratification of the 14th Amendment. Additionally, in a variety of ancient traditions – from the pagan Celts to the Vodou practicing Haitians – a year and a day is a sacred period, a period of time connected to an honorable duty that transcends lifetimes and generations.

Amber Answers (Juneteenth Questions)

### DON’T LOOK IN THE MIRROR, LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF ###