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The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

First Friday Night Special #9: “The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself from…” (a post practice post) July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #8 from July 2nd. This was a restorative practice with opportunities with a lot of stillness and silence.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“On June 7, [Medgar] Evers spoke at a rally in Jackson. The speech Evers gave was one of the most emotional of his career:

‘Freedom is never free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them….’

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2 – A Short but Heroic Life: The Jackson Movement” of The Assassination of Medgar Evers by Myra Ribeiro

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, this is the time of year when I my mind keeps thinking about Freedom, Liberation, and Independence. Since I was born in Texas, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life. And, even though I don’t always mention it around this time, I often think about what it must have been like for Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) and the other enslaved Mende, West Africans who revolted on the Amistad around July 1, 1839 – and how John Quincy Adams (then a 73-year old former president and, at the time an active member of the House of Representatives) helped them secure their freedom through the U. S. Courts system. I think about how Caeser Rodney, a Delaware delegate of the American Continental Congress and Brigadier General of Delaware Militia (just to name a few of his roles), rode two days in – across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams; enduring extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms; all while suffering from suffering from asthma and wearing a face mask to cover his cancer-ravage jaw – just to represent his constituents and “vote for independence” today in 1776. And, I know, he wasn’t specifically riding for me (or people like me), but that’s not the point.

My point in bringing him up every year is the same reason I think about (and want others to think about) why John Adams (who would go on to become president) thought people would be celebrating today, July 2nd, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” (according to a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776). It’s also why I talk about a descendant of slaves who was born today in 1908, given the name Thoroughgood Marshall, and grew up to become chief counsel for the NAACP and a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Finally, it’s why I’ve been known to reference Medgar Wiley Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was born today in 1952, worked as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP, and served in the United States Army during World War II – before he was assassinated because people objected to his efforts to overturn segregation and enforce voting rights for African Americans.

Within that last sentence is my ultimate point: Freedom, Liberation, and Independence require effort – effort that should be celebrated rather than taken for granted and/or forgotten. While I highlight the efforts that take place on a national, constitutional, and legal front, let us not forget that freed, liberation, and independence also have to be achieved on a personal front. And that too requires effort: physical, mental, emotional, and energetic effort.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In Yoga Sūtra 2.18, Patanjali breaks down the composition of the “objective world” – that which we can sense – and explains that “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. He goes on, in the subsequent sūtra, to further breakdown the range of the inherent forces that make up the world, thereby giving some explanation as to how one might understand (and even attempt to explain) the nature of things. However, in Yoga Sūtra 2.20 he throws a bit of a curveball – one he had already warned was coming: We can only see what our mind shows us.

In other words, we can only understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised when we are ready to understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised. Furthermore, as long as we are stuck between freedom and bondage, we will interact with others through that same paradigm. We will do things that create suffering and, therefore, create bondage. Here I am talking about physical and legal bondage as well as mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bondage. There are, after all, multiple ways to hold someone back or hold someone down. And, on a certain level, it doesn’t matter if that “someone” is our self or someone else. Ultimately, our belief in bondage goes hand-in-hand with our attachment to the things that cause suffering. Just as effort is required to break physical and legal shackles, effort is required to break mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual shackles.

Just a few years before I did my first yoga teacher training, I was in a situation where most of my yoga practice was through an online practice group and via Steve Ross’s Inhale. Yes, it’s had for even me to imagine myself getting up for a yoga class that was broadcast (on the Oxygen Network) at 5 or 6 AM, but that’s what I did off and on for about 6 months out of a year. I loved the practice so much that at one point I looked up his book. Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About is where I first heard two of my favorite elephant stories – although one is really, really horrible.’

According to the horrible story, circuses train elephants by shackling them when they are very young. The metal shackle is first attached to chain (maybe about 12 feet long) that is driven into the ground with a metal stake. You can imagine what happens if the young elephant manages to pull the stake up and make a run for it. After some years, the metal stake is replaced with a wooden stake. Then, the stake is removed but the chain remains. Eventually, the chain is removed and then, finally, the shackle may be removed. Despite no longer being physically tethered, the adult elephant has been conditioned to stay within a 12-foot radius – and so it does.

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

– quoted from The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7 and 1.11) by Thomas Byrom

What is true about the elephant is also true about human beings (and the nature of human beings): effort is required to shackle someone and effort is required to be free of the shackles. The effort and the shackles can be physical. They can, simultaneously and independently, also be mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. As an example, consider something that has been in the news pretty much since the tignon laws were passed in New Orleans in 1786: Black people’s hair.

Tignon Laws required women of color to wear head coverings in public so that, no matter how fair (in complexion), how “elegantly” dressed, and/or how (legal) free the woman might be she could be identified as someone who could – under the “right” circumstances – be bought and sold at will (just not her will), and thus could be treated accordingly. A similar law, established in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1776, prohibited women of color from wearing shoes – again, with the intention of subjugating the women. In both cases, the women the laws were intended to shackle turned the restrictions into fashion statements that extended beyond the statutes. They kept their spirits up and took back some of their power… but they were still marginalized.

As integration moved into the workplace, some American corporations created employee manuals which included acceptable and unacceptable hairstyles and/or blocked the advancement of certain people based on their hairstyles. While many were (and are) quick to say that the hairstyles in question were “unprofessional,” the hairstyles were (and are) consistently traditional ways to manage and style Black hair. By traditional, I mean that you would see these hairstyles in pre-colonial Africa. Equally important, these are hairstyles that could/can be achieved without harsh chemicals. In other words, they are natural….yet, they were deemed unnatural by people with different hair textures and types.

On July 21, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, upheld an earlier ruling in favor of Beverly Jenkins (in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance Inc.) – although they had previously restricted how far the ruling could be applied. Ms. Jenkins had sued her former employer (in Indianapolis) on the grounds that she had been denied “promotions and better assignments” and was ultimately terminated “‘because of her race, sex, black styles of hair and dress,’ in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C, 2000E et seq. and 42 U.S.C, 1981.” The basis of her lawsuit? She wore her hair in an afro.

Despite the aforementioned 1976 ruling, a New York court ruled against a woman who sued American Airlines in 1981, because (the court) decided that “an all-braided hairstyle is a different matter” than an afro, because it was an “artifice.” Strictly speaking in terms of word meanings, “artifice” is defined as “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.” Keep that definition in mind when you consider that the same New York woman who was told that she could not braid her natural hair and keep her job “even if [the hairstyle was] socioculturally associated with a particular race or nationality,” could use lye to straighten her hair (so it appeared a different texture) and then curl it (or even dye it) and still keep her job. She could do all of that even though it would result in a hairstyle “associated with a particular race or nationality”… it just happened to have been the politically acceptable race.

There are similar cases over the last forty years, including situations with school children and even student athletes who have been allowed to wear their natural hairstyles one week and then told they had to cut their hair – or not compete – another week. On July 3, 2019, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.

“Back in 1964, a hotel manager named James Brock dumped hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool that Black protesters had dived into as a form of protest against segregation, leaving the swimmers with chemical burns. In 2018, a white man demanded that a Black woman show her ID to swim at a private community pool in North Carolina, despite there being no official rules at the time stating that she needed to show any form of identification to enter the area. When she rightfully refused, he called the police.”

– quoted from the July 30, 2020 InStyle article entitled, “Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel on Her Haircare Routine and Why More Black Women Should Get in the Pool” by Kayla Greaves

Recently, as in today/Friday, it was announced that swimming caps designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics. This was decided by FINA (Fédération Internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation), the Switzerland-based governing body, who said (a) that the caps – designed in conjunction with an Olympic athlete – “[did not follow] the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Now, if you don’t see a problem with this situation, I don’t blame you; however, I would encourage you to consider – visualize even – the makeup of the people making the decision and the makeup of the people being affected by the decision. Consider, also, the governing body’s “best knowledge” doesn’t really include a lot of Black bodies. Alice Dearing, the Olympian who worked with Soul Cap, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event. Ever.

Two-time Olympian Enith Brigitha, born on Curacao, swam for the Netherlands in the 1970’s and became the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games). She also set five short course records and won a silver medal and two additional bronze medals at the World Championships (and some say she would have won an Olympic gold were it not for circumstances beyond her control). She was swimming during a time when, in America at least, de-segregated pools was still a new concept, and not one that was evenly enforced. She was also competing at a time when no one else looked her in the pools where she was competing. In pictures, her hair is cut short. If you look at a picture of her with her peers, all fresh from the pool, some of the other young ladies also have short hair; however, like today, the majority swam with ponytails or pigtails.

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith became the first African-American woman to score in a NCAA final and the first to be a first-team Division I All-American. In 1999, Alison Terry became the first Black woman to make a U.S. National Team when she qualified for the Pan American Games. In 2004, Puerto Rican-born Maritza Correla became the first African-American to represent the United States at the Olympics – she won a silver medal as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. That same year, a French swimmer named Malia Metella won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle – which was the highest individual Olympic placing for a Black female swimmer. Ten years later, at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, a Jamaican swimmer named Alia Atkinson became the first Black woman to win a swimming world title. Just a few months later, at the beginning of 2015, there was the first all African-American podium an NCAA swimming championship, when Division I athletes Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds placed first, second, and third (respectively) in the 100-yard freestyle. Simone Manuel would go on to become the first Black woman to win Olympic gold as a swimmer (2016), setting an Olympic and an American time record in the process. Since 2016, she has won three additional individual world championship titles and is planning to compete defend her title in Tokyo.

“‘It is kind of emotional as well… Being a swimmer in a predominantly white sport just exacerbates it in my mind so I am just hyper aware of everything. I am the only Black swimmer on the deck every day. That is something I have always noticed, but now it affects me. All those feelings you suppress as a kid.’

[Natalie] Hinds said there are situations that she sees all the time from people comparing he hai to a poodle, to specific comments about her race.”

– quoted from the September 1, 2020, Swimming World article entitled, “Natalie Hinds Discusses ‘Fighting to be Equal,’ Using Her Platform in Fireside Chat With Elizabeth Beisel” by Dan D’Addona, Swimming World Managing Editor

Natural hair, regardless of race or ethnicity, is classified by curl type – typically ranging from “straight” which would theoretically fall in a 0 or 1 category to 3 graduating types of 2, 3, and 4. So, there are 6 types that are visually recognizable as “wavy,” “curly,” and/or “kinky.” As mentioned above, Enith Brigitha wore her hair short. In 1988, Sybil Smith’s hair was relaxed (i.e., chemically straightened) and in most pictures it appears relatively short. That same is true of Malia Metella. Alison Terry’s hair appears to be 2 (B or C, but maybe 3A) and Maritza Correla’s hair appears to be type 3; meaning they could both (theoretically) pull their dry hair into a ponytail and when their hair is wet it would still hang around their shoulders. This same seems to be true for Alia Atkinson and Lia Neal.

Natalie Hinds appears to wear her hair natural, sometimes with braids, (and possibly has a 4A curl); but, in most of her public facing pictures she’s wearing her swim cap – and her hair is clearly pushing the limits of the cap. Simone Manuel sometimes wears her hair long, and has been featured in articles about natural hair care where she said (in 2020), “…I’m someone who genuinely feels that if you want to be successful in something, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And for me, part of that is my hair.” No shade to my hometown-sister – and I get that chlorine is harsh on hair – but I can’t helping wondering when one of her peers had to “sacrifice” their hair for their ambitions. I also can’t help but think of a dear, dear friend of mine, who is slightly older than me, and who once said that when she was growing up (here in the States) she didn’t realize having natural (unprocessed) hair was an option.

Even if we disregard all of the stereotypes about Black people and swimming that have been perpetuated over the years, the bottom line is that this is the bulk of FINA’s “knowledge” related to Black hair and Olympic swimmers. Take a moment to really notice that even as I have grouped the ladies and their hair, I’ve left out some significant facts pertaining to why their hair is so different – even within those groupings. Even more to the point, I’m willing to bet money that most of the nine athletes mentioned above use completely different hair products than the other aforementioned athletes.

“Intelligence is connected with the brain, but behind intelligence even stands the Purusha, the unit, where all different sensations and perceptions join and become one. The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Letting go of what binds us and restricts us requires effort. It often requires external as well as internal effort – although, more often than not, those two go hand-in-hand. However, we can’t begin the process without acknowledging our tethers: our shackles, our chains, and our metal or wooden stake. We have to recognize what is being done to us, what we are doing to ourselves, and what we are doing to others.

This can sound all theoretical and metaphorical, but one way to think about it is to just acknowledge where you are holding tension in your mind-body. What is limiting you physically? What mental and/or emotional limitations are in balance? Even if you don’t completely understand (or believe) the energetic and spiritual ramifications of those physical-mental-emotional blocks, take a moment to consider what freedom, liberation, and independence mean to you – and then go to your “Freedom Place” and feel those embodied qualities.

Just like people have “Happy Places” that we can visualize (or sometimes, remember), I think it’s a good idea to have a “Freedom Place.” Your Freedom Place might be your Happy Place. It might be a real place and/or a real memory. Of course, it could just be a feeling, a combination of sensations. No matter how you come to understand it, know that in your Freedom Place you can take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day, because you are:

  • Free of fear, doubt, anxiety, grief and anything else that shackles us (and others).
  • Liberated from the bondage of judgement and strong emotions or passions – which, remember, comes to us from the Latin by way of Old French and Middle English, from a word that means “suffer.”
  • Independent of responsibilities and burdens.

In your Freedom Place, you are carefree, but not careless. In your Freedom Place, there is no tension in your body or your mind and you recognize your possibilities. Of course, to feel this free we have change the condition of our hearts and minds – so that we change our understanding. To liberate ourselves from judgement (including self-recrimination), we must develop some insight into the attachments (shackles) that lead to suffering. Finally, being independent of our burdens requires us to lay our burdens down. When we lay our burdens down, we can either walk away from what no longer serves us – and maybe never served us – or we can choose to pick up our opportunities. Just so you know; opportunities are lighter than burdens. Furthermore, when we have a lighter load, we can share someone else’s load without feeling like it’s an imposition. When our load is light, we gratefully and joyful, can help others.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Even when we can’t name everything that holds us down and holds us back, even when we don’t find it particularly helpful to name things, we can come to the mat and start the process of releasing, relaxing, and breathing. Remember, breath is our ultimate (“pranic”) tool. We can use it to bring awareness to different areas in the body and then to release tension in those areas. We can use it to create space and then, also, to engage space. It can set our pace in a moving practice and allow us to stay centered and grounded in every practice. The way we breathe can affect our mood (and overall emotional state) in positive way or in a detrimental way. And, while the goal in yoga is always to take the deepest breaths you’ve taken all day, some practices cultivate a deeper breath right off the bat. One such practice is a Restorative Yoga practice.

You can think of Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga as 1st cousins – in that they resemble each other on outside, but the internal experience is different. There are a lot of times in a Yin Yoga practice when people can’t wait to get out of a pose (and there may be a lot of groaning and moaning as they come out). With Restorative Yoga, however, sometimes people want to stay in a pose a little longer – even when the pose is held for twice as long as you would hold a Yin Yoga pose. There also tend to be more sighs than groans (and less cursing of my name). Both practices can be really prop-heavy, but it is (in some ways) easier to practice restorative without the props. The practice we did for the July “First Friday Night Special” featured three of the most common Restorative Yoga poses, a very soft twist, and a super sweet variation I recently learned from Aprille Walker, of Yoga Ranger Studio. (Because, like you, I’ve been practicing online.) There’s also a lot of silence and stillness!

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “030521 Give Up, Let Go, Trustful Surrender” PLEASE NOTE: I recommend doing this practice in silence or using one of the first two tracks on the playlists. The first tracks are similar, but only YouTube has my original choice for the 2nd track.]

### “FREE YOUR MIND / AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW” ~ En Vogue ###

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) 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. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

Wait…what exactly are we celebrating? (blink and you’ll miss it) July 4, 2020

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“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

“…such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn….”

– from the “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech by Frederick Douglass (July 5, 1852)

On Wednesday, July 3, 1776, the future President of the United States, John Adams, wrote two letters to his wife Abigail. In one of the letters he theorized about the pros (like Canada being included in the declaration) and cons (like still having to deal with “The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest well meaning tho weak and mistaken People…” ) of making the declaration earlier. He then wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Meanwhile, Caesar Rodney rested and, on Thursday, July 4, 1776, he wrote a letter to his younger brother Thomas indicating, “I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.” He, like a good majority of the signers, would sign the finalized “Declaration of Independence” on August 4th – although others would sign all the way up until November.

“‘I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.’ I had written to these friends. ‘I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.’”

– from The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley  (in reference to a 1964 letter to friends)

On Monday, July 4, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson announced to the American people that the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had signed the Louisiana Purchase, thereby selling the territory of Louisiana. Per this agreement, the United States of America nearly doubled in size and France received 15 million dollars (approximately $18 per square mile) in exchange for 828,000 square miles – even though France did not control the majority of the land. The majority of the land was inhabited by Indigenous Americans. The land included in the agreement now makes up portions of 2 Canadian provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and 15 states, including the entire states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the majority of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming; as well as parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, and (of course) Louisiana.

On Tuesday, July 4, 1826, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died. Adams’s last words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” However, Jefferson did not; he had died mere hours earlier. While the may not have been his very last words, Jefferson had asked (the night before he died), “Is it the Fourth?”

On Monday, July 4, 1831, President James Monroe died. (His last words reportedly were a lament that he would never see his friend President James Madison again. Madison would die 5 years later; however he was a few days short of July 4th.)

On Saturday, July 4, 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to retreat from Gettysburg, which the North took as a sign that the Confederacy had lost the war. Lee’s retreat came after Union soldiers defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, July 1 – 3), the Tullahoma Campaign (Tennessee, June 24 – July 3), the battle in Helena, Arkansas (July 4), the Fall of Vicksburg (Mississippi, July 4). The United States Army credits the Union success to skillful military strategy and the introduction of Christopher Spencer’s newly invented, seven-shot “Repeating Rifle,” which gave the Union soldiers the ability to shoot up to 14 rounds per minute (as a opposed to three rpm with the traditional muzzle-loading muskets).

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom]”

Yoga Sūtra 2.27 picks up on the idea that discerning knowledge or insight, which nullifies sorrow (or suffering) created by ignorance by breaking down the different levels, stages, or degrees of awareness/insight that lead to complete freedom. The seventh stage, the ultimate freedom or liberation from suffering, is a great accomplishment (siddhi) in itself comes with an extra boon: knowing the exact response to all situations. To understand the seven (7) stages, we go back to the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras (1.17 – 1.18 and 1:42 – 1.51) where Patanjali breaks down two types of concentration/meditation – referred to as “lower Samādhi” (which requires a “seed” or object of focus) and “higher Samādhi” (which is “seedless”) – and notice how continuous, dedicated, and devoted practice without interruption changes the way we think and the way we perceive the material world.

The (4) “seed” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Thins:

  1. The practitioner begins to see cause and effect (of suffering) and cultivates “not afflicted” (or functional) thoughts in order to move away from suffering.
  2. The practice of cultivating “not afflicted” or functional thoughts attenuates or scorches the cause and conditions of suffering.
  3. The habit of the practice gains momentum and that realization fills the practitioner with unshakeable faith; one now practices for the sake of the practice.
  4. There is less inquiry (into cause and effect), because there is less anxiety. One is rooted in the thought-practice and is “…at peace. At this stage, trustful surrender becomes our nature.”

The (3) “seedless” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Begins to (and ultimately does) Disappear:

  1. The mind/intellect (which may now be referred to as buddhi) is illuminated, and fully aware of the true nature of all things – including itself.
  2. The buddhi becomes buddhi sattva, wise and stable there is no fluctuation of the mind, instead there is yoga (“union”).
  3. Samādhi as “Union with Divine” whereby pure consciousness (Purusha) enables the practitioner to see all as one.

“Commenting on this sutra, Vyasa makes a point of dismantling widespread confusion about yogis and their achievements. Long before Patanjali, and up to this day, poorly informed spiritual enthusiasts have been fantasizing about high-caliber yogis sitting in caves with their eyes closed, completely unconcerned with the outside world. Contrary to this stereotype, Vyasa calls the accomplished yogi kushala, one who is skillful. A yogi is skillful, for she knows the true nature of the world; the true nature of her body, mind, and senses; and the true nature of her core being. A yogi is free from all illusions, including the illusion of expecting more than what this world can offer. At the same time, a yogi is able to identify the wonderful gifts contained in the body, mind, and senses, as well as in the phenomenal world. Therefore, a yogi is able to discern, decide, and act in the light of her prajna. Because she is operating at the level of pure and penetrating wisdom of inner reality, she is confident about the appropriateness of her actions and their consequences.

While living in the world, a yogi is active as – if not more active than – anyone else. The only difference is that the actions of an accomplished yogi are free from doubt and fear, whereas our actions are contaminated by them. An accomplished yogi is comfortable while performing actions and equally comfortable when refraining from action. A yogi’s accomplishment is characterized by freedom, not by action or the absence of it.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.27 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me, on the path to freedom, for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 4th) 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. (The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos below do not appear on Spotify.)

Who are you not seeing?

 

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (descendants in 2020)

 

What to My People is the Fourth of July

 

 

### Rest in Power, Rest in Peace: Elijah Al-Amin ###

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 3): more aptly titled “To Ensure Every Vote Counted” July 2, 2020

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[Surprise! This is an expanded version of two more events I mention during classes on July 2nd: the anniversary of the birth of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ]

“The issue in this case is not whether declaring a war on illegal drugs is good public policy. The importance of ridding our society of such drugs is, by now, apparent to all…. Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the dissenting opinion on Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989)

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. We’ve already established that when Caesar Rodney cast his vote for independence, today in 1776, his vote did not extend freedom, liberty, or independence to all humans within his territory. But, that is not the end of today’s story. Exactly 132 years after Caesar Rodney’s famous ride to cast a vote for independence, a baby boy was born to a railroad porter named William and his wife Norma, a teacher. This son, a descendant of slaves on both sides, would spend his whole life working to extend those freedoms to all and today in 1964 (on his 56th birthday) he would receive a great “birthday present” in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908.

William and Norma Marshall named their son Thoroughgood, which he would later shorten it to Thurgood. The Marshalls were a Black family, the descendants of slaves. William and Norma taught their sons about the Constitution and the rule of law. William even took his sons to listen to court cases, which the Marshalls would then debate. Thurgood Marshall would later say that those early debates with his father turned him into a lawyer. But he wasn’t just any lawyer: he was the “winning-est” attorney in the history of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), the first African-American United States Solicitor General, and the first African-American to Supreme Court Justice.

“If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

 

The Gospel According to John  (8:36) and motto for Lincoln University (Oxford, Pennsylvania)

 

“Veritas et Utilitas (‘Truth and Service’)”

 

– motto for Howard University (Washington, D. C.)

 

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

 

By all accounts, Thurgood Marshall was an excellent student throughout high school (graduating third in his class), but started college as a bit of a prankster. He attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania (halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American literature and philosophy. His peers included Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway, who would become internationally renowned artists. Thurgood Marshall would become just as celebrated as Hughes and Calloway, but rather than pursuing literature, he earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class, and proceeded to change the world.

During the Civil Rights Movement, he argued and won more cases (29 out of 32) before the country’s highest court than any other attorney. After an equally notable career as an appeals court judge – notable in part because Senators from the southern states held up his appointment, causing him to serve the first few months in recess, and also because once he was able to serve none of his cases were overturned – Thurgood Marshall served as United States Solicitor General (winning 14 out of 19 cases). He then returned to the Supreme Court – this time as its first African-American Justice; the first in 178 years.

Both of Thurgood Marshall’s alma maters (Lincoln University and Howard University) are historically black universities (HBCUs). It wasn’t as if he never considered attending a school that was not an HBCU; he didn’t have a choice – segregation prevented him from attending institutions of higher education like the University of Maryland School of Law. In what some might consider an interesting twist of fate, he would not only become known for arguing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a school segregation case he argued in his mid-forties, his first major victory working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was also a school segregation case: against the University of Maryland School of Law. At the age of 26, Thurgood Marshall joined his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston in representing Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936). Murray had been denied acceptance to the University of Maryland because of his race. In both Murray v. Pearson and Brown v. Board, Thurgood Marshall challenged Plessy v. Ferguson, 3 U.S. 537 (1896), and the doctrine of “separate but equal.” He won both cases, but only the latter case completely overturned the legality of school segregation.

“What’s at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.”

 

– Thurgood Marshall, NAACP attorney for plaintiff in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936)

As I referenced before, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law today in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It would also outlaw unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, work environments, and public accommodations. It also expanded the definition of “all men” (as written in the second sentence of the “Declaration of Independence”) to include all people. Over the years, there would be several landmark cases that impacted the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of those cases was decided almost exactly 56 years later (on June 15, 2020), when SCOTUS 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. Clarence Thomas, Thurgood Marshall’s successor in that he is the only other African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, was one of the 3 dissenters.

Thurgood Marshall believed the death penalty was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)) and supported a woman’s right to choose (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)). He is not only remembered as a champion of Civil Rights, his name and his work are often mentioned in the same breath as the names and efforts of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The three men had different backgrounds and so worked in different ways, even in different spheres; and yet they had the same aim: to expand those “unalienable Rights” detailed in the “Declaration of Independence” and ratified by the Constitution of the United States of America.

A spirit of strong conviction (first 5 minutes only)

 

Electric… but not an Electrician

“Like many anniversary celebrations, the plan for 1987 takes particular events and holds them up as the source of all the very best that has followed. Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunate. Not the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the ‘more perfect Union’ it is said we now enjoy.

 

 

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

 

 – from speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

“And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives. If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 (Boston 1966), will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.

 

Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flag-waving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

 

– conclusion to the speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

 

### MOKSHA • MUKTI ###

 

 

 

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 2) July 2, 2020

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[While each sequence is slightly different on July 1st and 2nd, this is essentially an expanded version of the story I tell about Caesar Rodney’s Ride and why John Adams thought future generations would celebrate July 2nd.]

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. There are certain times a year when these ideas are front and center in the consciousness of people in and around the United States of America. We talk about them around Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We talk about them around the anniversaries of tragic events like 9/11. D-Day, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. In recent years, they’ve come up in conversations, debates, and arguments related to athletes protesting during the national anthem. I talk about these ideas all the time, as they are related to Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism. And, of course, we talk about them as we approach the Fourth of July, a theoretical celebration of freedom, liberty, and independence. However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, most of these conversations about leave out a two big pieces of the discussion: (1) what people did to ensure the freedom, liberty, and independence (of some) and (2) all the people who were not included in that initial declaration of independence (and the subsequent revolution that followed).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

– from “The Declaration of Independence” drafted by the Committee of Five and (eventually) signed by delegates of the Second Continental Congress

“The Declaration of Independence” was the formal announcement and explanation of the “Lee Resolution” (aka “The Resolution for Independence).” Its second sentence is often referenced as “one of the best-known sentences in the English language” and is possibly the most quoted sentence in American history. It provided justification for revolution and the building blocks for a new nation. It was, however, not completely true. While we may want to delude ourselves into thinking the founding fathers meant all humans when they signed off on the declaration – or even all males – the “all men” was very specific in that it meant “white men only.” And, if we are being honest, there was also a religious subtext which further restricted who would be granted the subsequently mentioned Rights. (Yes, yes, we can go around and around about religious freedom, but there was a definite assumption within the text that “all men,” see above, believed in one God – even if they had slightly different ways of worshiping said God.)

The Second Continental Congress would approve the resolution and the declaration unanimously, but it was never a sure thing. There was debate with the Committee of Five as to how to present their argument to the other delegates in a way that would sway things in their favor. Remember, everyone on the committee and every one of the delegates was, at the time, a subject of the Crown – meaning they were citizens of the British Commonwealth – and what they were proposing was straight-up treason. They knew this would be evidence of treason. Furthermore, they knew that they were placing their family, friends, and neighbors at great risk. They also thought freedom, liberty, and independence were worth the risk. So, they drafted the resolution and prepared to take a vote.

“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here the saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.11 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

The vote was scheduled to take place in Philadelphia at the beginning of July 1776. There was one problem: a unanimous vote was not guaranteed. The Delaware territory was represented by Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read. Rodney and McKean were for independence; Reed was against. While this looks like a slam dunk on paper, Rodney was not in Philadelphia when the vote was announced. He was in Delaware, and if he didn’t vote, Delaware’s vote would not be counted.

If you talk about freedom, liberty, and independence, and then reference a significant horse ride, most people in America will think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride (of April 18, 1775). If you ask someone from Delaware, however, they might also mention Caesar Rodney, whose ride is depicted on the back of the “Delaware quarter.” Caesar Rodney was a life-long bachelor who spent his life in public service. He was a soldier, a lawyer, and a judge whose many roles included Brigadier General of Delaware Militia, Sheriff of Kent County, Justice of the Peace, and delegate and Speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties (as was his grandfather before him). As I previously mentioned, Rodney was also delegate to the American Continental Congress and would eventually serve as President of Delaware. When Rodney heard the vote for independence had been called he was resolving Militia issues in Delaware, 70 – 80 miles away from Philadelphia depending on the route.

Keep in mind that this was before planes, trains, and automobiles. There were no paved roads or freeways as we know them today. Still, there is no indication that Caesar Rodney hesitated. He heard the call to adventure and set off to ensure freedom, liberty, and independence for his family, friends, neighbors, and future generations (of “men”). Some (including his brother) say he spent part of the trip in a carriage, which makes sense given the situation. However, he is depicted and remembered as riding his horse 70 – 80 miles from Monday, July 1, 1776 until later afternoon on Tuesday, July 2, 1776. He rode across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams. He endured extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms. And he did it all while wearing a mask, in the form of a handkerchief, across the lower portion of his face.

Let me repeat that last part in case you missed it: He rode for two days, over rough terrain and in inclement weather while wearing a face mask.

“This Forenoon, Mr. Caesar Rodney, of the lower Counties on Delaware River, two Mr. Tilghmans from Maryland, were introduced to us…. Caesar Rodney is the oddest looking Man in the World. He is tall—thin and slender as a Reed—pale—his Face is not bigger than a large Apple. Yet there is Sense and Fire, Spirit, Wit and Humour in his Countenance.

 

He made himself very merry with Ruggles and his pretended Scruples and Timidities, at the last Congress.”

 

– from diary entry dated 1774. Saturday. Sept. 3, by John Adams

“[He was] remarkably genteel and elegant in his person, dress, and manners, had a great fund of wit and humor of the pleasing kind, so that his conversation was always bright & strong and Conducted by Wisdom… He always lived a bachelor, was generally Esteemed, and indeed very popular.”

 

– Thomas Rodney, in describing his older brother (after Caesar Rodney died)

Caesar Rodney suffered from asthma and facial cancer. The cancer would eventually kill him, but in the latter part of his life he was in a great deal of pain and the cancer ravaged his face. While there are no portraits of him, people like John Adams would write about him and (see above) describe him in letters and journals. Read that passage from John Adams diary again. Get a picture in your head of Caesar Rodney tired, dusty, and still wearing his boots and spurs – as well as a green handkerchief or scarf across his nose and mouth. Imagine such a man walking into a congressional assembly in order to cast his vote for independence.

“As I believe the voice of my constituents and all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, and as my own judgment concurs with them, I give my vote for independence.”

 

– Caesar Rodney, Delaware delegate to the Second Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

When I teach on July 1st and 2nd, I tell the story of Caesar Rodney as we move through a sequence of poses inspired by Jivamukti Yoga. Jivamukti Yoga takes its name from the term “jivan-mukti,” a soul liberated while living. So, we are literally, physically, metaphorically, and energetically on the road/path to freedom. The poses would be good recovery poses if you had just spent two days riding on a horse and, when we are in the studio, the soundtrack features music that would have been popular back in the day. By “back in the day,” I mean today in 1776.

Delaware is known as “The First State” and therefore, when the United States Mint started its “50 State Quarters Program” it started with Delaware. If you look at the back of the Delaware quarter you will find an image of Caesar Rodney, riding his horse, in order to ensure the boon of freedom, liberty, and independence. Delaware school children learn about his ride to Philadelphia, sometimes in schools and/or school districts named after him. His name can also be found on town squares, parks, church monuments, streets, and various institutions. There are also statues, in Delaware and elsewhere. One of those statues, in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, was recently taken down by order of the mayor. (The city also removed a statue of Christopher Columbus and the state has removed “whipping posts” from city centers.) Part of the discussion” surrounding what to do with the statue from Rodney Square includes the idea of putting it in a museum and putting his (and Delaware’s) history into context.

“We cannot erase history, as painful as it may be, but we can certainly discuss history with each other and determine together what we value and what we feel is appropriate to memorialize. In this period of awakening for our City, State, and country, we should be listening more to each other and building a more just City and a better America.”

 

– Press Statement from Wilmington, Delaware Mayor Mike Purzycki regarding removal of statues and the related “overdue discussion”

Some of the historical context is included in the story above. Here’s a little more, and this is the part that directly relates to why the Wilmington statue was taken down.

Caesar Rodney was born in 1728, on family’s farm, “Poplar Grove” (now known as “Byfield”) on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Both sides of his family were fairly prominent and Byfield was a successful 800-acre farm. It was successful, even described as “prosperous” farm that sold wheat and barley. Needless to say, there were slaves. At some point the farm expanded to 1,000 acres with at least 200 slaves. Caesar Rodney, named for his father, was the oldest of 8. His father died when he was 17 and while he “officially” became head of the household, he was also placed under a guardianship by the Delaware Orphan’s Court.

There was some debate about slavery in Delaware in 1767 (when Rodney was 39). While records indicate that he was on the side that wanted to end or limit slavery, a closer look implies that such a decision might have been in his family’s best financial interest. Caesar Rodney was 48 when he made that famous trek to Philadelphia – now, clearly and legally, a slave owner. While I am not sure when he made the provision, his last will and testament included provisions for the education of his nephew and instructions to free all of his slaves when he died, “or shortly thereafter.”

“I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.”

 

– from Caesar Rodney’s letter to his younger brother Thomas, dated July 4, 1776

Caesar Rodney cast the deciding vote on July 2, 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. (Yes, that’s correct.) Believe it or not, the “2nd” is very important in this history. In fact, on July 3, 1776, John Adams, who would go on to become president, spent the day writing letters – including the one quoted (below) to his wife Abigail Adams.

“But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it…. This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

 

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

 

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

 

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

 

– from letter John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams, with the heading “Philadelphia July 3d, 1776”

Now, if you’re wondering why we celebrate the 4th of July… you’ll have to come back on Saturday.

 

 

### LET FREEDOM RING ###

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 1) July 1, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. These ideals form the basis of every Eastern philosophy and, one can argue, they are cornerstones of human existence. They are definitely supposed to be the cornerstones of the United States of America – after all, the country was founded on these principles. So, it’s not surprising that when my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience there’s some extra energy. You may even call that energy excitement, as I definitely get jazzed by the idea of all people everywhere experiencing absolute freedom, liberty, and independence.

There’s one little hitch – and it’s something, I admit with some chagrin, that I don’t often mention explicitly when I have taught previous classes on freedom, liberty, and independence: When my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience it also overlaps with my experience as a Black American. In other words, I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence fully aware that everyone in my country of birth wasn’t originally intended to be free. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence knowing full well that the Committee of Five, which drew up the Declaration of Independence, decided it was more important to present a “united front” than it was to condemn slavery. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence with a very definite understanding that the majority of the forefathers who signed the declaration never considered fighting for the freedom, liberty, and independence of people who look like me. So, all of that energy is churning up inside of me – along with the awareness that some people in my country of birth take their freedom for granted, while others are still fighting to experience that which they are (now) legally entitled to experience.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

In any given year, for the last decade or so, I have taught at least 9 classes specifically related to freedom, liberty, and independence as it relates to the United States (plus classes related to the Civil Rights and Suffragists Movements, as well as classes related to freedom in a religious or philosophical context) and most people have never given a second thought to what’s going through my mind (or heart) as I do it. More importantly, most people never give a second thought to why I do it (let alone that I love doing it) given all that’s in my heart (and on my mind).

So, of course, now you’re wondering why….

I do it, and I usually love doing it, because I think history is important. I think it is important to understand, as much as we are able, how we got where we are as a country and as a community of people. (This is the same reason I teach so much about various religions.) With respect to the United States, I think it is particularly important to understand our history, because this country has never lived up to its ideals. While that can be seen as hypocrisy – and on a certain level it was and is – we still hold the ideals up as a standard. More importantly, we still have the possibility of dwelling within those ideals. But, we can only “dwell in possibility” if we understand that we are not currently “living the dream.”

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

I say all of this, online, knowing that there are people who can easily take my words out of context. More importantly, I say this knowing that we are living during a time when certain people relish taking such statements out of context. And, even though I doubt very many of the latter will see this, I still want to address people who might say, “See, see, here’s a black person who understands the importance of history.” To those people I say, “Yes, that is correct; I understand the importance of history.” To those same people I also say, “I understand the importance of history AND I also understand the importance of myth. So, when I teach, I make sure to distinguish one from the other. Give a statue of Robert E. Lee horns and wings and I will gladly teach the importance/significance of that.” {NOTE: I am not suggesting here that General Lee was a devil – although certain Union soldiers might disagree –rather, I am pointing to the fact that statues of him play the same role in society as artwork and literary references depicting a certain fallen angel.)

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Even though he wasn’t riding specifically for me and most of my ancestors, Caesar Rodney, the distinguished gentleman from Delaware, spent two days on a horse in order to vote for freedom. He did it while experiencing great pain and dis-ease. He did it because he knew that his vote counted. And, the fact that he did it means there’s a possibility – somewhere down the line – that people who look like me will one day experience true freedom, liberty, and independence in “the land of the free.”

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 1st) at 4:30 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. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Stay tuned for more on Caesar Rodney and why John Adams thought future generations would be celebrating July 2nd!

 

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

 

Hard to watch, harder to live.

 

Easier to watch, still challenging to live.

### PURSUE HAPPINESS WITHOUT SUFFERING ###

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 ###

Let’s See… What We See May 16, 2020

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

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

– Anonymous

If you take a moment to consider the anonymous quote above from two different angles (first as if you are “I” and then as if you are “other people”), you realize that the statement holds true for everyone. In other words, each one of us can only understand (anything) from OUR level of perception (or awareness). We might even add “from OUR conscious level of perception (or awareness).” Patanjali states, at the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, that yoga (the philosophy) quiets the mind and allows us to “rest in our own true nature” and that at all other times we identify ourselves as “the fluctuations of the mind.” Through the practice, we elevate our level of perception (and awareness) and, in doing so, elevate our level of understanding.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The ‘gunas’ fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

Remember, Patanjali explains in earlier sutras that everything we do creates an impression (samskara) and that we have constructed the world and ourselves – as well as our understanding of the world and ourselves – from a lack of knowledge (avidyā) and attachment that is rooted in (either) pleasure (rāgah) or pain (dveşah). There is a part of us that is pure consciousness, but our connection to that part of us lies behind the veils of samskara. Until the veils are lifted, we will only ever see what the mind shows us. That is to say, we will only ever see what the mind understands – and the mind is often clouded.

 “You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs)

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 16th) at 12:00 PM, when we will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand.  You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for playlists dated “March 31.” If you are so inclined, the playlist dated “05032020” also works for this practice.)

 

### OM OM AUM ###

The JOyG of Being May 9, 2020

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

“Yes how my love this moment here is ripe for us
Yes you and I so brave against the years
If nothing’s left to live we must find a way
There’s reason yet to live
There’s something left to give
We must find a way
There is so much to give”

 

– from “When Nothing’s Left” by Royal Wood

 

“For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”

― from The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

 

My friend Bob P once told me this joke: “There are two kinds of people in a kayak, the people that just fell out and the people who are about to fall out.” I find his joke is a pretty apropos metaphor for that feeling of “hitting the wall” during this pandemic; if you haven’t hit the wall, you’re about to hit the wall. While it might seem trite to suggest that you can tell a lot about a person by how they get over/under/around/through the wall it doesn’t change the fact that this is all part of our circumstances and, to paraphrase José Ortega y Gasset, we are (in part) our circumstances.

Born in Spain, today (May 9th) in 1883, Ortega y Gasset was an existential philosopher and writer, as well as a bit of an activist/social reformer, who believed that life was simultaneously fate and freedom, but that freedom could only be experienced within a given fate. In other words, we must play the hand we’re dealt – but, and this is key, we decide what game we’re playing with the hand we’re dealt. In fact, Ortega y Gasset encouraged actively deciding and creating a “project of life” and, in doing so, create meaning not only for one’s self, but also for others.

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference)

 

It may seem strange, even counterintuitive to some, to draw parallels between the work of 20th century existential philosophers and psychologists (or psychoanalysts) and the work of the ancient yogis. Yet, remember, Patanjali, Vyasa, and the authors of the sacred texts like the Upanishads were explaining their life experiences – just like modern day existentialists – and codifying their life philosophies. When you get right down to it, all of this comes down to an understanding of the nature of things and the nature of ourselves. So, once again, we are back to the same two questions: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”

José Ortega y Gasset was a strong proponent of creating one’s world, being an active creator rather than a passive receiver, and the second section/chapter of the yoga sutras (“The Foundation on Practice”) begins by focusing on how we are creating our world and our experiences in the world – sometimes unconsciously.

“Life cannot wait until the sciences may have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. And culture, which is but its interpretation, cannot wait any more than can life itself.”

 

– from Misión de la Universidad (Mission of the University) by José Ortega y Gasset

If you are interested and available, please you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday,May 9th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

### “YO SOY YO Y MI CIRCUMSTANCIA” ###