jump to navigation

Remember Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Baha'i, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Riḍván, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

This is A 3-in-1 “missing” post (with a coda) for Wednesday, April 20th. It features information on overlapping sacred traditions and also on an anti-bullying non-profit and is a bit of a “renewed” post (since it contains some previously posted material). You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, feel free to comment or email me.

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.)

“[Bridge: P!nkKhalid & Both]
Hope floats away
If you could spend a day in my shoes
Your mind would change
If you knew what I’ve gone through
We want the same (Yeah, we do)
Maybe then you’d understand
How it hurts to be human, oh”

*

– quoted from the song “Hurts 2B Human” by P!nk, featuring Khalid

A lot of this week was devoted to the subject of suffering, on and off the mat. Sure, we all have friends that were suffering this week – and then there’s all the general suffering in the world. Because there is, and has always been, a lot of suffering in the world; there is, and has always been, a desire for the end of suffering. There is, and has always been, people actively seeking an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many paths, practices, and methods that – on some level – promise an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many really great books, poems, movies, plays, and songs about suffering and how people deal with suffering.

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

One of the things I find interesting about humans and suffering is how often we tie our salvation to something more than ourselves and our own agency. What’s particularly interesting to me is that when we look at religious traditions (and philosophical traditions that are sometimes culturally religious), the teachings very specifically connect the end of suffering to our own agency and something more than ourselves… something divine, or Divine.

“[Chorus]
What if you were told that today
Was the last day of your life
Did you live it right?
Love is a gift you give away
And it reignites
Don’t wait, don’t let it pass you by
(don’t let it pass you by)”

*

– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

Over the course of this week, all the Abrahamic religious traditions – and at least one tradition with ties to the Abrahamic religions – have been engaging in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Jewish communities have been celebrating Passover and, as of Sunday, some are also Counting the Omer. Western Christian communities (including Roman Catholics) observed Easter on Sunday and then, for some, Easter marked the beginning of the Octave of Easter (or Eastertide). On the flip side, this week marked the Holy Week or Great Week for people within Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. This month (in 2022) is also the holy month of Ramadān in Islām. Finally, Thursday marked the beginning of Riḍván in the Bahá’í community.

Since several of these holy observations started on Saturday, I’m going to point out that Hanuman Jayanti (or Hanuman Jannotsav) – which is celebrated in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora – also has a connection to suffering and the end of suffering. Oh, and then there’s Earth Day – which is not a religious holiday, per se, but is still connected to suffering on this planet, a desire to end that suffering, and the realization that the path to that freedom from suffering must come from a global community acting together… which would be divine.

Because everyone uses different calendars, this conflux doesn’t happen every year. Yes, there is usually an overlap between Passover and at least one Holy Week; however, this year is different. This year, these sacred times overlapped tragic anniversaries related to April 19th and 20th. This year, there’s more suffering and more awareness of the different ways we could/can/might end suffering – in ourselves and in the world around us.

There’s just one problem. Actually, there are several problems.

One, we don’t always pay attention to the right part of the stories. You know, the part where we have to practice what we preach, act in ways that are congruent to our beliefs, and – like Hanuman (or Nahshon) – take giant leaps (or wade in the water) in order to help and/or save others. Two, we sometimes forget that we are community; that while it may hurt 2b human, we have each other and we (can) have each other’s backs. We forget how breaking bread with someone (whether it be on Spy Wednesday or Easter Wednesday) can reveal the true nature of things. Finally, we all too often lash out at others when we are suffering.

Sometimes we lash out like Pharaoh – and our hardened hearts result in everyone being plagued with more and more suffering. Other times we are like Judas – and we lash out in ways that seem small, inconsequential, and petty; but have magnificent consequences. Then there are those times when our personal suffering is like that of Jesus’s followers who, once their suffering is alleviated by a striking realization, go on to share the good so that others may also find relief from their suffering.

All the stories told during this week’s holy observations and celebrations are reminders that we are in community – even when we are not in a religious community. While there are bullies and bad guys in these stories, there are also reminders that any one of us can make a good (meaningful) difference. We can be Moses or Aaron or Miriam or Nahshon. We can be any of the disciples or Marys or Martha or Joanna. We can be like Hanuman. We can be like Baháʼu’lláh, in that we bring communities together even as we are being separated.

Finally, we can be like Rachel Joy Scott whose legacy is a challenge. It’s not a religious challenge, it’s an existential challenge. It’s a challenge that could not only change your life, it could change the lives of those around you.

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020. However, I have revised and expanded some sections related to Moses and Passover.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

*

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”), was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. In fact, one way to look at Shemot / Exodus 2, is that Moses left the luxury of the palace specifically to witness the suffering of his first family, his tribe, his community of birth. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten; and he was 80 when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Theoretically, he was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people and he was 120 when he died.

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.”

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He went on to describe how afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he described exactly what he meant by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gave examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggested (YS 1.33) is offering loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali also offered physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation. Those physical techniques are the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, outlining the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It may also help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.’”

*

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / The Book of Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. Some traditions even credit him as the author of The Book of Job, the events of which took place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. The Book of Job is the story of a man who endured great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there was a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering was alleviated and the way in which he endured the suffering is rewarded.

Job clung to his faith and believed that G-d was always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in a previous post, was told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel” (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translated G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this choice works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. (Remember, not everyone celebrated that first Passover and not everyone left Egypt when they had the chance.) Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – includes a correlation between free will and suffering, a connection between our actions and the end of our suffering.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

*

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

*

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2021. 

WARNING: This post specifically references a horrific and tragic event from 1999. You can skip most of these references by jumping from the first highlighted quote to the second highlighted quote.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. According to Webster’s Dictionary, compassion means a feeling of sympathy for another person’s misfortune. My definition is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Back in 2018, as one of my Kiss My Asana yogathon offerings, I referenced a lot – well, some – of the people who tragically lost their lives throughout history on April 19th and 20th. One of the people I mentioned was Rachel Joy Scott – the first person shot at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In some ways, it is hard to believe that 22 23 years have passed since that mass shooting. Remember mass shooting that some people thought would change everything? It’s equally hard to believe that there are adults – people who can serve in the armed forces, legally vote, and in some cases legally drink alcohol in the United States – who were not even born when 2 high school seniors killed 12 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives. It’s mind-boggling to me that (based on recent events in early 2021 and data compiled by The New Yorker and Trace in 2019) there have had been over 200 mass shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999. (As of April 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in schools since this week in 1999.) Those shootings have affected thousands upon thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is astounding that what was (at the time) the fifth deadliest shooting in the United States (after World War II) “is now not even in the top ten.”

I’m not going to spend my time here (or in class) talking about my opinion about gun control and/or the 2nd Amendment. Nor am I going to spend a lot of time stating the obvious fact that, as the statistics and the lives lost clearly attest, we have a problem – because, let’s be honest, we have a lot of problems right now. What I am going to focus on today is Rachel’s Challenge. Not the program (although I will mention that) so much as the idea(l).

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Somewhere on her person, perhaps in her backpack, 17-year old Rachel Joy Scott had a notebook. It was one of several notebooks that turned up after Rachel’s death. Some of the notebooks were full of thoughts, poetry, and art she was just sharing with herself. Some of the notebooks, however, were a form of communication between her and her “big brother” Mark Pettit. They would each write in the notebooks and then swap them during small groups at church.

The notebooks became a way for Rachel’s family to tell her story and also a way to spread her message about the importance of compassion. They, along with the stories that other people shared about their encounters with Rachel, led her family to start Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit that creates “programs that promote a positive climate in K-12 schools.” They also have comprehensive programs for colleges and businesses.

On the foundation’s website, the Rachel’s Challenge mission is stated as “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.” They also indicate that when the program is fully implemented, “partner schools achieve statistically significant gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate; along with reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.”

“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”

*

– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

I did not know Rachel Joy Scott or Cassie Bernall (17), Steven Curnow (14), Corey DePooter (17), Kelly Fleming (16), Matthew Kechter (16), Daniel Mauser (15), Daniel Rohrbough (15), Isaiah Shoels (18), John Tomlin (16), Lauren Townsend (18), Kyle Velasquez (16), William “Dave” Sanders (47), nor (to my knowledge) do I know anyone else that was at Littleton, Colorado, today in 1999. I did not know the two seniors that wrecked so much havoc (and whose names I am choosing not to post, even though their families also suffered greatly.) I am not affiliated with the foundation Rachel’s family started and neither have I gone through their program. However, I believe in the message and I believe in the idea(l).

I have seen the chain reaction that starts with compassion and kindness – just as I have seen the chain reaction that begins with a lack of empathy and a lack of equanimity. In that essay she wrote in period 5, Rachel talked about first, second, and third impressions and how they don’t always give you a full picture of someone. She wrote, “Did you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from, did they experience love, did they experience hurt, did you look into their soul and not just at their appearance?” We are, right here and right now, experiencing the chain reactions that occur when we don’t really see each other and when we don’t recognize the fact that we are all connected. We are – right here and right now – about to set off a new chain reaction.

Quick, ask yourself: What is motivating you and what do you expect to come out of your actions?

“One of the big things we’re focused on is how you see yourself. Each and every one of us in this room has a great capacity to do great things.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking to a small group of students during a Rachel’s Challenge event

*

“I challenge students to choose positive influences. Rachel wanted to make a positive difference. So, she surrounded herself with the right influences that helped her be a powerful, positive person.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

*

𝄌

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

*

There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

In the past, when I’ve talked about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve used a fairly non-religious playlist. This year, however, the overlapping holidays inspired me to remix the playlist for these holy times. I wanted music that would reflect the different traditions and the different stories, while also reflecting Rachel Joy Scott’s ethics and codes of life. I also wanted something that was inspiring and hopeful, like the young woman herself.

As I was remixing, I came across “Godbone” by (one of my favorite composers) Bear McCreary. In the the television series See and in games like “King of Dragon Pass,” “godbone” is a term used for metal and/or concrete. I’m not 100% positive about the etymology of the term, but it reminded me of the Lunar New Year story about the Kitchen God and how the fireplace poker came into existence. It also made me think about Krishna’s explanation of tapas – which can be defined as heat, discipline and austerity, as well as the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity.

Whenever I reference tapas, which is one of the niyamas (“internal observations” in the Yoga Philosophy), I mention that it can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. It can also be applied religiously. In fact, fasting during the holy month of Ramadān, giving something up for Lent, and giving up leavened bread during Passover are some of the examples I use throughout the year. Those same traditions also incorporate the the final two internal observations – svādhyāya (“self-study”) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (“surrendering to [a higher power]”) – which combine with tapas to form kriya yoga (“yoga in action,” or an ongoing process moving towards union with Divine). (YS 2.1) These sacred rituals are all about refining the (c)ore of who we are.

“And he shall sit refining and purifying silver, and he shall purify the children of Levi. And he shall purge them as gold and as silver, and they shall be offering up an offering to the Lord with righteousness.”

*

– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

Back in 2010, Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote an article about bitter herbs, suffering (in Passover and in life), and a group of women who were inspired to go deeper into the Biblical idea that the Jewish people’s suffering in Egypt was “the ‘kur habarzel ― the iron crucible[.]’” She wrote about how these women went to see a silversmith at work and how, through their observations and questions, they gained a better understanding of the process of suffering and how to deal with suffering. Like Rachel’s challenge, Sara Rigler’s insight gives us a better understanding of how we can graceful engage our own suffering: Always look for the image of the Divine in ourselves and always look for that same reflection in others.

“As the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire, he explained that he needed to hold the silver where the flame was hottest in order to burn away all the impurities. The woman, remembering the Biblical verse, asked if he had to sit there the whole time the silver was being refined. The silversmith responded that not only did he have to sit and hold the silver the entire time, but he had to keep a careful eye on it, because if the silver was left in the flame a moment too long, it would be destroyed.

‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ the woman asked.

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I see my image in it.'”

*

– quoted from the aish.com article “Why Celebrate with Bitter Herbs? – Yes, God took us out of Egypt, but He put us there in the first place!” by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04202022 Rachel’s Challenge, Holy Remix”]

“She was a real girl, who had real struggles, and – just was in the pursuit to, you know, pretty much just show compassion and love to anybody who needed it. You know: Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever class – any of that stuff. I mean, it did not matter to Rachel…. She saw my heart.”

*

– Mark Pettit, talking about the movie I’m Not Ashamed, a 2016 film based on their journals

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

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

*

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

*

### AMEN, SELAH ###

The Power of a Good Story April 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week, Great Lent, or Passover! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This chapter-length post, related to the last few days of Holy Week or Passion Week and the beginning of Passover, is a combination of several revised posts from previous years, with some additional context. In addition to the quotes, there are additional section headings (in color) you can use to break up your reading time. You can request an audio recording of any of the pre-recorded practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Remember, there is no class this Sunday.

“And God saw that it was good.”

*

– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t – Genesis

Tov is a Hebrew word that means “good.” At the beginning of the Torah (also the Christian Old Testament), God defines something as “good” when it is useful and serving its purpose. In our physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, we want every pose to be “good” in this way. However, in a modern context – when we think of the word “good” as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome – we can find ourselves in a bit of a quandary, when we don’t know what we’re doing. On the mat, that quandary may mean we’re doing poses without understanding how they serve or benefit us – and then doing them in a way that means we’re not getting all the benefits. It could also mean doing poses and sequences for the wrong reasons. Off the mat, that quandary can result in us doing things that have lost their meaning.

I often point to the fact that there was a time when everything people did had meaning. Over time, as people got further away from the meaning, rituals became traditions – things people did just because their ancestors did them. When those traditions lose meaning, they just become things people say. There are some rituals and traditions that have their meanings baked into the practice; however, even then, people sometimes don’t really understand the meaning. Then, too, things can get even more confusing when cultures overlap and suddenly people are witnessing practices they don’t understand – because they don’t know the meaning.

These kinds of perplexing situations happen a lot in the Spring, when all the major religions and philosophies have significant observations and celebrations that overlap. This can get ever more confusing when, for instance, people outside of Judaism wonder why there’s a celebration associated with a time of so much suffering and non-Christians have a hard time understanding how the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week can be simultaneously associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and also good. It’s a bit of a conundrum… until you go a little deeper.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

PLEASE NOTE: This next portion, revised from April 2020, involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

*

– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb (on April 11, 2020). One was from a friend, sharing the Sarah Kendzior quote (above). The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way.

On Friday 15, 2022, people all over the the world will be beginning the third week of the holy month of Ramadān; celebrating Good Friday (in the Western Christian traditions); getting ready for Holy Saturday (on April 16th, in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions); and, at sunset, beginning Passover. Then, there’s Easter Sunday (in the Western Christian traditions), which this year is also Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. It is also the time, in the Jewish traditions, that people begin Counting the Omer. Oh, and then there are people who will celebrate Easter and Passover, and maybe even start Counting the Omer. Plus, outside of the Abrahamic religions, there are millions more who will celebrate Hanuman Jayanti, also on the 16th. When you consider that these observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keeping in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

If we just stick with the Abrahamic religions for a moment, remember that Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and, therefore, Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four gospels indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originated within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus met the qualifications. According to most Jews, he did not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

*

– quoted from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this: The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

*

– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

*

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

*

– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

In the Exodus story, while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the Jews be released. Moses had an interesting backstory and was, in some ways, the perfect person to be the (human) hero of the story. However, he was humble to the point of lacking confidence and ended up asking his brother Aaron to come along on the mission. When their show of power didn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone was subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffered. The Jews, who were already suffering the hardship of slavery, also had to endure the additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families were told to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They were also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happened in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial spoke to Moses and Moses asked for G-d’s identity, Moses was told three times that the One who spoke was the One who would always be with Moses and the Jewish people. Regardless of what they experience, Rashi explained, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.7 – 8) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time) was, and future Christians are, kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he was betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously was not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb was opened and there was some confusion about what had happened, Jesus was essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, were either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

*

– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

IT’S ALL TOV

Portions of the following were originally posted in April 2021.

The rituals related to the aforementioned observations emphasize a specific order of events and how a story is told through the order of events. In the case of Passover, the story of Exodus is told through the symbolic elements of the Passover Seder. The Seder (which means “order” or “arrangement”) moves through 15 steps, including “The Four Questions” that lead to the telling of the story. It’s a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a dinner party wrapped in a children’s bedtime story disguised as a tradition.

For Good Friday, many Christians move through the Stations of the Cross, a visual pilgrimage of Jesus’ last moments. The earliest “Way of the Cross” or “Way of Sorrows” artwork and the Scriptural Way of the Cross (introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, and approved by Pope Benedict in 2007) depict 14 scenes or “steps,” ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. The Resurrection is often considered to be the 15th Station of the Cross. (NOTE: The Resurrection is the 14th Station according to the “New Way of the Cross” in the Philippines; however, this version is different from the previous mentioned versions.) The art is meant to mirror Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Sorrow/Pain”) in Jerusalem, the actual path Jesus would have taken to Mount Calvary. So, when people “move through the Stations of the Cross” it is a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a walking tour wrapped in a children’s picture book disguised as traditional art.

Within the Jewish community, the sacred ritual of Counting the Omer begins on the second day of Passover. This is a period of 49 days, a total of 7 weeks, leading up to Shavuot (also known as the “Festival of Weeks”) – which itself is a commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Commonly associated with Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), the practice of Counting the Omer involves 7 of the 10 attributes of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life. Each day is associated with a different attribute, as is each week – which means that for 49 days people are focusing-concentrating-meditating on the interrelation of two attributes. Since each attribute is associated with a different part of the body, and some people combine a physical component, it’s a ritual exercise wrapped in a mystical meditation  disguised as a 49-day perspective changing challenge.

Coincidentally – or, perhaps, divinely intentionally – this year’s celebrations of Easter (in Western Christianity) and Palm Sunday (in Eastern Orthodox Christianity) – which, again, are all about the power of G-d’s love – overlap the second night and day of Passover, which is also the beginning of Counting the Omer, when people focus on “Love/Lovingkindness in Love/Lovingkindness.”

All of the religious rituals above traditionally involve prayers, which I do not include in the practices. However, if you are religious and observing there’s always an opportunity to pray as you feel is appropriate. If you are not religious and/or are not familiar with the stories, you can think of what I offer as a history lesson wrapped in a little svādhyāya (“self-study) disguised as a physical yoga practice… or you could ignore what comes up for you and just decide I’m stepping out of my lane.

SOMETHING GOOD… ON FRIDAY

Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020.

“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

*

– quoted from the song “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

2020 was the first time in 11 years that I did not teaching on Good Friday. It was also the first time in 11 years, that I taught on Easter. It was (and still is) a little surreal and bittersweet. While I know some people appreciate a yoga practice that essentially mirrors the Via Dolorosa and walks through the Stations of the Cross; I also know it’s a little much for some folks. Every year, someone asks me if I’m going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanks me and says that it’s meaningful, which is good.

Getting back to that idea of the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week being good, remember that in Christian traditions Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He serves his purpose, because he lives, suffers, is crucified, dies, is buried, and rises – in order for sins to be forgiven. There is no passion, no crucifixion, no death, no burial, nor resurrection, however, without the betrayal. Implying that the betrayal and Judas, by extension, are good, because they are meaningful (and have a purpose) is one of the things that gets me into trouble.

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.9) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9) by Jack Hawley

Every year that I taught at the YMCA, with the exception of 2019, someone complained to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It didn’t matter that the complaint often came up in a class where I also told the Passover story. It didn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It was always Passion Week that caused someone to say that what I teach and the way I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, it’s still very common for people to tell me that I made them uncomfortable (or even touched them) because of something that was personal only to them. Yoga can be very healing, but in the process it can bring up a lot of trauma. Religion, specifically religious fanaticism, has caused a lot of harm in the history of the world; so, it is not surprising that hearing me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice is upsetting to some. It’s especially not surprising or unexpected if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes went through management and it always involved Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association. (As a side note, outside of the YMCA, I have had someone complain that Judaism came up a lot throughout the year.)

“That they all may be one. (John 17:21)”

*

 – YMCA motto adopted, along with the “Paris Basis,” by international delegates at the First World Conference of the YMCA, 1855

I would like to think that I’ve become a little wiser and a little more conscious as a teacher. I definitely appreciate feedback and take it into consideration. That said, I still teach the themes I teach. I still teach with the understanding that everyone doesn’t believe what I believe. I still teach with the understanding that even when I teach from a historical, philosophical, and conceptual perspective, some people will think I am of a certain faith and have a religious agenda.

I hate breaking it to y’all, but I’m neither Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Daoist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, nor any number of things you might have considered. But, I do have an agenda.

“Yoga” means union. Throughout the 8-Limb philosophy there is a recognition of and belief in something Divine – G-d. Whatever that means to you at this moment, it is simultaneously that and not that (neti, neti). The end goal of the philosophy is sometimes referred to as “union with the Divine.” That, however, does not mean – or does not only mean – union with an anthropomorphic being. It does, however, mean a state of awareness and existence that understands how everything and everyone is connected. Being connected, working together, that is yoga. Being intentional about our thoughts, words, and deeds, because what we think, say, and do affects everything and everyone around us, that is part of the practice. As someone who practices the philosophy, that’s my agenda: yoga.

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

*

– quoted from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

This year, 2022, I am not teaching on Good Friday or Easter Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, Palm Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions, and Hanuman Jayanti). However, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I will also send out pre-recorded practices to anyone on the Friday or Sunday lists.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, I offer you a little taste of my personal practice (see meditation below) followed by Meghan G’s Good Friday message, which was part of my 202 Kiss My Asana offering. Yes, yes, the annual yogathon where we “do yoga, share yoga, and help others” is coming next week.

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

*

ONCE MORE MORE WITH FEELING

This excerpt was part of a 2020 Kiss My Asana offering.

In my Good Friday post, I alluded to some people who would miss my Good Friday class. One of those people that immediately came to mind was Meghan G (who some of you will remember as Yogi #12: The Fixer during Kiss My Asana 2016). When I requested stories for Kiss My Asana 2020, Meghan G sent me the following Good Friday story:

“My story has happened quite recently. On Good Friday, just last week, I was feeling so disconnected from my faith community of Saint Joan of Arc, my yoga community Downtown YMCA Friday night yogis and really the whole human community.  Every tradition or ritual that I/we have grounds me in the meaning of Holy Week was uprooted.  Holy Week, and Good Friday contemporary stations of the cross in particular, is one of the most sacred times of the year.  It almost felt to me that day as though it was being ignored.

In an effort to stop the downward spiral of disconnectedness, I sought out Saint Joan of Arc’s Good Friday celebration on video, posted on the website.  I had tried to worship this way on Holy Thursday, but found myself distracted, multi-tasking and unfulfilled by the experience.  So this Friday I decided to stop the swirling in my mind I would lead myself through a series of poses to calm and focus my mind.  Myra had prepared me well for this.  As I listened to the Stations of the Cross and the familiar music and stories from my faith community I progressed through a series of poses that were also as familiar and soothing as the service.  I was able to connect Jesus’s suffering on the cross with the greater suffering in our world right now (and always) and feel again a part of the human community.

Thank you, Myra, for teaching me over the years to do yoga as you do life…with intention and love. Happy Easter, Meghan”

Thanks, again, Meghan!

*

“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.6) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

*

[NOTE: As much as I am able, I like to highlight the quotes with a good color, i.e., a meaningful color. Today that color is black, for those who know.]

*

### “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt” (John 1:5) ###

Light in the Darkness (a Monday post practice post) December 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baha'i, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. 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.]

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

For many years, when it was time to set our personal intentions during the practice, I would reference something/someone related to the practice and/or something/someone related to current events. It didn’t matter if it was a local tragedy or something unfathomable on the other side of the planet; it made sense to me to offer a little kindness and compassion. Be it a man made or a natural disaster, it made sense to remember that no matter what I or the people around me were experiencing somewhere in there world there was someone who could benefit from our positive energy.

For a moment, we formed a cosmic “prayer circle” and many of you told me that that practice resonated with you. Some of you would even come up to me afterwards and say that you too had been thinking about the plight of someone that normally wouldn’t have crossed your mind. It wasn’t an excuse not to reach out a helping hand when we could. In fact, it was sometimes the opposite. It was a good reminder of hope and charity and, also, that we are all part of something more: a larger community than the one right in front of our noses.

But then the pandemic hit – and it didn’t make sense to offer our energy, condolences, thoughts, and prayers in the same way. It didn’t seem fair for me to highlight one person or one group of people when we were all directly affected. Sure, some people were still more affected than others. But who was I to say “look over here, look over there” when we were all suffering?

So, perhaps over the last 21 months the offering, the dedication, has felt a little more personal. Perhaps it was less of a reminder that we were all in this together, and more of a reminder that, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” Maybe you had to remind yourself to be more intentional about your energy. 

Either way, it was still an opportunity to extend a little bit of our hope, love, kindness, compassion, hope, and joy into the world. It was still a much needed moment… a moment to metaphorically stare into the light. Because Friedrich Nietzsche’s words are no less true when we flip them around. In fact, flipping them around highlights two parts of the yoga practice, as outlined by Patanjali: turning inward to study yourself and to focus on your own light.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

The following is an expanded version of a portion of a post related to the practice on December 13, 2020. Some class details and references have been updated.

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up was Chanukah, which starts at sunset each year on the 25th of Kislev. Last year (in 20210), the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlapped the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – and I noted that we were getting double the light. Of course, that might have implied that this year we would have less light.

But that’s not really how light works – and that’s not really how light celebrations work. If anything, this year’s celebration of Saint Lucy was an opportunity to highlight one person’s contribution during a challenging time, a dark period in history (if you will).

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

 

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

 

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. Prior to calendar reformation, it was celebrated on the shortest day of the year – meaning, the day surrounded by the most darkness.

The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. She is often depicted wearing a white robe or dress with a red sash, both the colors of which are symbols of her purity, piety, and her martyrdom. Being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

While I realize that posting two days in a row about the divine symbolism of numbers may lead to certain conclusions, let me be clear on two points. First, I like numbers and appreciate the science of equations (maybe as much or more than the average person), but I can’t really call myself a mathematician. Likewise, even though I often encounter numerical symbolism when I study religion and philosophy, I can’t say that I know very much about numerology or arithmomancy (also called arithmancy). All that said, when I keep hearing about certain things I perk up and pay attention. So, I’ve started getting curious about the number 9.

I was born on the 9th of a month, as were some of my favorite people; but I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with the number. It’s not 7; which has a lot of personal significance for me, is sometimes considered a symbol of humans, and is related to a lot of aspects of (and stories within) the Abrahamic religions as well as several energetic and/or spiritual systems.

It’s not eight, which is associated with infinity.

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

Sure, it’s the highest single digit natural, or cardinal, number. It also pops up a lot in relation to harshad (“joy bringer”) numbers like 18, 27, and 108. Of course, I remember that the holy month of Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. But I missed (or forgot) the fact that the Baháʼí Faith considers it a symbol of completion – so much so that it is incorporated into the faith’s name and sacred buildings. Similar reverence in relation to completion is found in Hinduism. In fact, four times a year there are periods of nine nights (and 10 days) that are devoted to Durga, the mother goddess, with each night dedicated to various manifestations of God as mother.

Sure, somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that the Buddha had nine virtues; that (in Christianity) there are nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit and nine “Choirs of Angels” (divided into three spheres of three); and that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed system. But I had forgotten, or not given much thought, to how the number nine pops up in prayer.

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that one of the prayers offered during some Jewish services actually comes with extra blessings on Rosh Hashanah – bringing the total blessings to nine. Neither had I contemplated the numerical significance of “the nine days” (Tisha HaYamim) of mourning preceding Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (the eleventh on the Hebrew calendar) and how that date marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 423 BCE and 70 CE, respectively). And, honestly, I didn’t know that other significant historical events and tragedies in Jewish history happened on that date – the ninth day of the eleventh month, which is eerily reflective of the tragedies and historical events associated with Schicksalstag (the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar).

There’s more… a lot more that I didn’t know. However, here’s a little more that I knew, but hadn’t really thought about: A novena is a nine-day (or nine-week) period of prayer within some Christian traditions.

The word “novena” is used to describe the period, the practice, and the prayer(s). It comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” and it is a period meant to parallel the time described in The Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14, NIV) when the twelve Apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” They did this, per Jesus’s instructions (and with a little guidance from some “angels”) in preparation of receiving gifts (or powers) from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as indicated above, the practice of praying (and even fasting) for nine days predates Christianity – some historians even track to the practice back to the Roman Empire (again, as it relates to mourning).

In a modern context, novenas are often used to request a Divine gift or as part of a larger ritual. They are often associated with Marian Feast Days – sometimes being recited in anticipation of a feast day and sometimes starting on the feast day. For example, some people started a novena on November 29th and completed it on December 8th. Others, started praying (a different novena, see below) on December 13th.

Western science has shown that there is power in prayer and meditation. Said power is also magnified when people gather together (even virtually) and/or engage in prayer and meditation at the same time. So, while you could pray a novena at any time (and it is believed that there is power in that practice), there is more power at certain times. That extra power comes from an exponential increase in energy going towards light (instead of darkness) when we all focus, concentrate, meditate together.

Kind of like when set our personal intentions and dedications towards the beginning of our āsana practice.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

 

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

 

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

 

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

– The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! I will once again offer two New Year’s Day practices on January 1st (2022). You can start the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. There will also be a reflective “First Friday Night Special” on January 7th. All times are Central Standard. Log-in details will be updated on the “Class Schedules” calendar

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. 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.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

*

– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###

Double the Light (the very late “missing” post) December 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[“Happy  Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!]


[This extremely delayed posting is from Sunday the 13th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.


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

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up is Chanukah, which started at sunset on Thursday (the 25th of Kislev). This year, the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlaps the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – so we get double the light.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“Chanukah” means “dedication” and the holiday is a commemoration of Maccabees restoring the temple in Jerusalem after centuries of religious persecution (and a battle that was in and of itself a miracle). Before the battle, however, the Maccabees spent about a year hiding in caves and studying Torah. They would have been very clear on the importance of lighting the candles on the menorah in order to establish the sanctity of the temple. After all, it is commanded in the Bible. The only problem was that the temple had been desecrated and almost every vial of olive oil previously sealed by the high priest had been contaminated. I say “almost every vial,” because (miraculously) there was one still sealed vial of oil. Not enough, they thought, to last all the days and nights (8 in total) required to make and to bless more oil – but just enough to show their faith and their intention, to show where (and how) they stood in the world.

When people celebrate Chanukah, they light 8 candles in honor of the 8 days and 8 nights during which there was, miraculously, light when people were expecting darkness. Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. However, being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

### 2x MORE LIGHT, 4x LESS DARKNESS ###

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

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.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

### AMEN, SELAH ###