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When the Mind Opens (mostly the music and links) May 25, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humble and kind in the face of our enduring connections.

“But when the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse the universe, and make things what they are, then shrinks the great world at once into a mere illustration and fable of this mind. What am I? and What is? asks the human spirit with a curiosity new-kindled, but never to be quenched.” 

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“A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man when his heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue. Then he is instructed in what is above him. He learns that his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness. That which he venerates is still his own, though he has not realized it yet. He ought. He knows the sense of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render account of it.”

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– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 1803)

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 25th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 1803). Here’s a little excerpt from my 2021 post about this date: “I love reading the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, born May 25, 1803 (in Boston, Massachusetts), even though I sometimes get frustrated reading Emerson. I love reading Emerson, because over 200 years after his birth, his words are still relevant to our society. But, I get frustrated, because… his words are still relevant to our society. It’s like we’ve learned nothing individually (or collectively) about our mind-body-spirits and our relationship to the rest of nature.”

Click here to read last year’s post (which was a 2-for-1 post).

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“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity [well-being]:”

*

 

– quoted from part II of the poem “Merlin’s Song” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.)

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### “For your brothers, for your fathers, for your sons, for your daughters, for your mothers, for your sisters, for your friends, for your teachers, for your cousins…continue to breathe” I.A ###

FTWMI: The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story May 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

 

The following was previously posted in 2021. Holiday related dates and statistics, as well as class details have been updated.

“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

 

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

 

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

 

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st as Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who raised Jesus (at God’s behest), taught Jesus a trade, and (as a carpenter) emphasized the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lápiz” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

 

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how the way I’m living now and what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeleine or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 1st) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: Due to artist protests, one song may not play on Spotify. As I support artists in their efforts to bring about change, I am not re-mixing affected playlists.

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

     

### WORDED (that’s the whole story) ###

Pepys, peeps, and a peep (just the music) February 23, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Yoga.
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It’s another palindrome day! Please join me today (Wednesday, February 23rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Here’s an amazing song that I was going to add to the remix (but it is no longer available on Spotify). My desire to add it, and the reason it is no longer available, are relevant.

*

### breathe / take a breath ~ saans lo ###

Let’s Breathe (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) May 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Monday, May 24th and Tuesday, May 25th (TRIGGER WARNING). You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair. It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”

 

 

– quoted from a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter Ellen, dated April 8, 1854 (as printed in The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, volume 4, edited by Ralph L. Rusk, 1939)

There are some practices, like at Common Ground and during the old rooftop practices, where we don’t use a playlist. Sometimes, like on Saturdays, we often start the practice without the music. However, more often than not, I pick something instrumental to set the tone. It may even be something that is “punny” and/or something that contains an inside joke or subliminal message. On Tuesday, for instance, we started with “A Breath of Stillness” – and just like on Monday that was the focus of the practice; to find the stillness that allows us to breathe and then to find stillness that speaks to us in between the breaths.

There are whole (ancient) texts written on asana, but my go to reference (for quick and dirty instruction) is Yoga Sūtras 2.46 – even though that is the first in a series of three sūtras detailing postural instruction. While other texts (like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, and Shiva Samhita) give more detailed instruction about how to position the parts of one’s body, Patanjali’s instructions are consistent with the qualities one needs in order to practice: stability and steadiness, comfort and ease, equanimity and overall peace of mind (joy). The other texts primarily focus on achieving these qualities through the site chosen for the practice, while Patanjali focuses on the mind-body as the site. All the texts, however, point to the quality of breath as an indicator of the quality of the body’s position.

But, what happens when our body is not in a position to breathe? What happens when we don’t have (as instructed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) “a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds…” or find that we are not “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”? Do we not practice? Do we not breathe??

Of course, those are ridiculous questions. Of course we are going to practice (if we are committed to ourselves and our practice). Furthermore, we have no choice with regard to our breath, because as long as we are alive, we will breathe. We may not breathe well; we may need the assistance of a machine or a reminder from a teacher/friend, but breathing is one of the biggest parts (and signs) of being alive.

When we “sit” and breathe on our mats and on our cushions, we acknowledge that this is something people all around the world have done before us; something millions and billions of people are doing at the same time as us; and something people will be doing, all around the world, long after we are gone. On a certain level, we acknowledge the divinity of the breath and breathing… the universality of it… even when our experience of it is different.

These types of acknowledgements allow us to experience a deeper and richer breadth of breath (and life). These types of acknowledgements also allow us to take a journey into the stillness and into the richness within us and all around us – and to tap into what is divine, or universal, within us and around us.

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

 

 

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

 

Don’t let the word (or concept) of “God” bother you and become an obstacle to your practice/journey. After all, you could use the word “Light” or “the Divine” or “Goodness” or “Goddess” or “Universe” or “the Community / World.” Try it, just breath for a moment and use the word(s) that work for you.

One of my favorite Yoga Sūtras is 1.36 and I refer to it often: viśokā vā jyotişmatī, which encourages us to focus on the place inside of us that is “free from sorrow” and “infused with light.” According to the practice, focusing in this way anchors the mind and brings peace of mind. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, even points to traditions where this is the “core of the entire text” and of the practice. We find this central idea – even this centering practice – in other religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism.

I specifically used the two examples above, because over the weekend, I got similar reminders from two different contemplative theologians/teachers from two different spiritual communities. The first was Thomas J. Bushlack, PhD, who is a Christian professor of theology and ethics – as well as a longtime practitioner of yoga. The second was Buddhist dharma teacher Tara Brach, PhD (who, I believe, also practices yoga). As I already mentioned, both are contemplative leaders in their traditions and also offer meditations to people within and outside of their spiritual communities.

Full disclosure, Dr. Bushlack is someone I know personally, someone who is part of my yoga community, and someone I closely associate with the religious philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. This weekend, however, rather than quoting Saint Thomas, he was quoting a different namesake: Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and one of the three co-developers of Centering Prayer (which Dr. Bushlack offers as a foundational practice for religious and non-religious professionals). While I shared a bit more (here and in class on Monday night) than he did, the reference to “our core goodness” dovetails with Dr. Brach’s use of “Buddha-nature” and both references are in relation to a practice that is fundamentally tied to knowing there are times we can do something (as much as we can for as long as we can) and other times when we have to let go, surrender.

“1. …. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.

 

2. Our basic core of goodness is our true Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to beread according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“… we can’t do it alone and we can’t do it if we think it’s like a sense of my own ego’s heart. In other words, that doesn’t work. If you think you’re responsible, [you’re personally responsible,] for another life, then your heart won’t be able to open big enough. So, in a way, you have to hand that over… just sense that there’s a love and intelligence in this universe that’s bigger than this personal self. And you can entrust whatever feels like too much into it….

 

It’s a practice.  And it took me a long time, because, I, especially when I was a active as a therapist, really thought it was up to me to fix people. Until I came to this amazing realization that everybody has Buddha-nature. I mean, everybody has that light and that heart and some people are going to unfold more than others in ways that manifest….

It’s a surrendering of control and thinking that we’re the doer – and realizing that this body-mind will serve the greater good best that doesn’t think it’s ‘a doer.’”

 

 

– quoted from a weekly Satsang / Live Q&A session (recorded 10172020), regarding “Holding Space for Ourselves and Others when the Suffering Feels like too Much” – part of “The Power of Inquiry: Healing Conversations” by Tara Brach

 

Normally when we come to a really big anniversary – the anniversary of something good or bad, monumental, even tragic and horrific; something that left a mark on our hearts, minds, and psyches – we remember where we were, what we were doing, maybe even what we were wearing and who was with us. We can remember exactly how we felt and what we thought. I find that’s the norm when we come up to an anniversary, especially a personal or universal anniversary that was tragic. We remember little things, minute, seemingly inconsequential things – even when the event affects each of us in different ways.

But, May 25, 2020 is a little different for most people in the world.

You may not remember exactly what you were doing a year ago today – let alone what you were wearing. We were still in the (relative) beginning of the pandemic shutdown, so maybe you remember where you were and what you weren’t doing, because it was outside of your normal routine. Maybe nothing stands out in your actual physical memory of the day itself, other than that it was Memorial Day… or maybe a special day specific to you. Yet, you remember today the events of today.

We remember today because it is the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd and while many people witnessed some aspects of his murder – maybe even on this date – most of us weren’t actually there when it happened. We may have only been a few blocks or miles away, but most of us were completely unaware of what was happening until after the fact. Even then, most of us didn’t imagine the horror of the act itself. On May 25, 2020, most of us were completely unaware that what was happening around us – and that the world would be able to watch the horror of it all, in real time – was about to change everything. It changed the way people interacted with each other.  It changed the way people understood (or thought they understood) one another. It changed the way people thought about their breath… and their ability to breathe.

“Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In times like these
That’s what your heart is for
Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In honor of your brother
That’s what your heart is for”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

Breathing is connected to our autonomic nervous system; it is something that happens to us, and also something we can engage or control. When we inhale, there’s a little micro-extension in the spine; a moment of heart-opening (and bending over backwards). When we exhale there’s a micro-flexion in the spine; a moment where we turn inward and perhaps surrender. Notice that there is balance in this system: the inhale is active/yang; the exhale is lunar/passive.

In fact, each part of our breath is associated with a different part of our nervous system. The inhale is tied to the sympathetic nervous system and our fight/flee/freeze or collapse response. It activates when we need to “GO!” and, therefore, is considered the gas pedal. The exhale is connected to the parasympathetic nervous, which is connected to our ability to rest and digest – as well as to create. It activates when we need to slow down or stop and, therefore, is considered the brakes of our system. (Notice that “STOP!” would fall into the sympathetic nervous system category.)

So, our physiological systems are designed move in and out of balance – to find balance within the imbalance. However, situations that activate our sympathetic nervous system (making us want to fight, flee, freeze, or collapse) also create a breathe pattern that is not sustainable over long periods of time. Additionally, we are living in a time where our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly activated – sometimes to the point of being over stimulated – and we develop a habit of bad breathing. Add to that the fact that the physiological – as well as emotional and psychological – effects of COVID make it harder and harder to breathe.

To make matters worse, in some traditional sciences (like Chinese Medicine) the vitality for the heart and lungs is associated with the arms and with emotions of joy and grief/sorrow+loss, respectively. Each of those meridians is coupled with another meridian – specifically the intestine meridians, which are related to how we digest. Remember, our need to process, digest, metabolize, and release waste is not restricted to food, drink, or medicine that we consume. We also consume experiences, actions, thoughts, and words – which means we also have to have space and time (not to mention the energy) to digest all that! And, over the last year-plus, we have had a lot of “that!” to digest.

“First, keep breathing…. Don’t take this next breath for granted. Never take your breath, which is a symbol of your life, for granted. Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day. Then follow it with another… and another. Make it a habit, a practice, to very deliberately and intentionally breathe. Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

 

– quoted from my blog post/page “A Place to Start”

 

Last year, I made a point to emphasize things I say all the time, things I’ve been saying for over a decade – but those things landed differently after we watched George Floyd die. As I knew it would. Which is why I added that last part, the reminder to “Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that George Floyd wasn’t the first person to utter those words before dying during an encounter with the police. It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that it’s more than Eric Garner, who was killed in New York City on July 17, 2014. Those are just the one’s vaguely familiar to most of us.

But what about Nicholas Dyksma (August 31, 2015 in Harris Country, Georgia); Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin, Jr, (January 4, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona); Hector Arreola  (January 10, 2017 in Columbus, Georgia); Christopher Lowe (July 26, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas); Javier Ambler II (March 28, 2019 in Austin, Texas); Derrick Scott (May 20, 2019 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma); Elijah McClain (who was restrained on August 24, 2019 in Aurora, Colorado, declared brain dead on August 27th, and taken off life support on August 30th); Byron Williams (September 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada); John Elliott Neville (who was restrained while in county jail on December 2, 2019 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and died on December 4th); Manuel Ellis (March 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington); or William Jennette (restrained and died in a Marshall County, Tennessee jail in earlier this month)?

Just for the record, those are not the only people who died or the only people who experienced similar restraints and positioning during police encounters. What about David Cornelius Smith, who (on Thursday, September 9, 2010) was restrained (after a Taser was used on him multiple times) at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, mere feet from where I taught yoga? He was in a coma and on life support before being declared dead on September 17th.  (In 2013, the City of Minneapolis promised to offer additional training in restraint safety and paid Mr. Smith’s family $3 million in a settlement after footage from one of the officer’s personal cameras, i.e., not body-cam, was entered into evidence. Some have said that the 2010 footage bears a striking resemblance to the footage from last year, in terms of the restraint tactics and overall attitude of the police officers involved.)

And, let’s not forget the teenager who was previously restrained by the same police officer who killed George Floyd?

Finally, please note, that not all of the aforementioned were Black, nor were they all minorities.

“Fight for your life
Fight for your life
In the face of a society
That doesn’t value your life
For the men in your life
For the boys in your life
For your brothers, for your fathers
For the ones that came before us
For the future, for the future
For the future, for the future

Continue to breathe”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

 

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity [well-being]:”

 

 

– quoted from part II of the poem “Merlin’s Song” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love reading the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, born May 25, 1803 (in Boston, Massachusetts), even though I sometimes get frustrated reading Emerson. I love reading Emerson, because over 200 years after his birth, his words are still relevant to our society. But, I get frustrated, because… his words are still relevant to our society. It’s like we’ve learned nothing individually (or collectively) about our mind-body-spirits and our relationship to the rest of nature. Both my feelings of love and frustration are enhanced by the fact so much of Emerson’s essays and speeches, especially on subjects like Nature and consciousness and Creation, sound like my Yoga philosophy books – like the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita – as well as certain religious commentary that I find myself diving into.

Those similarities are not a coincidence. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a theologian (as well as a philosopher) who graduated from Harvard Divinity School before becoming the leader of the transcendental movement in the 19th century. He was a student of Eastern philosophies and ancient religions. He was also a poet, a teacher, and an abolitionist whose views on race (and nationality) did not age well. He was also banned from his alma mater (for 27 years and 6 days)  for speaking up about things he saw wrong within his own religious community.

Despite the aforementioned sketchy ideas about race and nationality, Emerson believed in the sanctity of all things – as he saw all things as connected to God; but his critics accused him of diminishing God. In a sermon, his Harvard Divinity School mentor, Henry Ware, Jr., spoke of “The Personality of the Deity” and said, “Take away the Father of the universe, and, though every ordinance remain unchanged, mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum; clothed, fed, governed, but objects of pity rather than congratulation, because deprived of those resting-places for the affections, without which the soul is not happy.” His idea that “the fact of knowledge and ideas reveals to him the fact of eternity” also did not sit well with the clergy.

“Once Emerson, on being asked by a relative if he were a Swedenborgian [a devotee of Swedish Lutheran theologian and church reformer Emanuel Swedenborg], replied: ‘I am more of a Quaker than any­thing else. I believe in the “still, small voice,” and that voice is Christ within us.’ Just how well Emerson understood his own position presents an interesting problem. Discovering how much of a Quaker Emerson really was may add the history of another influence on Emerson’s thought, and hence define more clearly one of the great influences on American ideals of today.

 

The problem of determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson is complicated by the difficulty of separating that influence from the many others that have been discovered in his work. How much Plato Emerson knew, how well he understood the neo-Platonists, whether or not he ever comprehended the message of the orient, and what was his attitude toward science are questions that must be satisfactorily considered before an exact and final statement of the Quaker influence on Emerson can be made. To attempt such finality here would be foolhardy; to at­tempt any sort of definition may be fruitless in view of G. E. Woodberry’s statement: ‘One follows him [Emerson] into the books he read, not for the sources of his thought, but for the mould of the man himself.’”

 

– quoted from “1. Introduction” in “The Quaker Influence on Emerson” (a thesis submitted for the Degree of Masters of Arts, University of Wisconsin, 1939) by Charles D. Gelatt (the then-future entrepreneur and philanthropist  

 

Of course, another reason it would be “foolhardy” to try “determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson” is that, by his own admission, he believed in tapping into that place inside of himself – that is also inside of all of us. Whether we call that place our heart, our spirit, or our soul; whether we identify it as God, or Christ-nature, or Buddha-nature; whether we identify it as the source of Light and/or the greater goodness inside of you, we can use the breath to tap into it. We can find it in between the inhale and the exhale. And I will meet you there.

 

“Three problems are put by nature to the mind; What is matter? Whence is it? and Whereto? The first of these questions only, the ideal theory answers. Idealism saith: matter is a phenomenon, not a substance. Idealism acquaints us with the total disparity between the evidence of our own being, and the evidence of the world’s being. The one is perfect; the other, incapable of any assurance; the mind is a part of the nature of things; the world is a divine dream, from which we may presently awake to the glories and certainties of day. Idealism is a hypothesis to account for nature by other principles than those of carpentry and chemistry. Yet, if it only deny the existence of matter, it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. It leaves God out of me. It leaves me in the splendid labyrinth of my perceptions, to wander without end. Then the heart resists it, because it balks the affections in denying substantive being to men and women. Nature is so pervaded with human life, that there is something of humanity in all, and in every particular. But this theory makes nature foreign to me, and does not account for that consanguinity which we acknowledge to it….

 

But when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to inquire, Whence is matter? and Whereto? many truths arise to us out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old. As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power. Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite.”

 

– quoted from the essay the 1836 essay “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

 

Check out my previous blog posts about the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s August 31, 1837 speech for the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the July 15, 1838 speech to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School (that got him banned until 1865).

”3. God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to be read according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“‘No one really understands the Atma [Soul/Essence], Arjuna. One person sees it as wondrous, another speaks of its glory, others say it is strange, and there are many who listen but do not comprehend it at all. Very few even think of inquiring into what is beyond this physical world.’

 

‘I am well aware that I have veered into high philosophy, but you must understand that all beings, whether called ‘friend’ or ‘enemy/ have this indestructible Atma within. You must be poised above this debilitating sorrow of yours.’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.29-30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley.

 

### “For your brothers, for your fathers, for your sons, for your daughters, for your mothers, for your sisters, for your friends, for your teachers, for your cousins…continue to breathe” ###

 

The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story (2 “missing” Saturday posts) May 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings, also, to those who are Counting the Omer (and, also, to those who are not).

 

[This is a post related to Saturday, May 1st and Saturday, May 8th (making it a preview for Saturday, May 15th). You can request an audio recording of these 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.]

“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

 

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

 

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

 

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st as Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who raised Jesus (at God’s behest), taught Jesus a trade, and (as a carpenter) emphasized the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lápiz” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

 

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how the way I’m living now and what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeleine or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 1st is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 8th is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

     

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