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BE THE HERO(INE) THE STORY June 5, 2020

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“The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.”

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

“Democracy doesn’t work without citizen activism and participation. Tickle-down politics doesn’t work much better than trickle-down economics. Moreover, civilization happens because we don’t leave things to other people. What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it as if the cause depends on you, because it does.”

– from Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times by Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers, born today in 1934, is more than a journalist. He is an ordained minister who served as the 13th White House Press Secretary (working with both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) and produced, along with his wife, “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” (filmed on George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, in 1988), “Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas” (also filmed at Skywalker Ranch, in 1999), and “Faith and Reason.” A big fan of Moyers, Campbell, Lucas – as well as faith and reason – I look forward to celebrating June 5th of every year with a yoga practice which features the symbols and archetypes of the Hero’s Journey / Cycle. Even when I don’t teach on the 5th, I usually practice the mandala, which moves through the core elements of every adventure story, as outlined by Joseph Campbell: Being in the Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of Call, Supernatural Aid, Crossing the Threshold, Belly of the Whale, Road of Trials, Meeting the Goddess, Temptation, Atonement (usually with the Father), Apotheosis, Refusal of Return, Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, Crossing the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live.

In mid-April, my friend Julie K. sent me this pandemic version of the hero’s journey, which I was going to use as a fun way to highlight today’s post. Fast forward to the last couple of weeks and this very creative take on an old classic seems dated and, for some, not that relevant.

“All my life I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer, but I’ve never prayed, ‘Give me this day my daily bread.’ It is always, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Bread and life are shared realities. They do not happen in isolation.”

 

– from “Pass the Bread,” baccalaureate address at Hamilton College (20 May 2006), as quoted in “Moyers on Democracy” by Bill Moyers

Don’t get me wrong. How each of us recognizes ourselves as the hero of our own story and how we engage each stage of the hero’s cycle is still relevant. We can still identify our version of the “Ordinary World” – it’s just that how we defined that world on Memorial Day or May 26th is very different from the way we defined it on April 15th.  Now, we’ve all heard the Call and, while some answered the call right away and started moving into the mythical world that eventually leads us to a boon/reward for society, some of us are still in the “Refusal of Call” stage. Which is, dare I say, OK; because we are all going to get there. Part of the Role of the “Supernatural Aid” is to pull, us, drag us, push us – sometimes, kicking and screaming – into this experience.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

What happens next is always painful, often dangerous, consistently challenging, and (eventually) satisfying/rewarding. (At least, that’s the promise of the myth.) There will be moments when we are not sure we can (or want) to keep going and times when we experience some relief (or the great love of the Goddess) and we want to stay right where we are – even if it is in the “Belly of the Whale.” But, in the end, we are promised a boon, a reward, something that we can bring back to our community – something that serves all of mankind. We are also promised that, through this experience, we will become the “Master of Two Worlds,” and that mastery leads to the ultimate freedom: Freedom to Live. This final stage is partially defined as the freedom to live “in the moment, neither anticipating the future, nor regretting the past” – which is also one of the goals of Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism, to be fully present in the moment.

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

“Allow yourself that conceit – to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there’s one candle in one citizen’s hand.”

– from Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times by Bill Moyers

If you need a little of that “Supernatural Aid” or to feel the divine love of the Goddess, get on the mat or the cushion. Take a walk. Sit by the water. Or, check out the free (outdoor) acupuncture happening on Saturday (11 AM – 5 PM, see details here). Either way, I’ll see you when you cross the threshold.

### “I’M A DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD” (VM) ###

Noticing Things (on June 2nd) June 2, 2020

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“And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,

     And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,

Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,

     “He hears it not now, but used to notice such things?”

 

– from the poem “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy, set to music by Lon Lord

 

Born today (June 2nd) in 1840, Thomas Hardy was an architect who is remembered as a novelist and a poet who noticed things. I know, I know, writers notice things – that’s part of their job description. But Hardy also noticed what he (and others) noticed. He noticed the art or practice of noticing. Take a moment to notice what you notice. Bring awareness to your awareness.

You can jump over to the April 19th “Noticing Things” post or do that “90-second thing” right here. Either way, pause, just for a moment and notice without the story or the extra dialogue that springs to mind. Or, notice the extra dialogue that inevitably springs to mind.

As I mentioned yesterday, this week is about perception and ideals. Start to notice what you notice, but also notice what you make important. When you notice what sticks in your heart and in your mind, you will start to notice the origins of your words and deeds. You will start to notice the kind of person you are telling the world you are and aim to be.

“‘It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man– that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times– whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don’t admit that my failure proved my view to be a wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that’s how we appraise such attempts nowadays–I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes.’”

 

– from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

 

“‘Remember that the best and greatest among mankind are those who do themselves no worldly good. Every successful man is more or less a selfish man. The devoted fail…’”

 

– from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Hardy wrote about sex, religion, marriage, class, education, morality, and where all six themes intersected with each other as well as with a person’s individual will as it intersected with universal will (or a single other person’s will), what he called “Immanent Will.” He wrote about being alive, being dead, and about ghosts and spirits. He also wrote, in letters, about race and the impact different cultures could have on society. He noticed things… and made some of those things important.

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 2nd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a practice of noticing things, virtually.  Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: This is the playlist titled “04192020 Noticing Things.” We are using the first half of the playlist.)

“‘I had a neat stock of fixed opinions, but they dropped away one by one; and the further I get the less sure I am. I doubt if I have anything more for my present rule of life than following inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best. There, gentlemen, since you wanted to know how I was getting on, I have told you. Much good may it do you! I cannot explain further here. I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine–if, indeed, they ever discover it– at least in our time. ‘For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?–and who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?’”

 

– from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

 

 

### “‘Be a good boy, remember; and be kind to animals and birds, and read all you can.’” – TH ###

That’s the Eid May 24, 2020

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 “Eid Mubarak, Blessed Festival!” to anyone who was observing the month of Ramadan. Many blessings to everyone, everywhere (even if you weren’t).

“When butterflies leave their silk palaces
And the scent of the garden blows
Towards Heaven’s way,
Like the toils of man,
Those who worked for tomorrow
Will not miss the dreams of yesterday.”

 

– “When Butterflies Leave” by Yusuf Islam

 

“It’s a blessing to have seen another Ramadān but it’s also a blessing to see the first day of Shawwal and every tomorrow that I will see. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Definitely don’t focus on what others see that you have. But just take a moment and think about all that you do have and let gratitude carry you through the days.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 30) for Huffington Post

 

There are times – in particular there are really challenging times and really fortuitous times – when it is hard to remember that an ending is also a beginning. We reach the end of something and, even if it’s the end of a not so great time, we may feel a little anxious about moving forward. We fear the future, even when we look forward to it. We grieve the loss of what was familiar, even when it no longer serves us (and especially when we feel like it still serves us).

When I worked in theatre, especially when I freelanced, I experienced an emotional and energetic crash at the end of every production. There was so much energy, effort, and momentum to getting ready and then the thrill of the performances, and then…nothing. Even the wrap up and postmortem didn’t carry the same energetic charge; it was something that needed to be done, not something anyone looked forward to doing. (And there were no collective gasps, sighs, or thunderous applause.) When I was in a staff position, the crash was easier to manage. First, because I knew it was coming and I knew what I need to recover. However, it was also easier to manage because something else was coming; there was the next production in the rep.

These feelings I’ve described are natural, normal, human even. We all feel them at some point in our lives. There are times when those very human feelings feel overwhelming. Sometimes they may even feel bigger than what led up to them. Personally, I’ve been feeling those feelings a lot during this pandemic and especially now that places are starting to open back up. While this is not completely over, we are ending one phase and beginning another. As Muslims around the world finish the month of Ramadān and mark the beginning of the new month with Eid al-Fitr (“The Breaking of the Fast Festival”), they too may feel these very normal feelings magnified.

“Many of us at times leave the month of Ramadān in a state of anxiety rather than a state of gratitude or appreciation. As I’ve said before, the last 30 days and nights were not meant to be an escape from reality, but rather a means to enhance our understanding of it. It’s understandable to long for Ramadān, but don’t do so without asking yourself where that longing comes from. You can carry with you what you took from the month. You just have to let yourself. You can still lift your soul by feeding it more than you feed your stomach. You just have to see the benefit in the former and not focus on the deprivation that comes with the latter. You can still give, be generous, and gain a sense of fulfillment by serving others. You just have to keep seeing what others will gain and not focus on what you are losing. You can diminish the anxiety experienced by Ramadān coming to an end. You just have to see it with gratitude and appreciate that you witnessed it rather than focusing on it being gone.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 30) for Huffington Post

Fasting during the month of Ramadān is one of the Five Pillars of Islām (part of the framework of worship and signs of faith) and it is traditionally practiced in community. Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadān with a celebratory feast, a sermon, prayers, and extra alms giving. In particular, people will give the gift of food (one of the very things they have given up for a month) to those who are less fortunate. Just like the month of fasting that precedes it, Eid al-Fitr is traditionally a time of community. But, even as some people are coming out of quarantine – and even taking diagnostic tests to see if they can break bread with their ummah (“community”) – people all over the world are faced with challenging choices. Everyone has to reconsider (or, maybe for the first time consider) what it means to be in and with community.

UMMAH [Arabic] – Community, refers to a group of people who share common religious beliefs, often used as a synonym for “ummat al-Islām” (“the Islāmic Community”). Also appears in the Qur’ān as “Ummah Wāhida” (“One Nation”).

 

SHA’B [Arabic] – A Nation or Community which share common ancestry and geography (but not necessarily culture, language, or beliefs).

 

DHIMMĪ [Arabic] – Protected Person, historically used in reference to non-Muslims living within an Islamic state and conveys certain legal rights related to life, property, and religious freedom.

Part of yesterday’s practice was about looking at the divergences between the Abrahamic religions through the lens of chaos theory. It was just a passing point; however, to really do that kind of work – to really see how Judaism, Christianity, and Islām developed to the point where many people do not see (or are often unaware) of the commonalities – we would have to look at the various points in history where each religion emerged and, also, where the denominations of each religion diverged from the main body. If we just look at Islām for a moment, then we see that the Qur’ān was revealed during a time of great tribalism and that one of the missions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was to deliver God’s message to a community that extended beyond his bloodline: Hence, the emergence of the ummah as a religious concept. (Christians may argue here that Jesus and the disciples had a similar mission, but that’s a conversation for another day. As is the conversation about how we’re back to, or never really left, the trouble with tribalism.)

The word “ummah” appears in the Qur’ān over 60 times and, like other words which reappear consistently throughout a sacred text, it has nuanced meanings throughout the text. Religious scholars indicate that the term evolves throughout the main body of the text. Scholars also point to the fact that at times the term specifically includes Jewish and Christian people as part of the same faith-based community.

Bottom line, we are all part of more than one community and sometimes we not only haven’t considered how we are connected – we haven’t considered what it means to be “in community.” What we are finding, when we really pay attention, is that it means more than being in the same physical space with someone. Furthermore, it has always meant more… we just have a habit of taking that more for granted, or ignoring that more all together.

Finally, as we really take a look at how we are in and with community, we also might want to consider that our beliefs are on display. What we really believe down to our core, those guiding principles that determine how we act and interact with ourselves and the world around us (with our communities), are not only on display they are also defining some of the communities to which we belong.

“Take a moment to break your mind free of any distraction that causes your heart to be shackled in anxiety or pain. Remove from yourself any feeling of emptiness or remorse that comes from having to put on a face that is not your own to gain acceptance from a society that won’t take you as you are. Let your thoughts move away from those who can’t look beyond the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, the accent that you speak with, or anything else that makes you beautiful. Don’t chase after words that are unfamiliar to you but seek and speak with words that are sincerely your own. Be with those who give you hope and courage, who help you to be bold in your prayer. Forget the judgments and harshness of any who have lead you to believe that you cannot ask of your Creator for whatever your heart wishes. Don’t inhibit yourself in anyway. God is Most Generous and Most Merciful, and we all are entitled to benefit from that generosity and mercy. You are going to stand in front of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, One who looks for a reason to accept from you, not push you away.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 26) for Huffington Post

 

It’s time to celebrate, and also to continue reflecting. Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 24th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is an upgrade that goes into effect on Saturday (May 30th). If you have not upgraded by Saturday, you will need to give yourself extra time the next time you use Zoom.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### KINDNESS & MANY BLESSINGS ###

 

 

 

Just Leave The Light On May 20, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“‘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

 

 

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.”

 

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

 

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

 

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

 

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 20th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM, if you are interested being the light you want to see in the world. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

 

### OHR OR DAW ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Night of Great Power, A Night of Great Peace May 19, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

 

HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

 

QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

 

RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

 

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Sunday, while others will be praying tonight (Tuesday, May 19th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (almost a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

 

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

 

All that is to say, tonight is the night we’re going to open our eyes, or hearts, our bodies, and our minds. If you’re interested and available, please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Prayer for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### PRAY FOR PEACE ###

[Love] Letter to the World May 11, 2020

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

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

By this name it shall be revered and studied and observed. What does this name mean? It means that when the Buddha named it, he did not have in mind any definite or arbitrary conception, and so named it. This Sutra is hard and sharp, like a diamond that will cut away all arbitrary conceptions and bring one to the other shore of Enlightenment.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (13)

I have heard that the oldest (surviving) book with a printed date is a Chinese copy of The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, a sacred Buddhist text commonly known as The Diamond Sutra. It was translated from Sanskrit and printed today (May 11th) in 868 A. D. on a 17-and-a-half-foot-long grey scroll using a block printer commissioned by one Wang Jie. A handwritten note along the lower right hand side of the scroll indicates that it was “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wand Jie on behalf of his two parents.” The text itself indicates that there is great merit in being a “person who simply observed and studied this Sutra and, out of kindness, explained it to others.”  (DS 24)

While the merit is great even if a person only understands and explains “four lines of this Sutra” (DS 8 & 12), it is a relatively accessible and short text, at about 6,000 words. The Diamond Sutra consists of a conversation between the Buddha and his pupil Subhūti, during which there is a continuous emphasis on the temporal and illusory nature of all things – including the teachings within the text! Despite the temporal and illusory nature of all things (including the teachings within the text) – or maybe because of it – there is great wisdom here. Wisdom that is summed up in the Tom Waits song “Diamond in Your Mind:” always keep a diamond in your mind (no matter the situation or circumstance).

This text can be studied and explained, out of kindness, with dialogue similar to the Buddha and Subhūti’s conversation. It can be explored through a deep seated mediation. Or, it can be studied, explained, and explored through a little movement – maybe even a little heart-centered dance.

“They say that dance and architecture are the two primary arts. That means that you have to have the gesture, the effort – the real effort – to communicate with another being and you must also have a tree to shelter under in case of storm or sun.”

 

– Martha Graham on Technique

 

“To walk out of one’s door each morning requires that you believe you are needed beyond your four walls and can offer something. To be grateful for the opportunity to simply walk out and live a life offers blessings and insight.”

 

– Martha Graham in 1990 telephone and in-person interviews with James Grissom

 

Martha Graham, born today (May 11th) in 1894 was a revolutionary dancer and choreographer, whose passion was partially inspired by her father’s work as a doctor, who used movement as a treatment for nervous disorders, and the art of Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Her greatest influence, however, was the work of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Graham once said, “Everything I did was influenced by Denishawn.” And, like St. Denis, Graham would go on to leave an indelible mark not only on dance, but also on music, theatre, and performance art.

Graham developed a technique based on the importance of breathing and movement that was, she said, “fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.” The Graham Technique is based on the idea of “contraction and release” (which is one way to describe the body’s natural response to breathing); combined with “spiraling” (diagonally positioning parts of the body, via a 45⁰ rotation of the spine, that is reminiscent of Kandinsky’s paintings) and Doris Humphrey’s “fall and recovery” (Humphrey’s principle regarding an individual’s constant engagement with gravity, as well as the life-death experience of living). Even though a Graham dancer’s hands and feet can have specific placement, the movement of the arms and legs (as well as the hands and feet) begins in the core, with awareness of the heart.

“The palm of the hand should be forward, and straight out (in) the audience. I give you myself, I give you what I have to give; that’s what it really means.”

 

– Martha Graham instructing dancers during rehearsal

 

“When I was young I studied with Martha Graham; not to learn to dance, but to learn to move on the stage. If Martha Graham could have had her way, she would have taught us all how to move – through life. That has been and will be her goal: proper movement through life, the relationship of the body to the mind and the body to the spirit. Martha Graham is a compulsive student of the human heart.”

 

–actor Gregory Peck on Martha Graham (in a documentary)

 

The mind needs what it needs to understand something, even ourselves, until it no longer needs a reference point. (People who attended Saturday’s practice will notice a theme here.) The Diamond Sutra tells us that the concepts of a self or no-self, as well as the ideas that all beings are separated or connected, are such reference points. They are used in the text “the way that a raft is used to cross the river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded.” (DS 6) Martha Graham used dance as a bridge – a way to express life experiences and emotions, as they were simultaneously shared and unique. Here, with the bridge as well as with the raft, there is the opportunity to go back and forth until you have what you need to live nobly through this thing we call life.

“Each one of us has all of life in us. And it is our choice to decide what we will reveal…. How many drops of blood have gone into the making of you? How much memory is in that drop of blood?”

 

– Martha Graham on life, living, and dancing

 

 “Art is memory. It is the excavation of so many memories we have had–of our mothers, our best and worst moments, of glorious experiences we have had with friends or films or music or dance or a lovely afternoon on a sloping, green hill. All of this enters us and, if we are artists, must be shared, handed over to others. This is why it is so important to know what came before you. It is also important to understand that things will follow you, and they may come along and make your work look pedestrian and silly. This is fine; this is progress. We have to work with what life presents to us, and we have to work as well as we can while we can”

 

– Martha Graham in a 1990 telephone interview with James Grissom

 

Please join me for Graham-Diamond-Sutra inspired virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Monday, May 11th) at 5:30 PM. This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices (however, today, I do offer additional inspiration).

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all about the compassion the Buddha speaks of in The Diamond Sutra and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

 

– Martha Graham to biographer Agnes de Mille (printed in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, 1992)

 

### DANCE LIKE NOBODY/EVERYBODY IS WATCHING ###

 

[The One] Who Exercises Care and Tenderness Towards Another May 10, 2020

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

“Keep it between the lines.
Don’t take any wooden nickels.
Breathe.
Laugh. Laugh. LAUGH!”

words to live by, from my mommy (who is our family oar)

 

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

 

— the end of 1876 Sunday school lesson by Ann Reeves Jarvis (words that inspired her daughter Anna Maria Jarvis)

 

 

Even though I am far from home, I am surrounded by motherly love. I don’t mean that metaphorically; I am literally surrounded by incredible and incredibly loving moms. Trust me when I tell you, I can spot a fabulous mom from a mile away, because I was raised by a fabulous mom.

Well, to be honest, given the maternal legacy on both sides of my family, I was raised by a whole village of fabulous moms – and I am who am (and who I will be) because of their strength, courage, and wisdom. I am also who I am, and who I will be, because of their love, joy, and perseverance. Finally, I am who I am, and who I will be, because of their food (and love of food), their relationships (with each other and the world), and their stories – stories of both successes and failures. Even though I don’t have any kids, people often say (especially around Mother’s Day) that I am like a spiritual mother; and, if that’s the truth, I am what I am, and what I will be, because of the mothers in my family.

“MOTHER, noun [Latin mater, mother; matrix, the womb; materia, matter, stuff, materials of which any thing is made. We observe that in some other languages, as well as in English, the same word signifies a female parent, and the thick slime formed in vinegar; and in all the languages of Europe here cited, the orthography is nearly the same as that of mud and matter. The question then occurs whether the name of a female parent originated in a word expressing matter, mold; either the soil of the earth, as the producer, or the like substance, when shaped and fitted as a mold for castings; or whether the name is connected with the opinion that the earth is the mother of all productions; whence the word mother-earth. We are informed by a fragment of Sanchoniathon, that the ancient Phenicians considered mud to be the substance from which all things were formed. See Mud. The word matter is evidently from the Ar. madda, to secrete, eject or discharge a purulent substance; and I think cannot have any direct connection with mud. But in the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, the same word madre signified mother and a mold for castings; and the northern languages, particularly the German and Danish, seem to establish the fact that the proper sense of mother is matrix. Hence mother of pearl, the matrix of pearl. If this word had its origin in the name of the earth used for the forms of castings, it would not be a singular fact; for our word mold, in this sense, I suppose to be so named from mold, fine earth. The question remains sub judice.]”

 

Webster’s Dictionary 1828

 

For years, I taught my classes on Mother’s Day as a tribute to my Mother and grandmothers, great-grandmothers (because I was lucky enough to know a few) and all the great-aunts, aunts, adult cousins, neighbors, and family friends who have had a hand in raising me. (Not to mention the sister-in-laws, contemporaries, and nieces who have taught me so much as they raise their kids.) Sometimes I wished my elders could take one of those classes, but I knew that probably wasn’t ever going to happen.

Then, in 2018, I went home to spend the day with my mother and maternal grandmother. This was the grandmother I would call between classes every Sunday and, as it turned out, that Sunday in 2018 would be her final Mother’s Day on Earth. I went back the following year, because it was where I wanted to be (with my mommy) and it felt like the right place to be. In my heart, I wasn’t planning to teach any more Mother’s Day classes. It was bittersweet, because it meant I wouldn’t lead the classes I considered a tribute, but – on the other hand – I got to spend the day back home with my mom, which seemed very much in the spirit Anna Jarvis always intended.

“Mother’s Day is a personal, family and memorial day. It’s a celebration for sons and daughters; a thanks and offering for the blessings of good homes…. Make Mother’s Day is a family day of reunions, messages to the absent and the spirit of good will to all. It is a constructive movement emphasizing the home as the highest inspiration of our individual and national lives. Mother’s Day is a day of sentiment — not sentimentality; a day for everybody, but is well named Mother’s Day, for where better can sentiment start?”

 

– Anna Marie Jarvis in a 1924 Miami Daily News interview, explaining how the commercialization of Mother’s Day was “the wrong spirit”

 

Like so many others, the pandemic means I don’t get to go home for Mother’s Day this year. Once again, for me, the feeling is bittersweet. While I will not spend this 112th anniversary of the first official Mother’s Day (May 10, 1908) at home, with my mom, I do get to spend it with some fabulous moms (and some of their children). Please join us for a celebration of all mothers, by way of a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 10th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice features several stories about mothers and one mother in particular doing what fabulous mom’s do best – supporting her child. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

###

To my Mom, and all Mothers everywhere,
May you be safe & protected;
May you be peaceful & happy;
May you be healthy & strong;
May you love and be loved, today and always.

###

 

A Fearless River Runs Through This One! April 29, 2020

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

{NOTE: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it comes to you courtesy of the “Wayback (Wednesday) Machine.”}

“And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores”

– “The River” by Garth Brooks

Let’s go way back, for minute. Way back to 2016, when the Kiss My Asana yogathon was, for the first and only time ever, in February instead of April – and it was leap year. I needed 29 yogis to not only answer 7 questions about their yoga practice, but to also let me post a recording of their answers along with (what I thought at the time would be) super short introductions on my blog. Being the generous soul that she is and having the work ethic that she does, Yogi #29 (Meghan M) was the first to volunteer – and also the first to start recruiting others.

This was not her first Kiss My Asana rodeo. If you have seen and enjoyed any of the 2015 KMA practice videos, you were probably watching a video recorded by Meghan M. She is an artist and a craftsman with a steady hand, an eye for putting things together, patience, and a heart as wide as the world. Given all that I knew about her, I didn’t think twice about her volunteering to be the first recording. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive: You see, Meghan M likes to wave the introvert banner and while she wanted me to succeed in my Kiss My Asana campaign and while she wanted to support Mind Body Solutions, she also wanted to make sure I had enough volunteers that I wouldn’t actually need her video.

“But when I’m alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the big blackfoot river, and the four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops; under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

– from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Coming from one of the bigger states in the country and being raised in a house-full of outdoorsmen, Meghan M may claim to be introverted, and even a little shy, but she is far from retiring. She may not always understand the injustices in the world, but she will stand up against them and fight for what’s right. She won’t often walk behind you, but if there’s a chance you’ll need an ally she will walk beside you – or even clear the path ahead. People that know her, love her, and recognize how fortunate they are to have her as a friend.

Meghan M is, in many ways, the best part of what it means to be human – and also the best part of what it means to be an American and a citizen of the world: she is responsible; she is considerate; she is strong; she is compassionate; she is intelligent; she respects the earth, the water, air, and sky; and she is (artistically) creative, as well as innovative. She is constantly learning and growing as a person. She’s also resilient (although we disagree on why that is). And while you will be hard pressed to find someone with a better laugh, you are highly unlikely to find a harder or more self-motivated worker on the planet. She can get more done in an hour than most people get done in a day.

“If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we lose our power and momentum. That’s what I would say to you of these difficult times. If you are going to that place of intent to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the wild lands in Utah, you have to know how to dance.”

– from Two In the Far North by Margaret “Mardy” Murie

So, flash forward to the 7th annual Kiss My Asana in April 2020, and I am finally (finally) wrapping up my 2016 offerings. As you read this, you may be thinking, ‘Oh, does this mean you didn’t end up with enough yogis back in 2016?’ No, quite the contrary (as you shall see) and in no small part thanks to Meghan M. She persists and she succeeds even when others stack the odds against. However, there is a method to the madness and a little nod to Anton Chekov (as I have mentioned before), as well my own fondness for rabbit holes and numbers. So, if you were to go back over the different offerings or even to how I choose my themes for each class, you will find that numbers are important. Dates are important. And, in my head, Yogi #29 was always going to be on the 29th.

Pardon the shaky hands and lack of focus. Did I mention Yogi #29 is hilarious?

Speaking of focus: One of the things that is easy to overlook about Meghan M is her ability to focus and (again) to get things done. People like to say they can multi-task – despite the fact that studies have shown multi-tasking is a myth…or a misnomer. Consider a juggler, they hold something in one hand, toss or catch with the other, and scan for what’s already in the air (or, heaven forbid, crashing towards the ground), but in some ways it’s all an illusion. Lots of things are happening (lots of balls in the air), but the juggler is always doing one thing; focusing on what comes next. If you watch Meghan M in action you will see that same ability at work: she gets each thing in motion (in its own turn); keeps track of what’s coming down (or out); and cleans up after herself with a flourish.

On and off the mat, Yogi #29’s ability to focus is directly connected to her ability not to be distracted.  If you want to explore what it takes for you to focus, please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Wednesday, April 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM. Both practices will engage “fearless play” and dance (in honor of International Dance Day), plus a lot of jazz. Please 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. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Are you focused and Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” 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, starting yesterday (Saturday), 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.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, 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 29th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 29th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 29th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Tuesday’s story was, philosophically, story number 5, a bridge of sorts. Which makes today’s story number 6. Are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 1 more. Please tell me your story!

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

 

### “DANCE LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING” ###

Moved By The Spirit April 28, 2020

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

{NOTE: Surprise! This post is a 2016 Kiss My Asana “throwback,” but it was never posted in real time. In other words, this post is a bit of a Tardis.}

“REFLECTIONS ON THE POSE DEDICATED TO THE SAGE VASISTHA. Given the great sage Vasistha’s place in the Vedic tradition, it is fitting that this challenging and invigorating pose dedicated to him epitomizes grace, strength, and steadiness…. Confronting all of these challenges that call upon your body to work as a whole, this is not a pose that every student will be able to do the first time he or she comes to yoga class. Even those who are strong may find it difficult to hold it steadily for any length of time. To make progress in this pose is to gain insight into the abiding principle of intention…. Singleness of purpose increases your capacity. By applying an intention consistently, you transform disparate efforts into unified action, chaos into order. Through informed intention you find your body – as well as yourself in the larger scheme of your life – moving purposefully, ever closer to your goals. …one of life’s most vital lessons: there may be nothing more powerful in determining your future as your resolve to do so.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Almost four eight years ago, a powerful yogi started sharing his practice with me. While yes, he was physically and mentally powerful, what struck me right off the bat that first summer was that Tom B. (Yogi #28) was spiritually and energetically strong. His focus and breath awareness alone were enlightening – especially when our conversations revealed that certain aspects of the yoga philosophy were new to him. What wasn’t new to him, however, was a dedication to knowing and growing through God.

“To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success and failure. This mental eveness is what is meant by ‘yoga’ (Union with God).”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (2:48), by Jack Hawley

Tom B. would be the first to tell you that one of the things which cemented the beginning of our spiritual friendship was when I mentioned Seane Corn approaching her vinyasa practice as a body prayer. For some people, the idea that one can mindfully and intentionally use their whole body to pray is a very alien, very esoteric practice. For others, it is a cultural experience they take for granted. Then there are people who start off in the first group and very deliberately, very intentionally, practice their way into the second group. In many ways, Tom B. belongs in this last camp. Like a dervish, he has spent much of his life revolving around ways the sacred and the divine relate to the mundane and profane. The physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga) has just become another way for him to pray and dance with the Divine.

“So, are you open to praying? Mmmmhmm? That’s my hope; that what we can do today is use this practice in a way that goes beyond the physical and does what I really believe yoga is suppose to do – which is ultimately unite us, connect us, inspire us – from a place that’s very deep within.”

 

– from “Yoga from the Heart” by Seane Corn

In addition to our early conversation about Seane Corn’s approach to the physical practice, Tom B. and I once stood on a rooftop and discussed comparative analysis of sacred text, which can be a form of svadyaya (self-study, one of the niyamas/internal observations). Specifically, Tom B. wanted to know more about the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali’s outline of the yoga philosophy. His interest was piqued by a class focused on ahimsa (non-harming, one of the yamas/external observations) and a reference I made to a translation of the sutras entitled How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.

Here, again, the paradigm might have been new – but then, again, it wasn’t. As a professional theologian, Tom B. was already so well versed in religious ethics and the benefits of being virtuous that he could (and did) write a book about it! But, what I appreciated right off the bat – and what continues to inspire me about Tom B. – was not only his intellectual awareness and his continued pursuit of how certain Truths are universal to the human experience, but also his sense of humor and his commitment to practicing the principles of his faith, on and off the mat.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ”

 

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18

 

“Be grateful to everyone. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join in meditation. Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

 

– Lojong (Tibetan Buddhist Mind-training techniques) #13, #16, #21

 

“All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavor. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself.”

– from Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

(Click here if you do not see embedded video.)

 

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. / Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. / For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

– 2 Peter 1:19 – 21

“We get more pleasure from union with the spiritual objects we understand than from the bodily objects we sense: the objects themselves are to be prized more, the ability to understand is a nobler ability, and the union achieved is more intimate, more complete, and more lasting.”

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

While I’ve laid out a few of the reasons why Yoga resonated with Yogi #28, there are many, many more. And, perhaps the best reasons are the ones I’ve saved for last. In addition to being a contemporary theologian, Tom B is a person whose spiritual practices have been ancient, embodied, and interspiritual for much of his life. He is Catholic, and also catholic – the lower case “c” emphasizing the original meaning from the Greek words meaning “universal” and “according to the whole.” He is a recognized leader in Christian contemplative practices, such as Centering Prayer, and in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas (who focused on ethics and proving the existence of God, both through the lens of love, goodness, and beauty). In the four years between now and Kiss My Asana 2016 (when I originally posted the “Questions Answered by Yogis” series), Tom B has continued and expanded his spiritual journey by starting a podcast called “Contemplate This!” where he interviews and cultivates dialogue with some of the most amazing modern day mystics and contemplative leaders (present company excluded in that platitude, as – full disclosure – I am interview #6).

“Spiritual pleasures presuppose virtue, so most people fail to experience them and fall back on bodily pleasures.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Tom B once asked me to write a letter to his children, which up until now I have neglected to do (probably for the same reasons I didn’t post this back in 2016: “because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”). If we were to consider this part of that letter, I would call it “How to Know the Father” and tell his kids that if they look within themselves they will find all the need to know about their dad – especially if they add in a little comparative analysis.

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

 

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

Please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Tuesday, April 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM. Both practices will revolve around poetry and, also, explore what is required to completely devote oneself to something or someone. There is, after all, a bridge between the desire to commit and the actual commitment. It is the bridge that fosters “singleness of purpose” and permits one to devote their life to what is felt, but unseen. It is the same metaphorical bridge that allows poets to write poetry…about anything and everything. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Devote yourself to Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” 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, starting yesterday (Saturday), 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.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, 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 28th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 28th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 28th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 28th Practice (see “Poetry Practice” link above)

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Today’s story is story number four (and also number five), are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 2 more. Please tell me your story!

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

 

### “ENTER BY THE SMALL RIVERS” ###

 

Shy & Fearless ‘Round Midnight (give or take 12 hours) April 25, 2020

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

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

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

It is a little overwhelming to reach a certain point in a challenging climb, to look out and realize how far you’ve come, and then to look forward and realize you may not be ready for the last little bit that takes you to the peak. Do you go back? Do you climb on? Do you stand in one spot, paralyzed by indecision? Do you regret or celebrate? Do you fear or persevere?

These are the questions we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives – and sometimes at multiple times in our lives. These were questions I found myself asking as I prepared for Saturday’s class and realized that perhaps I had not prepared the regulars for what was about to come. These were also the questions (or some variation of the questions) a young Ella Fitzgerald asked herself as she stood on the Apollo Theater stage during one of the early Amateur Nights.

Born today (April 25th) in 1917, Fitzgerald would eventually become a bandleader known as the First Lady of Jazz, Mama of Jazz, Lady Ella, and the Queen of Jazz. She would be championed by musicians like Benny Carter and Chick Webb (who gave her one of her big shots); composers like Ira Gershwin (who once said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them”); and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra (both of whom challenged segregation laws and racial bias, in their own ways, on Ella’s behalf). She would be heralded by universities and heads of state, awarded the National Medal of Arts (by President Ronald Reagan in 1987), and presented France’s Commander of Arts and Letters award in 1990.

On November 21, 1934, however, when she stood on the stage at the Apollo, Ella Fitzgerald was just a shy, reserved, self-conscious 17-year old orphan with a reportedly disheveled appearance.  She hadn’t become a legendary scat artist, hadn’t recorded a single song (let alone over 200 albums) and hadn’t performed at Carnegie Hall once (let along 26 times). In fact, the woman who would eventually be known for her ability to mimic any horn in the orchestra wasn’t even planning to sing!

“They were the dancingest sisters around.”

– Ella Fitzgerald describing Ruth and Louise Edwards (known as the Edwards Sisters)

Yes, you read that right: Ella Fitzgerald didn’t enter the Apollo’s Amateur Night as a singer. She intended to dance. The problem was the main event concluded with the Edwards Sisters, a crowd favorite. Seeing the Edwards Sisters’ tap dancing bring the house down – and knowing the critical (and vocal) reputation of the Apollo audience – young Ella froze, and asked herself some variation of those aforementioned questions.

“Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience. I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.”

– Ella Fitzgerald on how it felt after she sang one of her mother’s favorite songs at the Apollo

It’s a weird dichotomy to think of Ella Fitzgerald as both shy and fearless; yet, that is exactly who and what she was. Out of context it sounds odd. When you know more of her story, however, it is inspiring and encouraging. After all, every one of us can make the decision to climb on, to celebrate, and to persevere. All we need is to recognize what is already inside of us, what has gotten us this far. At the same time, what has gotten us this far is also what might have us giving up and turning back. The path forward is also the path back.

 “The uninformed, not mature, think these two paths – renunciation/contemplation (sankhya yoga) and action (karma yoga) – lead to different results, but that is not true. They are essentially the same, compare them.

Right knowing or wisdom (jnana yoga) leads to right doing. Right doing (karma yoga) gives rise to right knowing. Take either path to the very end and they meet. At that place the contemplative seeker of knowledge greets the person of action, and they are both equally free from the cycle of birth and death. The person who knows this oneness of paths really knows the Truth.”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (5:4 – 5:6), by Jack Hawley

 “The [state of] realization gained through the practice of Sankhya can also be gained through the practice of Yoga. An aspirant fully established in one attains the fruits of both.”

 

The Bhagavid Gita (5:6), alternate translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

In that moment of questioning, young Ella’s consciousness, her awareness of herself and her awareness of what she could do, merged with all the possible outcomes and in that moment there was fear of failing on the stage and also, as a teenager already taking care of herself in the world, there was the fear of failing in life. So, there was suffering – and, in this case, (mental) suffering that could also lead to (physical) pain. In that same moment, she also recognized a way to succeed and to alleviate (or avoid) some of her suffering.

This takes us back to Schrödinger’s Cat and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius saying that “the obstacle is the way.” It also moves us forward into this week’s sutra.

If you’re interested in a little fearless play (and contemplation) to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday, please join me today (Saturday, April 25th) at 12 Noon, for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Don’t forget to fearlessly Kiss My Asana!!

The Kiss My Asana livestream, all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering is also today (Saturday, April 25th) at 10 AM!! Mind Body Solutions founder Matthew Sanford will share his insights into the practice, plus there will be live conversation with MBS students and mind-body practices for all. Get a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program and help raise $50K of essential support.

Kiss My Asana is the annual yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon, the 7th annual yogathon, is only a week long. Seven days, starting tomorrow (Saturday), 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.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting Saturday. (I am still hosting my Zoom classes on Saturday and Sunday, so consider doing all three!) You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, 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 25th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 25th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 25th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

Psst…Ella’s story is my first KMA offering. So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 5 more. Please tell me your story!

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###