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Dà shǔ “Major Heat” (the “missing” Sunday post) July 25, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, First Nations, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Yoga.
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Stay hydrated, y’all, and “may our hearts be open!”

This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 24thYou 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.

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.)

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

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

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

If you’re anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, I don’t have to tell you that it’s hot. Neither do I have to do much to bring your awareness to the heat – the great heat, the major heat. Since I use different calendars, I may talk about different things on this date. However, because it’s almost always really hot this time of year, no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m always aware of the heat – and that shows up in the practice.

For instance, in years past, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar has fallen around this time of year (on the Gregorian calendar). The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and, like other religious calendars, the names of the months (and days) have special significance. In this case, the ninth month is the holy month of Ramadān, which means “scorching heat” or “dryness,” and is one of the “99 Names of Allah (God)” or “99 Attributes of Allah (God).” It is a period of fasting and reflection – which, in the Yoga Philosophy, is a form of tapas (“heat,” “discipline,” and “austerity”). On the other hand, if we want to just stick with a yoga paradigm, Guru Purnima, which is based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar, fell on today’s Gregorian date in 2021. This celebration of teachers is also a celebration of light (in the form of wisdom/teachings) burning away darkness (e.g., ignorance).

I sometimes mention John Newton, the Anglican clergyman known for hymns like “Amazing Grace,” who was born in London on July 24, 1725. Newton’s life was full of hardship and trauma. His mother died just a couple of weeks before he turned seven years old, and then – after a couple of years at boarding school and a couple of years with his father and stepmother – he went to sea with his father. When he was 18 years old, he was pressed into the Royal Navy, but ended up being publicly punished after trying to desert.  Eventually, he transferred to a slave ship – but, he didn’t have any better luck there and was himself enslaved by the time he was 20. After three years, he was rescued, but found himself in the middle of a terrible storm. Faced with the very real possibility of his own death, John Newton prayed and made a promise to God: if he survived, he would turn his life around. True to his word, he gave up drinking, gambling, and cursing. Later, he would also give up working within the slave trade and begin serious religious study. He spent years applying to be ordained by several different churches before being ordained and accepted by the Church of England.

“Family worship succeeding, the portion of the Scripture read had in it the following words, ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am,’ –– It was [John Newton’s] custom to make a short familiar exposition on the passage read. After the reading, he paused for some moments and then uttered the following affected words –– –I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient – I am not what I wish to be, I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good –– I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection –– yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was, a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge; by the grace of God I am what I am, Let us pray.”

– quoted from passage entitled “Anecdote of Mr. John Newton” by Dr. Gill, in the “Gleanings” section of The Religious Monitor, or, Evangelical Repository (March 1825)  

Finally, July 24th is “Pioneer Day” in Utah and it marks the occasion, in 1847, when Brigham Young looked out of the back of a covered wagon and said, “It is enough. This is the Right Place.” Young was the successor of Joseph Smith, the founder of what is now known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and – before he was exiled from Illinois – Young had a vision of a place that these Mormon settlers could call home, a place where they would be free from religious persecution and conflict: “a place on this earth that nobody else wants.” 148 settlers followed Brigham Young west. Most reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, a couple of days ahead of their leader, who was suffering from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

When the story of the Mormon pioneers has been the main focus of the practice, I have mentioned that some people in Salt Lake City spend today celebrating “Pie and Beer Day.” Some do so because they’re not part of the Church and it’s a funny little rhyme. Some do so because they feel this official holiday isn’t as inclusive as it (theoretically) could be. On that same note, there is an Intertribal Powwow on this date that celebrates indigenous culture and the contributions of Native Americans to Utah, as well as highlights the fact that there were, in fact, people who wanted the land. I mention all of this because I consider all of these viewpoints as an opportunity for svādhyāya (“self-study”), which is the niyama (internal “observation”) that directly follows the practice of tapas.

Similarly, I contemplate those religious pioneers that left New York, Illinois, and Missouri earlier (in 1946) and got trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains as they traveled to California. They got trapped and many – like in the case of the tragic Donner party of 18 – did not survive the extreme cold. But, when I talk about Brigham Young and those 148 pioneers, I think about the extreme heat. I have been to the east side of Salt Lake City, to This Is the Place Heritage Park – albeit in the winter; but I imagined what it would be like after traveling months on end and through so much heat. I thought about the religious fervor that carried people through the rocky terrain and I thought about what it might have been like for Brigham Young, sick, feverish, maybe delirious, and (even if he was experiencing chills) surrounded by major heat, great heat.

“The center of most ancient cultures, from China in the second century B.C. to the twentieth-century native America, was the earth. Human welfare was attached to the rains upon the soil, the wind of the heaves and pliable trees embedded in an abundant forest. Chief Seattle, in 1854, summed up this ancient view of how humanity stands in relation to the world” ‘This we know – the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.'”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

The traditional Chinese calendar, also known as the Agricultural Calendar and the farming calendar, is a lunisolar calendar that is also the basis for many other cultural and religious calendars throughout East Asia. It breaks down into twelve lunar months and twenty-four solar terms. Each day, month, season, and year is based on an astronomical and/or natural phenomena. For instance, days begin and end at midnight; a month begins and ends with the new moon; and the Lunar New Year begins on the second (or third) new moon after the Winter Solstice. Each month of the Lunar Year is associated with an agricultural phenomena as well as with a zodiac animal. On the flip side, the solar year begins with the Winter Solstice and each of the twenty-four terms is based on the sun’s celestial longitude and associated with “pre-climate” and “mid-climate” experiences. (NOTE: This system also includes intercalary or “leap” months during some years.) According to the traditional Chinese calendar, the sixth pair of solar terms are Xiǎo shǔ (小暑, “slight heat”) and Dà shǔ (大暑, “great heat” or “major heat”). This year, the latter started on Friday night and continues through August 7, 2022.

Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”) is the twelfth solar term and the last part of summer. It is considered the hottest time of the year in most of China and Chinese news media have reported that this year is the hottest “great heat” in recorded history. Agriculturally speaking, it is believed that “crops grow most rapidly, fireflies appear, soil becomes more humid, and heavy thunderstorms arrive” during this solar term. As is true of other religious and cultural observations, people in different regions throughout East Asia have different rituals and traditions related to this time of year. However, one commonality is the focus on how heat affects the mind-body and what people can do to boost their health and longevity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this time of year is focused on “clearing” heat and excessive dampness and stagnation from the body and “clearing” and nourishing the heart.

“Since everything is connected by the circle, health is understood broadly, defining the whole being within the social and natural order. What is good for nature is good for humanity, what is good for one is good for all, what is good for the mind is good for the body, and so on. To harm a part is to harm the whole. What is bad for the heart is bad for the body, what damages one person damages all people, what injures the earth injures me. Conversely, to restore and preserve the good health of one body and mind is to foster the well-being of the whole, the earth and all life upon it.”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

Like Ayurveda and Yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) associates the vitality of the heart with the arms. The heart meridian (YIN) begins at the inside of the armpit and runs along the front inside edge of the arm to the pinky finger. It is paired with the small intestine meridian (YANG), which runs along the back inside edge of the arm, starting with the pinky finger, zigzagging across the shoulder and the up the side of the neck to the outer corner of the eye (just in front of the ear). These meridians are associated with fire, summer, mid-day (which is sometimes the hottest part of the day), red (with a little hint of blue), and joy (when in-balance versus anxiety when out-of-balance). Additionally, this time of year is associated with the “yang within yin” (you can think of it as action within the inaction) – a reminder that each energy type illustrated in the Yin-Yang symbol includes the opposite energy.

A common TCM practice is to “treat winter disease in the summer,” which is really about taking preventative measures against ailments like bronchitis, bronchial asthma, nasal/sinus allergies, and other cold weather ailments – all ailments related to the lungs, the meridians of which (along with large intestines meridian) are also located in the arms. Preventative care may include a customized herbal treatment, acupuncture, and/or a treatment whereby herbal patches are placed on specific meridian points. Being mindful of what we eat and drink is another way people take care of their mind-body vitality. Along with a lot of other traditional (and modern) medicines, TCM practitioners recommend eating light and staying hydrated during extreme heat. Specific to Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”), people avoid spicy food, oily food, and heavy meals – as well as (extremely) cold meals and raw food. There is also an emphasis on getting enough rest, not overexerting one’s self (say, with strenuous exercise), and not spending a lot of time outside in the heat.

“The key is to achieve balance, which means being flexible, diverse, moderate, and in harmony with your own rhythm and needs. Chinese medicine makes use of acupuncture, herbs, diet, physical exercise, massage, mental discipline, and the modification of life-style habits as forms of therapy to reestablish the rhythmic swing of the Yin-Yang pendulum.”

– quoted from the “Everyday Life” section of “Chapter Four – Cycles of Circles: A Theory of Relativity Yin-Yang” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

As I mentioned before, different regions have different traditions and rituals related to Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”). In Guangdong province, people eat herb jelly, which is made of “divine grass.” Also known as “immortal grass,” this flowering plant is part of the lamiaceae or labiatae family of plants, which includes basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, and perilla, as well as conventionally identified medicinal herbs like catnip, salvia, bee balm, wild dagga, and “Chinese motherwort.” In Taiwan, this is the best time to eat pineapple. In at least one part of the Fujian province, people may make mizao from fermented and pickled rice (often cooked with brown sugar) and consume it to revitalize any energy sapped by the heat. They may also drink warm mutton soup – made from “summer mutton” – and litchis that have been soaked in cold water. In Hunan province, people may eat a spring chicken in order to harness the power of youth.

Finally, in Zhejiang province, one of the highlights of the festival is a “Great Heat Boat,” which is giant boat filled with offerings made in hopes of a good harvest, a good catch, and a happy life. Fishermen carry the boat during a parade that leads to the sea, where the ship is cast off and then set afire. Like many other festivals in China, this one includes firecrackers (to ward off the bad luck) and blessings (to cultivate the good luck).

“Eastern Philosophy is based on the premise that all life occurs within the circle of nature. Things within this matrix are connected and mutually dependent upon each other. Nature is one unified system, the Tao with polar and complementary aspects: Yin and Yang. Nature is in constant motion, following cyclic patterns that describe the process of transformation. When the elements of nature are in balance, life is harmonic and flourishes. When the balance of polar forces is upset, disaster looms.”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

Extreme heat can not only make people lethargic and unmotivated, it can also lead to extreme agitation and anxiety-based fear. We may find it hard to think, hard to feel (or process our feelings), and/or hard to control our impulses. If you are struggling in the US, help is available just by dialing 988.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call this TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

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

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.)

### H2O ###

The Power That Shines (a “renewed” post) April 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, 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. Links and dates have been updated.

“‘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 (Tuesday, April 26th) at 12:00 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. 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.

 

Tuesday’s Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020″]

Tuesday’s Evening playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020 75+m”]

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 ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Baha'i, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Riḍván, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

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

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

*

– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

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

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

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𝄌

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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### AMEN, SELAH ###

42 April 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baseball, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, One Hoop, Passover.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Saturday, Lazarus Saturday, and/or Hanuman Jayanti! 

“Jackie‘s body was a temple of God, an instrument of peace.”

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–  quoted from Reverend Jesse Jackson’s eulogy of Jackie Robinson (October 1972)

What are the odds that 42 people would view this blog on the day (yesterday) that Jackie Robinson – number 42, for the uninitiated – broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball? I actually don’t know the odds, but it happened. Even though I had my reasons for not linking previous April 15th posts to yesterday’s entry, my stats made me think about the fact that maybe someone would appreciate that amazing story. So…

Here’s a little excerpt from my 2019, when this April 15th coincided with Passion Week: “In 2017, just a few months before my grandmother died, I watched a little bit of the World Series with her and my mom (her daughter). It was the Houston Astros versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and at one point my mother said, ‘I wonder which team your grandfather and great-grandfather would have been rooting for.’ Not thinking about the history of baseball in that moment, I questioned her question – after all, they were Texas men! But then my mother reminded me that the L. A. Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers and that there was a time when “every Black man in America was a Dodgers fan.” Click here to read the rest of the post.

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Here’s a little excerpt from my 2020, when April 15th coincided with Passover: “Can you imagine being the first to taste freedom?

I mean, it’s easy to think that there would be such overwhelming relief, gratitude, and joy. And maybe there was. But, there would also be trepidation. There might also be hesitation. There might be a little doubt that you know what to do or how to act. There might be some concern about the others who would follow you.

Can you imagine the first who knows the fear of having that freedom taken away? Can you imagine the attitude of the person who is first?” Click here to read the rest of the post.

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###“’One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma.'” ~Krishna (BG 2.31) ###

The Power of a Good Story April 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week, Great Lent, or Passover! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

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

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

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

Remember, there is no class this Sunday.

“And God saw that it was good.”

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

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

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

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

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

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

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

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– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

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

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT’S ALL TOV

Portions of the following were originally posted in April 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

SOMETHING GOOD… ON FRIDAY

Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

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

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ONCE MORE MORE WITH FEELING

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, again, Meghan!

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

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

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

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

Another Walk? (mostly the music w/a link) March 12, 2022

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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and/or Great Lent!

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.’”

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– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, March 12th) at 12:00 PM. 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 by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04062021 Salt Satyagraha”]

 

If you are interested, please check out my 2019 post about the Dandi Salt Satyagraha!

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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Beginning Change (mostly the music) March 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Lent, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing (or getting ready to observe) Lent or the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast! Much love to those who are reading (and/or learning to read) on Read Across America Day!

“‘There are yet others whose way of worship is to offer up wealth and possessions. Still others offer up self-denial, suffering, and austerities (purifications). Others take clerical or monastic vows, offering up knowledge of the scriptures. Some others make their meditation itself an offering.

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‘Some offer up prana, the mysterious vital energy force within them. They do this through control of the breath, literally stopping their inhaling and exhaling.

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‘Yet others abstain from food and practice sacrifice by spiritualizing their vital energy – that is, by figuratively pouring their own vital life force into the Cosmic Life Force. The whole point of all these various methods of sacrifice (worship) is to develop a certain mental attitude. Those who live with a truly worshipful attitude, whose whole lives are offered up for improvement of the world, incur no sin (no karmic debt).’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.28 – 30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (Wednesday, March 2nd) 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.

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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Effort and Effect (a “missing” post from a week ago) February 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Lent, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“‘Life Is’ is a simple thing, with piano, strings & synth, and is the result of my ruminations on recent events in my life. In many ways it’s a microcosm of my life. Repetitive, in a warm, familiar kind of way, with sprinklings of sadness, and joy… always slightly improvised, but never too much drama. ;)”

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– quoted from the description of the song “Life Is” by Scott Buckley

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“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to consider what it means to be human. In the process of considering what it means to be human, we have to also address what it means to live life as humans. Here, we can use the words of either Scott – because life is “a simple thing” and “life is difficult.” Then we need to add in the fact that life is a beautiful thing, a hard thing, a challenging thing. Life can also be messed up, twisted, upside down, and backwards – and not always in a fun way. Life is full of dichotomy and full of contradictions. It can be, and often is, out of balance. What’s more, the way we live our lives can also be all of these things – at the same time… which can make life really hard.

It can also make it hard to do the right thing.

We would like to think that when we do the right thing everything will just fall into place. We would like to think that life will be easier if we make the right decision, at the exact right time, and do the right things. I mean, that’s what we’re taught, right? That’s the secret, right?

Sure, yes. I stand behind the idea of being in the flow. Here’s the thing though: In order for things to fall into place, they have to be set up in a certain way – which requires work, effort. That’s the part of the lesson we always seem to skip over. But, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful opportunities fall into your lap, you still have to use the opportunities. You still have to do the work.

“The literal meaning kriya is “verb.” Every verb is representative of a distinct process or function and no process of function reaches fruition without a doer.”

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– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated into English as “work” or “effort,” and which both apply to our thoughts, words, and deeds/actions. The first word is kriyā and the second word is karma. Most English speakers are familiar with the word karma (or kamma in Pali). Even if they are not 100% certain about the meaning, they understand the general concept of cause-and-effect. What they may miss is that karma is the effect or consequence, while kriyā is the cause. Kriyā is an ongoing process and also the steps within the process; it is active. You could also think of karma as fate and kriyā as destiny; where the former is unchangeable and the latter as the journey to your destination.

Some traditions specifically use kriyā in relation to internal action or work and speak of karma when referring to external work. In some ways, this dovetails with Yoga Sūtra 2.1, which defines kriyā yoga (“union in action”) as a combination of the final three niyamas (internal “observations”): discipline/austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self). In this context, kriyā yoga is a purification ritual and, as I mention throughout the year, there are several religious and philosophical observations that would fit within this rubric (including Lent, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and the holy month of Ramaḍān).

Additionally, in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, “kriyā” is the term applied to sequences with specific energetic intentions.

This is where it gets (even more) convoluted, because karma can also be the intention. Classically, when we talk about karma, we talk about planting seeds and things coming into fruition. So, one way to think of it is that we plant seeds that already have within them the image of the final product and kriyā is what we do to nurture and harvest what’s been planted – and/or what we do when we need to uproot the poisonous weeds.

“There comes a time when we should be together
United in our fight to make things better.
Our world is here,
But will not be forever,
Depending on our will to change [the] matter.”
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“This is a song of hope.”
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– quoted the song “Song of Hope” by Avishai Cohen

The practice on February 20th was partially inspired by current events and people who feel called to do hard things for the right reasons. These same people have even called on others to help do the work that is required to bring more balance into the world. In thinking about these people in the modern world, I found myself thinking back to people who did hard things in ancient worlds. One such person was Arjuna in the events of The Bhagavad Gita, and, even though it wasn’t the right time of year – per se – I decided to focus on the wisdom of another such ancient person: Syncletica of Alexandria, one of the Desert Mothers.

The Bhagavad Gita is set during a lull in battle during a great civil war. Arjuna is a prince and military leader on one side of the battle. As others magically look on, he stands in the middle of the battlefield and has a crisis of faith. He looks at his family and friends on both sides of the battlefield and he “loses his resolve.” He questions why he fighting and what will be resolved. He shares with his best friend and charioteer that he is filled with an amalgamation of emotions, including the possibility of shame and unhappiness if he were to kill his own friends and family.

As he is sharing his deepest worries and fears, his friend (Krishna) reveals himself as an avatar of God and emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right even when it (and everything else) seems wrong. He outlines several different methods by which one can live a “truth-based life” and experience ultimate fulfilment (which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the spoils of battle). Krishna is very clear that there are different methods or paths for different people and (sometimes) for different situations, but that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine and to self-realization. In this context, “Karma Yoga” is defined as “the path of action for the busy, action-oriented person.”(BG 3.3) However, and this is also emphasized throughout the text, the goal is to work without desire and without expectation. Krishna indicates that “both the action and the fruits of the action” are to be offered up to the Divine so that the action is nonbinding and selfless and, therefore, will not lead to reincarnation. (BG 3.9) Remember, offering your efforts back to the Source is the same instruction Patanjali gives in outlining kriyā yoga.

Ever skeptical, Arjuna thinks it is impossible for him to work without desire. Krishna explains to him, again and again, that it is not impossible. It does require however, that one has the right mindset. It also requires (hard) work and sacrifice. (BG 3.10-3.16, 6.33-36)

“‘Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.47) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

One of the big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is that everyone has a role to play in society. As Krishna explains in Chapter 18 people’s different personalities play a part in determining their different roles and duties. In very general (but explicit) terms, he describes “Seers, Leaders, Providers, and Servers.” He also emphasizes that “No particular group of people is superior to any other, but like limbs of the body, each has a respective role to play.” (BG 18.41) The descriptions are clear enough that we can easily identify ourselves and also recognize that there are times when we are called to serve more than one role.

For example, a professional teacher could be described as a seer and/or a leader. But, even if we are not professional teachers, the way we live our lives sets an example. The way we live our lives teaches others – especially younger generations – how to love, how to care for each other, how to stand up for what’s right, and how to do the right thing… even when it is hard. In this way, we are all leaders.

“‘Consider them one by one. Society’s Seers are the holy ones (in some societies referred to as Brahmins). Seers are expected to establish the character and spiritual underpinnings of society. Their duties are generally of pure, unmixed sattva and are therefore congenial to a person of sattvic nature. This is what is meant by the term “born of their own nature.” Providing spiritual and moral leadership is generally “natural” to Seers.

*

‘Seers must have spiritual knowledge and wisdom – knowledge of God-realization obtained through devout study – and wisdom beyond knowledge, acquired through direct experience of the Atma. Seers must have purity of heart, mind, and body; and allow no perversity or corruption to creep in. They must possess serenity, calmness, forbearance, forgiveness, and patience – and hold to an unwavering faith in the divinity of all life. The primary purpose of the Seers is to help transform society’s exemplary human beings into godly beings.

*

‘The primary objective of society’s Leaders is to help transform ordinary human beings into exemplary human beings. The Leaders (referred to as Kshatriyas) are expected to guard the welfare and prosperity of society by serving the people. They are charged with bringing moral stamina and adherence to duty through courage, fearlessness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of changing conditions. They must be examples of law, justice, and generosity. They must lead by inspiring the populace through good example and yet be ready to enforce their authority.

*

‘Both groups are strong in their own ways. The strength of the Leaders lies in their courage; the strength of the Seers lies in their spiritual glow.'”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.42 – 18.43) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Saint Syncletica is a perfect example of a seer. Also known as Amma Syncletica, she was a 4th century Christian mystic who was reportedly born into a wealthy Macedonian family in Alexandria, Egypt. By all accounts, she was a beautiful woman who could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege. Yet, from an early age, she felt a calling to serve God. From a very early age, she committed herself to God.

When her parents passed away, Syncletica donated her inheritance to the poor. Then, she cut her hair and, much to the chagrin of her many suitors, she and her younger blind sister moved to something akin to catacombs. One abbot reported that she just kept going deeper and deeper into the desert – which might have been a metaphor. Eventually, her lived example drew other women into the ascetic lifestyle that was focused on salvation, self-realization and union with God – the same end goal outlined in the Yoga Sūtras, described in The Bhagavad Gita, and highlighted in sacred texts from a variety of different traditions (including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).

It is believed that Amma Syncletica died around 350 AD, when she was eighty or eighty-four years old. The Vita S. Syncleticæ is one of the primary sources of her life and stories related to her life. The Greek biography is attributed to Athanasius I of Alexandria – although it appears to have been written after his death (and around a hundred years after hers). Thirty to fifty years after the appearance of the Vita, she is one of three women whose stories and words are included in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Saint Syncletica was venerated by the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. In some Greek traditions she is honored on January 4th (on the Julian calendar). In most traditions, her feast day is January 5th – although, she is no longer included on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the Episcopal Church (in the United States) she is celebrated along with two other Desert Ammas, Sarah and Theodora.

“Amma Syncletica said, ‘In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [Heb 12:24]): so we must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

*

– based on The Life of the Blessed & Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie 

Coda: A couple of weeks ago, I really felt the need for this message. What I mean is that I needed to hear the encouragement of this message. Given the fact that I knew some other people were facing tough decisions, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one that needed the reminder that even something that reduces us to tears, can lead us to “unspeakable joy.” I thought maybe we all needed to hear how important it is to keep doing the work even when you don’t feel supported by others – and, also, to keep doing the work even when you’re being supported by people with whom you have no other common ground.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was only thinking about metaphorical battles and metaphorical battlegrounds.

Yes, there were real wars and battles happening a couple of weeks ago, but they were (in many ways), out of sight and out of mind. Today, those battles and battlefields are front and center again. As we watch war play out in real time, we can clearly see the Seers, the Leaders, the Providers, and the Servers. We can see how hard it is to do the right thing – and even the high cost of doing the right thing. We can also see that the final words of the Gita are still true:

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.'”

– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to “the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*Dr. Peck noted that he was essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

*

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

*

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

*

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.’”

*

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

*

### You Gotta Do The Work & Honor The Work You’re Doing ###

For Those Who Missed It: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

 

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘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.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

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

 

Please join me today (Monday, December 27th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

 

“Umoja (unity) — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) — To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose) — To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity) — To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith) — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

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

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

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

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

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

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

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### Keep Shining! ###