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Interior Movements (the “missing” Sunday post, with Monday notes) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 31st (with notes related to Monday, August 1st). You can request an audio recording of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”

– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield

There are a lot of things that make practicing Yoga special. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary and unique things about the practice is that every time you step into your physical practice space, there is a deliberate and mindful intention to engage/move the mind-body in a way that also very deliberately and very intentionally engages/moves the spirit. Obviously, there are other times and other forms of exercises, even other activities, where we can go deeper inside of ourselves and really pay attention to how what’s moving inside of us (on many different levels) informs how we move through the world. You may even have a go-to activity that engages your mind-body-spirit even if is not recognized as exercise and/or as something spiritual. You may personally have a go-to something that puts you “in the flow” or “in the zone.” Maybe it’s something you deliberately, mindfully, and intentionally do when you need to clear your mind-body and really pay attention to your spirit. There are, after all, many ways that we can do that. However, in many cases that mind-body-spirit benefit is not the originally intention of the exercise; meaning your go-to thing is not a (recognized) spiritual exercise.

I recognize that not everyone recognizes Yoga as a spiritual exercise and, also, that it is not the only practice that could be considered a spiritual exercise. Semazen (Sufi whirling or turning), tanoura (the Egyptian version of Sufi whirling), and all other forms of traditional moving meditations could be considered spiritual exercises. The same could be said of modern practices like journey dancing and Gabrielle Roth’s “5Rhythms.” However, if you mention “the Spiritual Exercises” to a certain group of people in the world, none of the aforementioned come to mind. In fact, what comes to mind are not even physical exercises. Instead, what comes to mind for people within the Catholic community are the collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations codified by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day falls on July 31st.

“To understand fully the Spiritual Exercises, we should know something of the man who wrote them. In this life of St. Ignatius, told in his own words, we acquire an intimate knowledge of the author of the Exercises. We discern the Saint’s natural disposition, which was the foundation of his spiritual character. We learn of his conversion, his trials, the obstacles in his way, the heroism with which he accomplished his great mission.

This autobiography of St. Ignatius is the groundwork of all the great lives of him that have been written.”

– quoted from the “Editor’s Preface” (dated Easter, 1900) of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola on October 23, 1491, the future saint was the youngest of thirteen children born to Spanish nobles in the Basque region of Spain. Not long after he was born, his mother died and he became, on a certain level, an after thought. While his oldest brother died in the Italian Wars (also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars) and his second oldest brother inherited the family estate, the youngest of the brood was expected to go into the priesthood. Yet, he was raised with most of the same privileges and luxuries as his siblings and grew accustomed to the lifestyle. By the time he was a teenager, he was completely infatuated with all the trappings of romance, fame, fortune, and power that could come from military service.

By all accounts, young Íñigo was a bit of a dandy by the time he joined the military at seventeen. He cut a fine and stylish figure in (and out of) uniform; he loved to gamble, fence, duel, and dance; and he had a reputation as a womanizer with a very fragile ego. He also loved stories that reflected his life; stories of romance, chivalry, and military victories. In fact, some have said that he deliberately emulated the stories he read about people like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (“El Cid”), the Frankish military governor Roland, and the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps he even believed that people would one day tell stories about him the way they told stories about his heroes.

And… they kind of do. Except for two pertinent facts. First, the young noble seemed to embody the very worst aspects of masculinity and “nobility.” Second, the trajectory of his life changed almost exactly two months before he turned 30.

After over a decade of military service in which he was never seriously injured, Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s was struck by a ricocheting cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona (May 20, 1521). His right leg was crushed and it was feared that, at worse, he would lose the leg and, at best, he would lose his military career and never walk the same again. After several surgeries, during some of which his leg was re-broken and reset, his leg was saved. He returned to the family castle to recover and thought that he would spend his convalescence reading the romance adventures that he so dearly loved. Unfortunately, he was told that such novels were no longer available in the castle. He was given the Bible and the biographies of saints and, having nothing better to do, he devoured them. Just as was his habit while reading adventures of romance and chivalry, he started imagining himself in the positions of the disciples and the saints. This type of imagination is what he would later identify as “contemplation.”

“While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: ‘What if I should do what St. Francis did?’ ‘What if I should act like St. Dominic?’ He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: ‘St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.’ ‘St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.’ These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising [sic] austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.” 

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

When Patanjali codified the Yoga Philosophy, he outlined eight parts of the practice. The first two parts were ethical in nature and consisted of five external “restraints” or universal commandments (known as yamas) and five internal “observations” (known as niyamas). According to Yoga Sūtra 2.44, “the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice]” is the the benefit of practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”). Some translations refer to “angels” and still others reference “contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” Either way, the practice is basically what Ignatius was intuitively doing: paying attention to his thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, and/or even historical scenarios.

The more he did this kind of self-study, the more he started noticing something curious. He started noticing that the feelings he felt while reading and imagining the profane romantic adventures didn’t last as long as the feelings he experienced while reading and imagining the lives of the sacred. When he could walk again, the former soldier set off on a religious pilgrimage that eventually led him to a cave in Manresa (Catalonia). It was in that cave, which is now a chapel, that Saint Ignatius started spelling out his Spiritual Exercises, a four “week” practice of ritual examination and introspection.

After years of religious study, a series of visions, and another extended pilgrimage, Ignatius and six of his seminary friends took vows and committed themselves to religious service. In 1539, Saint Ignatius de Loyola and two of those friends – Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber – formed the Society of Jesus. Also known as the Jesuits, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, whereupon its leadership set off on missions to create educational institutions built on the foundation of discipline (specifically a “corpse-like” discipline), devotion (to the Pope and the Church), and trustful surrender. Interesting (to me), those same foundations can be found in the Yoga practices of tapas (“heat,” discipline, and austerity) and īśvarapraṇidhāna (“trustful surrender to the divine source”), which are the third and fifth niyamas.

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali referred to the last three niyamas (internal “observations”) as kriya yoga, which is literally “union in action.” Some people think of kriya yoga as a prescription or cleansing ritual. As I mention throughout the year, there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals (from different traditions) which fit within the rubric described by Patanjali. The Spiritual Exercises, published in 1548, contain one such example. It is a short booklet intended to be used by the teacher or guide who leads the spiritual retreat. Although the “Long Retreat” is broken down into four themes, which are traditionally experienced over 28-30 days, Saint Ignatius also included statements that allow people to experience a “retreat in daily life” if they are unable to leave their everyday life behind for a month. Additionally, the experience can be broken up over a couple of years. Whether one is Catholic or some other form of Christian, Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers the opportunity for reflection and introspection by way of prayer and meditation in the form of contemplation and discernment.

This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits.”

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

A portion of the following description was previously posted on February 6, 2021.

In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self. In other words, it requires svādhyāya (“self-study”). In the context of The Spiritual Exercises, the discernment is related to the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.

During the first “week” of The Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is instructed to reflect on “our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us.” This reflection focuses on concepts of personal sin, Divine love (which is unconditional) and Divine mercy with the intention of considering free will and how personal behavior can limit one’s ability to experience Divine love and mercy. To be clear, the idea here is not that such things will be taken away if you are bad or engage in bad behavior. Instead, the idea is that our thoughts, words, and deeds (i.e., our karma) may inhibit our ability to perceive the love and mercy being freely given. This period ends with a meditation on following in the (historical) foot steps of the Divine – which is quite literally the meaning of brahmacharya, Patanjali’s fourth yama (external “restraint”).

During the second “week,” retreatants begin to place themselves in the scenarios of the Christian scriptures as they relate to the beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and moving through his baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, and his raising Lazarus from the dead. The prayers and meditations center around the idea of how one’s life and life’s work can be a reflection of God and God’s love.

The third and fourth “weeks” continue the contemplation by first contemplating the the Last Supper, the passion (or “suffering”) of the Christ, Jesus’ death, and the significance of Jesus’ last week (during the third “week”) and then contemplating Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances/apparitions to the disciples (during the fourth “week”). The final section of the retreat is also an opportunity to contemplate how one moves forward with renewed faith, commitment, and fire.

Yes, again with the tapas, because Saint Ignatius continuously told the early Jesuits, “go, set the world on fire” – words that echoed Abbot Joseph’s instructions to Abbot Lot:

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

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

“Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

– “The Prayer of Generosity,” often attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 07/31/1556)

I habitually think about discernment in terms of the “interior movements of the heart” and, while it is something I regularly do on my mat, the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius is a day when I am reminded of the power of the practice. My awareness of this powerful practice is also enhanced by the fact that I start August by focusing on the lives of “impossible” people – that is to say, people who did things others said was impossible. This year, in particular, I find my heart (and mind) moved to contemplate the will and determination that gets things done, as well as the power of the resistance that keeps certain things from happening. Mixed in with this is the idea that our will and determination is strengthened when we are surrounded (and supported) by people who are focused on the same goals and desires; focused on achieving the same “impossible” goals and desires.

August 1st is the anniversary of the birth of an “impossible” woman and a man who wrote about achieving “impossible” things. It is curious to note that Miss Maria Mitchell (b. 1818) was raised in a household where her interests and endeavors were supported – despite the fact that she was born in a time and place where some believed her sex and gender should dictate/limit her vocation and occupation – and that the greatest works of Mr. Herman Melville (b. 1819) were created and published when he was in close proximity of (and in close communion with) his dear friend, and fellow writer, Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could put yourselves in their shoes; notice the interior movements of your own heart; and consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds can best reflect your possibilities.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s playlist  is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07292020 Breathing, Noting, Here & at the UN”]

NOTE: In hindsight, I realized that the playlist we used last week works really well with today’s practice. It is still available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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.)

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###