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Doing: Lessons in unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable things (& “impossible” people) [the “missing” Sunday post] January 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Mantra, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 23rd (and contains 2-for-1 information related to January 24th). 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.

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“The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning…. Although meaning is an anthropomorphic interpretation it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as “meaning” may be in itself we have no possibility of knowing. As an hypothesis, however, it is not quite so impossible as may appear at first sight. We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.”

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– quoted from “3. Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity” in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C. G. Jung

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“This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of the them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right….”

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– quoted from a letter addressed to Sir Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754, by Horace Walpole (The Right Honorable The (4th) Earl of Orford, Horatio Walpole)  

Causality, the principles of cause and effect, are a big aspect of the Yoga philosophy – and I am, without a doubt, a big fan. That said, I am also a big fan of synchronicity and serendipity. As much as I pay attention to cause-and-effect, I often delight in things that just seem to “randomly” fall into place and things (or people) that show up when I “need” them, but wasn’t looking for them.  Granted, there are times when I consider chaos theory and see if I can trace back to some little thing that started the domino effect; however, I’m also just open to being pleasantly surprised by “accidental goodness.”

Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? And how open are you to those kinds of things?

My guess, and it’s not much of a stretch, is that your open-ness, or lack thereof, is based on past experiences. I mean, on a certain level, everything is based on past experiences. We do something new and a new neural pathway is created, a new thin veil of saṃskāra (“mental impression”) is lowered over us. We do that same thing again and we start to hardwire that new neural pathway, the veil becomes more opaque. Over time, our behaviors and reactions become so hardwired, that our saṃskāras becoming vāsanās (“dwellings”) and we believe that our habits are innate or instinctive – when, in fact, they are conditioned.

This is true when things seem to randomly and luckily fall into place. This is also true when are not so fortunate or blessed; when things don’t seem to easily fall into place or when we don’t “randomly” get what we didn’t know we needed. And our physical-mental-emotional response to the so-called “happy accidents” is just as conditioned as our physical-mental-emotional response to things not going our way. We are as much like Pavlov’s dogs as we are like the one-eyed mule observed by the Princes of Serendip. To do something other than salivate at the appearance of certain objects and/or to eat on the other side of the road is “impossible.” But, little changes in the conditioning changes the outcome.

Also, remember that ad about “impossible….”

“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.

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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 practice revolved around two stories related to January 23rd and January 24th. They are lessons on doing (rather than not doing) and opportunities for a little svādhyāya (“self-study’). One of the stories was about an “impossible” person who had to deal with unexpected tragedy and “ridiculously inconvenient” situations and expectations. The other was the story of a person, some might consider impossible, who had to deal with an unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable piano. As I’ll explain a little (a little later), I encountered both stories serendipitously, but there was also a little bit of synchronicity related to the second story. 

Again, I’ll get to the backstory a bit later. For now, consider that the habitual conditioning I mentioned above also applies to our expectations of ourselves and of others. So, when we tell ourselves and/or someone else that something is impossible, it is partially because we have not been conditioned to believe that the thing in question is possible. We haven’t seen any evidence that something can be done and, quite the contrary, maybe we have seen someone else “fail” in their endeavors in the same area. Maybe we ourselves haven’t succeeded… yet; and, therefore have decided to give up. 

But, what happens if we don’t give up? What happens if we give our all and then let go of our expectations? What happens if we plan to trust the possibilities and focus on doing what we are able to do, in the present moment?

A version of the January 23rd story was originally posted in 2021. Click here for that philosophical post in it’s entirety.

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“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

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

The Yoga Sutras offers a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

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– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

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– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

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– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

If I remember correctly, I first dug into Ed Roberts’s story because someone on the internet mentioned him and his birthday. Maybe this was in 2017, when there was a Google Doodle to honor him. Or, maybe I made a note to myself when I saw the Google Doodle and then incorporated it into a class the following year. Either way, I had time to dig in.

Perhaps, since some of my themes are date-related and I do keep an eye out for such things, one might not consider my heightened awareness of Ed Roberts as being overly synchronistic or serendipitous. This is especially true considering that my annual participation in the Kiss My Asana yogathon is one of the many things that predisposes (or conditions) me to pay attention to stories about accessibility. If anything, I could kind of kick myself for not digging into his story sooner. 

But, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The odds are pretty high, though, that I would have eventually come across his story. What are the odds, however, that I would encounter the story of Keith Jarrett, Vera Brandes, and the unplayable piano mere days before the anniversary of The Köln Concert, which was performed and recorded on January 24, 1975?

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

If, like me, someone was creating date-related content, any time someone landed on their media, they’re very likely to come across a timely bit of information. But, what if the content is not date-related? Additionally, what are the odds if the person (in this case me) is late to the proverbial party and just starts randomly picking content? Without even going into the details of my adventures in podcast-listening (or how many I’ve very recently started picking through), let’s just consider the odds of me picking one out of, say, 40 non-date-related episodes and landing on the one that just happens to coincide with an upcoming date. 

I have no idea what the odds are, and maybe I haven’t provided enough information, but feel free to comment below if you are a mathematician.

My point is that all of this also happened around the same time that we are all dealing and sometimes battling with change. It happened during a time when the whole world is facing the conflict that can occur when our past and ingrained behaviors, habits, and responses bumps up against the desire for new behaviors, habits, and responses. What are the odds of coming across the historical version of what the comedian Seth Meyers calls, “The Kind of Story We Need Right Now”? What are the odds of coming across the story of a man who did what he considered impossible because of his past experiences, his preconceived notions, and other untenable circumstances?

Keep in mind, this is not only the story of a man who did something he considered “impossible,” it’s also the story of a man who did something that, on a certain level, he didn’t want to do.

You can, as I did, listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts. Had I listened to it just a few days sooner, it might have changed the January 8th playlist.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

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– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Like other musicians, he is also very particular about the instruments he plays – and this is where we meet “the unplayable piano.”

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”


*


– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano). 

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

*

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

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So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

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As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

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Good luck!”

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– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

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“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

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### My Takeaway: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If there’s something in your life – in your field of experience – or something in your past that makes certain things seem impossible, in this present moment, then knowing that – understanding why it seems impossible to you, then pick something. Pick some really small thing that you can start doing – or that you can actually do right now – that changes your history moving forward. So that your field of possibility expands. So that tomorrow – maybe not 24 hours from now, maybe not even 48 hours from now, but at some point, what was impossible becomes possible…. Consider that we are doing things today that were considered impossible “yesterday.” ###

Not So De-Lovely Circumstance(s)? June 9, 2020

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“You can never give up because quitting is not an option. No matter how dark it is or how weak you get, until you take that last breath, you must fight.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale, professional musician and basketball player

 

“Sad times, may follow your tracks
Bad times, may bar you from Sak’s
At times, when Satan in slacks
Breaks down your self control

Maybe, as often it goes
Your Abe-y, may tire of his rose
So baby, this rule I propose
Always have an ace in the hole.”

 

– from “Ace in the Hole” by Cole Porter

 

Here’s a question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability? We all have, on some level, and we all will before we leave this earth.

So, here’s a better question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability that changed the way you viewed yourself and the world? Many who would have answered “no” to that question a month or two ago (or even a year ago), might answer “yes” now.

I specifically mention two months ago, rather than two weeks ago, because two months ago I was participating in the seventh annual Kiss My Asana yogathon, which benefited Mind Body Solutions. Known for their adaptive yoga program, which includes teacher training, and training for care givers Mind Body Solutions “helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.” Founding teacher Matthew Sanford is constantly reminding us that at some point we are all going to experience trauma, loss, and disability. Even if we do not become physically disabled, we can experience trauma and loss that disables us and makes it impossible to do things the way we did them before. The practice of yoga, especially as it is applied by the teachers at MBS, is both simple and complex – because the way we deal with trauma, loss, and disability is simultaneously simple and complex… because humans are both simple and complex. Ultimately, it’s not the if/when/how we experience the trauma, loss, and disability that’s important. Ultimately, what’s important is how we deal with it.

“I am only half a man now.”

 

– Cole Porter to his friends in 1958

 

“Cancer might’ve taken my leg, but it can’t take my smile.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before he died (The reporter noted that he followed the words with “that famous, ear-splitting grin.”)

 

Depending on how you look at them, Cole Porter (who was born today in 1891, in Peru, Indiana) and Wayman Tisdale (who was born today in 1964, in Fort Worth, Texas) don’t have a lot in common. Except for the whole birthday thing… and the fact that they were both professional musicians whose parents started their musical training at early ages. (Porter’s mother started him on violin lessons at 6 and piano lessons at 8. Tisdale’s father bought him his first bass guitar at age 8.) Tisdale said music was his “first love” and, undoubtedly, Porter would have shared the sentiment. They both ended up being known for jazz – although slightly different kinds of jazz. Oh, then there is the fact that they both engaged in highly physical activities (outside of music); Porter as an equestrian, Tisdale as a professional basketball player who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2009), the Oklahoma Hall of Fame (2009), and played in both the Olympics (1984) and Pan American (1983) Games. Both men were extremely well-liked and remarked upon because of their sunny dispositions.

Oh, and they were both (right leg) amputees.

Weird coincidence, huh? But, that’s not really the point today. The point today is how they dealt with their trauma, loss, and disability.

“The doctor had never given anyone chemo that was my size. They just calculated how much chemo to give me and said, ‘We hope it doesn’t mess up your kidneys. If it does, sorry.’”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before his death

In 1937, a horseback riding accident resulted in the horse crushing both of Cole Porter’s legs. In 2007, Wayman Tisdale fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg – an accident that revealed he had osteosarcoma in his knee. Both men were bound and determined to live, despite their situations – which involved immense amounts of pain and uncertainty. By all accounts, including his own words, Wayman Tisdale accepted the amputation and focused on using the support around him to help him heal and move forward. He even appreciated the attitude of one of his master teachers/precious jewels, who he didn’t think wanted him to get better, stating in a 2008 ESPN interview, “At the time, I frowned on that. I look at it today that had I not persevered through a lot of the stuff [USA Team coach Bobby Knight] put me through, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I thank God for that dude because he pushed me.” Cole Porter, on the other hand, seems to have given up. He fought the amputation until he was given no other choice and, while he wrote an immense amount of music after the accident that ultimately cost him his leg, he wrote (so far as we know) not a lick after the amputation.

“The lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face…I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly.”

 

– Noel Coward writing in his diary about his friend Cole Porter, after Porter’s leg was amputated in 1958

 

“But when we first talked on the phone, he [Wayman] made me feel better. Ninety-five percent of us would’ve gone into a deep depression, but he didn’t.”

 

– Arthur Thompson, drummer and friend of Wayman Tisdale, in a 2008 ESPN interview, after Tisdale’s diagnosis and amputation

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 9th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where you can check in with your attitude. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page, with links, shortly before the Noon class. NOTE: Spotify users may have 2 Eartha Kitt songs. Enjoy.)

 

“For a man who lives by schedules to not know the next day because of being so fatigued, that puts things in perspective.”

 

– Dolphin Davis, Sr., Wayman Tisdale’s friend and personal trainer

 

 

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Fearless Play with Miles & Sally May 26, 2020

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“I’ve discovered that half the people would love to go into space and there’s no need to explain it them. The other half can’t understand and I couldn’t explain it to them. If someone doesn’t know why, I can’t explain it.”

 

– Sally Ride

“If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!”

– Miles Davis 

 

I often say that when I think of being fearless, I think of jazz and the rules of improve. I think of saying “yes, and….” I think of people like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Joshua Redman, the Marsalis family, and Jason Moran.

I also think about Miles Davis, who would have turned 94 today. But we’ll come back to him, because when I think of being fearless I also think of women like Christa McAuliffe and Sally Ride.

Ride, who was born today in 1951, was the first American woman in space and the third woman overall, (after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya). She is still the youngest American astronaut to have traveled into space and, although it wasn’t known at the time, she is now acknowledged as the first GLBTQIA astronaut. She once said, “I love the John Glenn model… I may call NASA in 25 years or so, and see it they’d like to send me to Mars.” And, she probably would have if she hadn’t been so busy teaching, running public-outreach programs for NASA, serving on two aerospace accident investigation boards, writing 7 books for children, and starting and running “Sally Ride Science” (which creates entertaining science programs and publications aimed at upper elementary and middle school children).

Part of what made Sally Ride fearless was that not only did she (to paraphrase McAuliffe) say yes to a seat on a rocket, she also said yes to being a role model. She kept the focus on the science even as she endured the most sexist questions from the public and the press; however, when she realized certain people were going to keep coming back to her gender, she used the platform she was being given to make room for more women and girls in the sciences.

“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

– Sally Ride

The fact that pretty much anyone (and everyone) in the public eye ends up as a possible role model can be dangerous – especially when people don’t accept the responsibility, or take it for granted. Miles Davis fits into this category. Born today in 1926, Davis said, “The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does the man have ideas.” Davis did and had both. He was a musical innovator who studied at the Institute of Musical Art, now known as Julliard, but also studied in jam sessions with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was a trailblazer, who kicked off the “cool jazz” movement, developed “hard bop,” and ultimately fused jazz with rock and funk. He would lose old fans, win new fans, and then gain the old fans back – because he did the thing he told other musicians to do: he didn’t play what was there, he played what wasn’t there.

“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it.”

 

– Miles Davis

For all his musical success, however, Davis battled demons. He grew up in a fairly well off family, but people often assumed he grew up poor and was uneducated. He struggled with the fact that although albums like his Birth of the Cool were historically and musically important, they didn’t have the same success as albums by white musicians in the same genre. He also struggled with cocaine and heroin addiction, once broke both ankles in a car accident, and by all accounts (including his own) he was physically and emotionally abusive to all three of his wives (and most likely any other women with whom he had a romantic relationship).

Miles Davis was a narcissistic abusive jerk. He was also a genius. Interestingly, even now, Pearl Cleage is one of the few people to speak of his abuse. Not because she personally experienced it, but because she wanted people (especially men) to stop and think about how they engage in relationships. She wanted shine a light on how not to act in relationships.

“No, you should not feel guilty. Miles is dead. We can just hope the next time he comes around his spirit and his personality will be as lovely as his music.”

– Pearl Cleage, author of Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth, in a 2012 interview for Atlanta Magazine (when asked about listening to music by Miles Davis)

This week, we reconnect and remember those that came before and consider what lessons their lives have to teach us. Please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a little fearless play in the form of a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Suppose you come across a woman lying on the street with an elephant sitting on her chest. You notice she is short of breath. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of heart problems. In her case, the much more likely cause is the elephant on her chest.

For a long time, society put obstacles in the way of women who wanted to enter the sciences. That is the elephant. Until the playing field has been levelled and lingering stereotypes are gone, you can’t even ask the question”

 

 

– Sally Ride in a 2006 USA Today interview with Robert Alan Benson

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.

 

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

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

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

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

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

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

“They were the dancingest sisters around.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget to fearlessly Kiss My Asana!!

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

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

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

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

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 25th (or thereabouts):

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

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

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

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

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###