jump to navigation

Miracles in December (the Sunday post) December 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for Sunday, December 12th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.)

“I try to find you, who I can’t see
I try to hear you, who I can’t hear

Then I start to see things I couldn’t see
Hear things I couldn’t hear
Because after you left
I received a power I didn’t have before”


– quoted from the song “Miracles in December” by EXO

‘Tis the season for miracles!

Ok, let’s be real. If you look at a calendar – you will find that there a plethora of miracles in every season. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a whole calendar that, essentially, celebrates miracles attributed to various people. This time of year, however, there seems to be a concentration of miracles – or maybe it just feels that way because so many of the miracles are similar and/or connected.

On Wednesday, I mentioned that within the Roman Catholic tradition there are almost 20 Marian feast days (i.e., days honoring the Virgin Mary), excluding local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. I even mentioned that December 9th, like December 8th, is a day when some people in the world celebrate the miracle of this blessed woman’s birth, a birth… which was itself a miracle. Of course, when most people (even many Christians) think of the miracle of birth, they think of the newborn baby and, in this context, they think of Jesus. Interestingly, December 12th is also a Marian feast day in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is a day associated with several miracles that occurred over a series of days (beginning on the aforementioned December 9th) in 1531, culminating with the fourth (or fifth) miraculous apparition occurring on December 12th.  

Or, at least that’s how the story has been told for almost 500 years.

But, it turns out there was more to the story.

And whether you believe the story or not*, it’s a tale full of compelling evidence. One could even say that the “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of the evidence” was enough to convince a man who identified himself as being “poor” (possibly in spirit) and who was not inclined to believe his own senses.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”


– Stuart Chase

An important part of this story is the timeline.* However, before we get started, we need to clarify the timeline. In October of 1582, Papal-governed nations like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth switched to the Gregorian calendar. Up until then, these nations – as well as their colonies – used the Julian calendar. So, keep in mind that even though the events of our story took place according to the Julian calendar, most people today celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar.

That said, our story begins on Saturday, December 9, 1531, when an Indigenous man in what is now Mexico City was walking to mass. His journey took Juan Diego Cuāuhtlahtoātzin across Tepeyac Hill, which many modern people believe had been a sacred Aztec site associated with a mother goddess. Please keep in mind that this future saint, Juan Diego, was an adult and Spanish missionaries had only been in his country for about eight years. So, if historians are correct, he would have known the significance of the site. Either way, as he was walking along his way, he started hearing birds singing. It was an odd time of year to hear this type of birdsong and so it made him pause.

Perhaps he looked around for the source. Have you ever done that? Heard some beautiful sounds in nature (or maybe something that startled you) and you looked around to verify what you were hearing? Perhaps that’s what San Juan Diego did in 1531. Only, instead of birds, he saw the vision of a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that would have been familiar to him and she spoke his language (Nahuatl), but what she said was strange. She identified herself as the virgin mother – which was weird, because she didn’t look like the pictures and descriptions that came courtesy of the priests. She was not fair-haired or fair-skinned. She looked and spoke more like Juan Diego’s people. Stranger even than her appearance was that she wanted this poor man to go to the Franciscan bishop and ask that a chapel be built where she appeared. 

Now, a little back story about this bishop might be handy (just so you can understand his possible state of mind). His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. was born into a noble Basque family in Spain. I’m unclear when he entered the priesthood; however, several significant things happened when he was approaching 60 years old. First, he was named as custodian of a convent. That same year, 1527, he was appointed as a judge in a court investigating witches and recommended by the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V) to be the first bishop of Mexico (New Spain). A year later he was in the “New World,” but only had the title(s) of bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians.” His role was not officially consecrated until April of 1533 – which means that in 1531, during the time of our story – he could not fully execute his duties. Oh, also there was dissension in the ranks and the ever-present possibility of a socio-political and religious mutiny.

So, here comes Juan Diego with his message from the Divine Mother. To be clear, he was a reluctant messenger from the very beginning, but he was even more so after visiting the bishop-elect, who (naturally) did not believe him. I say “naturally,” because even if Juan Diego was 100% convinced of his mission, the bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians” would have been skeptical. He may have wondered why this “poor” indigenous man would be blessed with a visitation instead of someone like him, who had devoted his life to God and the Church. He might have questioned Juan Diego’s description of the woman. Finally, his previous experience serving with the court that examined witches, may have made him skeptical of anything that might be considered “hallucinatory,” especially if it was related to women.

On his way back home, defeated, discouraged, and doubtful, San Juan Diego again saw and spoke with the lady on the hill. At some point, he even pulled a Moses and suggested that someone else would be better suited for the job of messenger. But no, the blessed mother was sending him; the man whose surname (Cuāuhtlahtoātzin) means “He who speaks like an eagle.” 

“Do you hear what I hear?
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear? (Hear what I hear)
Ringing through the night, shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear (Hear what I hear)
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea


– 1st verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

The next day, Sunday, December 10th, Juan Diego went back to speak to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola. Again, he was not believed; but this time the man who would become the first bishop and the first archbishop of Mexico told Juan Diego to go back to Tepeyac Hill and ask for proof. He wanted some form of religious currency – and here, I don’t mean a bribe: he wanted a verifiable miracle.

As instructed, Juan Diego went to the hill to request proof, which he was told he would receive if he came to the hill the next day. Unbeknownst to him, the bishop elect sent servants or guards to follow him, but “some how” they lost him. Of course, the servants or guards weren’t going to admit that they lost an indigenous “peasant.” So, they went back and told the bishop-elect that Juan Diego was a liar who had made the whole thing up. They accused him of a number of things that would be considered heretical and blasphemous. If this story were happening today, he might have been accused of “pushing a woke (or liberal) agenda” – because who else but a social justice warrior would request a church devoted to a brown-skinned Madonna.

Now, here’s where the story takes a turn, because Juan Diego does not return to Tepeyac Hill on Monday, December 11th. It’s not that he didn’t believe or didn’t take his task seriously, it’s not that he didn’t care. But, he did have a more urgent need to address: his beloved uncle Juan Diego Bernardino was deathly ill. This uncle, who had taken him in after his parents died, needed someone to take care of him; and so Juan Diego did what was needed. At some point, however, it became clear that San Juan Diego’s physical ministrations were not enough. That Tuesday morning, December 12th, he left home to find a priest who could administer the last rites. 

Imagine his grief. Imagine his pain. Also, imagine the urgency of his quest and the shame. Yes, he felt shame and embarrassment, because he hadn’t gone back to the hill to get the proof requested by the bishop-elect. He was also in a hurry and so he tried to figure out another route. Some other way that he could reach the church and find a priest without being stopped by the vision. But, to no avail. Our Lady of Guadalupe was still waiting for him.

“¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?”

[“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”] 


– Spanish quoted from the front entrance of the modern (or new) Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, based on the 17th century Nahuatl text Nican Mopohua (Here Is Told)


The vision of the Divine Mother told him that his uncle had recovered. (Later he would learn that his uncle Juan Diego Bernardino had also received a visit from the Blessed Mother.) Our Lady of Guadalupe told the future saint that if he went up to the top of the hill, where it was the coldest, he would find proof that he could take back to the bishop-elect. Juan Diego did as he was told and found the peak covered in roses. These were roses that were not indigenous to the area. Fragrant roses that could not be bought at any supermarket or mercado in the area. Flower covered in morning dew – even though it was too cold and out of season for such flowers to grow. As astounded as he must have been (and relieved because his uncle was well), he managed to gather as many flowers as he could carry in his tilma (or cloak) and brought them to the vision. She touched each flower and placed them back in his blanket-like cape. 

Now, to be clear, at this point in the story, Juan Diego had experienced these miracles with almost every one of his senses. He has heard them, seen them, smelled them, and felt them. He has thought about them and remembered them with clarity. One could argue that the only sense not engaged was his sense of taste; but since smell and taste are closely connected, we can’t exclude the possibility that the fragrant flowers left and impression on his tongue.

Yet, there was more.

After some resistance (mostly from the servants or guards at the Church), Juan Diego was admitted into the bishop’s chambers. When he opened his tilma the roses fell out onto the flower. More roses than he could have carried and, again, roses that were out of season and not available in the area. Some say they were Castilian roses, meaning they were indigenous to Spain and, theoretically, would have been recognizable to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. as such.

But, there was more.

When the roses fell on the floor, they revealed an image in the tilma: a vibrant image of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to Juan Diego. She appeared to be mestiza, a mixture of two ethnicities: Aztec and Spanish. Her dark hair was parted to indicate that she was a virgin. Her blue-green mantilla or veil was covered in stars, indicating that she came from Heaven and also (by their pattern) establishing the date and time of her appearance. Her hands were in prayer with her fingers pointed to the cross that she wore at the top of her dress. A black ribbon tied beneath her hands and above her belly indicated that she was encinta, “enclosed in the ribbon” – which means she was pregnant. Four-petaled and eight-petaled flowers covered the cloth over her belly and the lower portion of her dress. She stood in the clouds, in front of the sun (which some say represents Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun and of war). She also stood on top of the moon (some say crushing the Aztec’s Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent moon god) with a shoe that looks like the tilma. Finally, the edge of her mantilla and the edge of her dress were held up by “an angel with eagle wings” who wore a shirt and cross that matched hers.

I say “finally,” but – to be clear – I’ve only highlighted some (but not all) of the most obvious elements of the image. An image that scientists have said was not painted and has no (significant) brushstrokes. An image that, though I refer to it in the past tense above, reportedly looks almost** exactly the same as it did when it was first revealed (almost 500 years ago) – despite the fact that it was not protected from the elements for over one hundred years.

Also, I’ve left out explanations for a lot of the symbols, a note about Her name, and a few things that would not have been obvious when the image was first revealed. For example, the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe are shaped like a real person’s eyes and modern science has revealed that they contain two images: reflections of two scenes which include the images of people like San Juan Diego and His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola.

Then there are the flowers…

Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having it’s own function and character, contributes to the whole.


– quote attributed to Pythagoras (of Samos)

The arrangement of the stars and flowers held significance right off the bat. Some of the flowers even look different when viewed at different angles, but a Mexico accountant (recently) discovered that there’s more to the arrangement than date, time, topography, and religious symbolism. According to Fernando Ojeda, a member of the Instituto Superior de Estudios Guadalupanos (ISEG), the arrangement is, well, an actual arrangement. It’s music.

Analyzing the image from a mathematical perspective, Fernando Ojeda found that it was symmetrical and maintained the golden ratio. When he asked what would be considered the “most symmetrical” instrument, someone told him it was a piano. So, he framed a copy of the image with a golden triangle and had a musical colleague overlap the image with a drawing of a piano so that they could transcribe the stars and flowers into music notes. Then, Fernando Ojeda plugged the notes into a computer program and (with the help of some classical musicians) produced what could easily be described as something heavenly.

I know, I know. Even if you believe all the rest of the story, you might be skeptical of this last bit. Especially if you know about John Cage and the wind chimes.  However, when the ISEG analysts reportedly applied these same methods to paintings from the 16th and 17th century, the painted stars and flowers did not produce anything that would have met with Bach’s approval.

“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”


– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube only. Spotify users can find similar music on the Mother’s Day 2020 playlist.

[NOTE: I could not find “the music of the mantle” on Spotify, but it’s embedded/linked below along with a third track that is not on the Mother’s Day playlist.]

I can’t help wondering, is this the music (of the birds) that San Juan Diego heard?


A longer version…


“Miracles in December”


*NOTE: Many scholars and theologians are skeptical about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some of the skepticism surrounds the timeline and the fact that the first written account didn’t appear until the 17th century. There is also some confusion about the name, confusion that is heightened by translating into (and out of) languages that don’t share an original culture. Some of that language confusion all revolves around a misunderstanding about what is a title and what is a name.


**NOTE: Acid was spilled on the tilma in 1791, but it appears that there was minimum damage and/or (as some people believe) the image healed itself. The visions crown has been altered. Scientists have disagreed about how much the image has faded or flaked over the years, but consistently agree that it seems to be very little.





Do You See What I See? (the Wednesday post) January 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[“Merry Little Christmas, Epiphany, Theophany, Three Kings Day, & Twelfth Day of Christmas (for some)!”]

[You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s 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 or donations for New Year’s Day are not necessarily deductible.]

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold, oh yeah, oh”


– 2nd verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston


It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by and you didn’t think how can “they” not see the truth that’s right in front of them? It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by where you didn’t think, “What don’t they understand [what I understand]?”

Funny thing is, no matter who you are and what you believe – let alone why you believe it – you may have found yourself think or even questioning what has motivated people to do the things they are doing (or not doing) over the last few months (or years); which, of course, means that almost everyone is thinking this (or saying this) about everyone else. It seems really twisted, because it is; it’s all twisted up in avidyā (“ignorance”).

In Indian philosophies, like Yoga, suffering – the same suffering that has us asking what someone else was thinking when they did the thing they did – is caused afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns (kleśāh). The primary one being avidyā (ignorance), which is defined in The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali as not understanding the true nature of things. For example, believing short-lived objects are eternal; believing something impure is pure; and believing something that causes suffering brings happiness are classic examples of avidyā. (YS 2.5) This basic level of ignorance becomes the bedrock for four additional forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking, all of which lead to more suffering. (YS 2.3 – 2.9, 2.12 – 2.14) After putting the way people think into context (and also explaining about functional thought patterns), Patanjali indicates that everything in the known or sensed world has two-fold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. (YS 2.18) In other words, everything we sense, think, and/or in any way experience can serve the purpose of changing the way we understand the nature of things and, therefore, change the way we think. If we have a better understanding of the world, we can have less suffering. (YS 2.16 – 2.17)

Knowing this, a practitioner might feel ready to move forward in their practice or even impatient to get to the time and place where they have less suffering – especially after the last few months or years. One might even wonder why the basic knowledge is not enough to change the world. Well, turns out there is a sūtra for that…

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah


– “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind [brain] shows it.”

The brain (intellect) and mind-body are powerful. So powerful in fact, that they will store information (for us) without us knowing the information is there and/or without us consciously paying attention to the information. If and when our mind decides something is relevant and/or we are ready to understand it, the information moves to our conscious awareness – sometimes as if it is the first time we have ever encountered said information. On the flip side, if we consciously (or even unconsciously) deny the relevancy of information – and/or don’t have the connecting information that puts everything into context – the information gets dismissed.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth can be right in front of our nose (like the tape that was on my glasses for the last few weeks), but the brain filters it out of our conscious awareness. As a result, to us, it’s like the information does not exist. We just don’t see it – just like the tape that was sitting on the bridge of my nose. The difference here, between facts in the world and the tape, is that I put the tape on my glasses and consciously gave my brain permission to ignore it (with full awareness of the fact that the eyes can work like that). But, every now and again, it was like the tape would “magically” (re)appear; every once in a while, I just couldn’t ignore what was right in front of my face.

For the last few days of the “12 Days of Christmas,” the playlist started with an instrumental piece called “Story of My Life” and, as a joke, I would say at the beginning, “Not my life, but…someone’s life.” That someone being Jesus; and while the different parts of Jesus’ life story get told by Christian liturgy throughout the year, they get told in different ways (and sometimes at different times) depending on the tradition and/or denomination. It’s as if, 12 different writers wrote the same story, but emphasized different parts.

Of course, by using the number 12, I am oversimplifying reality and dismissing the fact that humans make bad witnesses. I am, also, mostly leaving out the fact that while Christians may have the corner market on the story of Jesus, they are not the only religious (or philosophical) traditions that tell the story.

Neither are they the only ones in the story…. But that’s another story for another day. Because today, is all about seeing the story through a Christian lens.

1. Chorus
They will all come forth out of Sheba,
bringing gold and incense
and proclaiming the price of the Lord.


2. Chorale
The kings came out of Sheba,
they brought gold, incense, myrrh along,


– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

January 6th, is Epiphany, also known as Theophany (in some Eastern traditions) and Three Kings Day. As I mentioned yesterday, January 6th is almost always Epiphany, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). It’s also good to note that while since some Eastern Christian traditions use the Julian calendar, their January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as Divine, God incarnate, and God’s gift to the world. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, which is why it is also known as “Three Kings Day.” In some Eastern traditions, the magi visit on the 25th and therefore the story of theophany focuses on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (when he turned water into wine and during the Wedding at Cana).

There are masses and feasts on this day, as well as caroling. There is even some highly elevated singing, as several composers have written pieces for the day. In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several pieces for the various days of Christmastide and at least two pieces for Ephiphany. One of those pieces, “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65, premiered today in 1724, to mark Bach’s first Christmas season as “Thomaskantor” (cantor at Saint Thomas) in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. I have heard that he composed the 7-movement Christmas cantata, with lyrics inspired by The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:6), in the first few days of the New Year (as the piece is dated 1724 and Saxony switched the Gregorian calendar in 1699).

“‘Its final cause,’ [Bach] wrote, ‘is none other than this, that it ministers solely to the honor of God and refreshment of the spirit, whereof, if one take not heed, it is no proper music, but devilish din and discord.’”


– quoted from God and Music by John Harrington Edwards (published 1903)


“3. Recitative B
What Isaiah foresaw there,
That happened at Bethlehem.
Here the wise men appear
at Jesus’ manger
and want to praise him as their king.
Gold, frankincense, myrrh are
the delicious gifts
With which they grace this baby Jesus in
Bethlehem in the stable.
My Jesus, when I think of my duty now,
I must also turn to your manger
and also be grateful:
For this day is a day of joy for me,
Since you, O prince of life
The light of the Gentiles….”


– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (2:1 – 12) is the only canonical New Testament gospel to tell the story of the “wise men” (as they are called in the King James Version). More modern versions of the text refer to them as “magi” and even “kings,” but traditionally they are only directly referred to as “kings” in a prophesy found in The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:1 – 6) and, perhaps indirectly, in The Book of Psalms (“Psalm 72: A Psalm for Solomon”) – both of which are in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. None of these cited texts reference a number, but most Western Christians consider them three (based on the gifts) … while some Eastern Christians consider them 12. Still others focus on the gift bearers as neither magi nor kings, but of shepherds.

It is also interesting to note, if you will patiently think back with me, that the “12 Days of Christmas” song does not mention magicians or scholars, but definitely mentions drummers. Classically, there are “12 drummer’s drumming” – which, according to the catechism myth represents the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes, however, there are 9 or 10 or 11, which means they could also symbolize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; the Ten Commandments; or the eleven “faithful” apostles (respectively). I also find it interesting, and thematically beautiful, that the little drummer boy not only sees himself in the baby Jesus, but also brings the same gift: his presence.

“But what do I bring, you King of Heaven?
If my heart is not too little for you, then
accept it graciously,
Because I cannot bring anything noble.”


– quoted from the 3rd movement (Recitative B), of “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

Some people wait until Epiphany or Theophany to add the Three Kings to their Nativity Scene – even though some cultures mark the change from Christmastide to Epiphanytide by taking their Christmas decorations down on the 7th. Some people have their King Cake or Twelfth Night Cake on this date, hoping to find the coin or the tiny baby Jesus figurine that indicates they will be extra blessed or lucky/fortunate in the year ahead. In some cultures, the person who finds the coin or baby is responsible for supplying the next year’s cake (which some people love and others think is not so lucky).

For those people who focus on Jesus’ baptism as a moment of revelation, January 6th is a day to gather by the water. Priest, pastor, or preacher led processions will make their way through the town or city until they reach the water. After blessing the water, the priest, pastor, or preacher will throw a cross into the water and some people will engage in a little “winter swimming.” In this case, the person who finds the cross is considered extra blessed. Additionally, some people will choose this date to be baptized, as it is a symbol of how they are changed.

“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”


– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 6, January 2018)

For the faithful, a sermon or homily is a big part of Epiphany or Theophany. This is especially true in the Roman Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has (in my humble opinion) a definite knack for weaving the narrative of the story into present day application.  In 2018, his homily encouraged people to be “imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.” The modern day gifts that the pontiff mentioned were gifts of the self: “care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and cannot be lacking the lives of Christians.” He also spoke in terms of taking a risk and the importance of sometimes following what might not always seem to be brightest thing on the horizon.

In thinking about Epiphany, in a religious context, I often think about epiphany in the context of innovative or scientific discovery. For someone to have an ah-ha, light bulb, or eureka moment – for someone to have an epiphany – they have to be prepared. They have to know what they are seeing or hearing. They have to know the importance of what’s growing on a culture plate when they get back from holiday; otherwise they throw it away. They have to understand that the light touch that wakes them from a deep sleep is the touch of an angel and not the touch of their sleep-mate or cattle. Whether it is in religion or science or humanity, one must have faith in order to take a risk.

Last year was very different from 2017 and this year, again, Pope Francis reflected the times – and he spoke, in some ways, very much along my way of thinking: that one must be prepared. In speaking of the magi, he said, “Worshiping the Lord is not easy; it does not just happen. It requires a certain spiritual maturity and is the fruit of an at times lengthy interior journey.” He talked about the importance of prayer and, again, the importance of looking up – lifting up one’s eyes in order to “‘see’ beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive.” Basically, he offered three steps in the form of three phrases, from The Liturgy of the Word, for a deeper relationship with God: “to lift up our eyes,” “to set out on a journey,” and “to see.”

Of course, we can only see, what we are prepared to see – which is the whole purpose of the journey, which we can only take when we look up (and around) and get curious.

“And it concludes by saying that at the time, ‘the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness’ (Lk 3:2). To none of the magnates, it to but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert. Here is the surprise: God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.


When we listen to that list of distinguished personages, we might be tempted to turn the spotlight on them…. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God ‘proposes’ himself; he does not ‘impose’ himself. He illumines; he does not blind. It is always a very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5). Him, not us.”


– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 6, January 2019)**


**NOTE: During Wednesday’s ZOOM classes I dated the last quote from Pope Francis (it is also mis-dated on the Vatican’s website. I think 2019 is correct, but I could still be mistaken. My apologies for any confusion.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(Note: The playlists are slightly different for the before/after practice music. Also, I added Whitney Houston’s version of the song that was popping up in my head Wednesday morning.)




It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11


Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)


Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.