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The best thing since… July 7, 2020

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“He showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’”

 

– from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

When people like something (or someone) – I mean, really, really like something (or someone) – they sometimes say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” – which is funny when you consider that there’s only one day honoring “sliced bread.” On the flip side, there are at least ten days devoted to chocolate:

  • Bittersweet Chocolate Day (January 10th)
  • Chocolate Day in Ghana (the second largest producer of cocoa) (February 14th)
  • World Chocolate or International Chocolate Day (July 7th and/or 9th)
  • World Chocolate Day in Latvia (July 11th)
  • Milk Chocolate Day (July 28th)
  • S. National Confectioners Association’s International Chocolate Day (September 13th)
  • White Chocolate Day (September 22nd)
  • National Chocolate Day in the United States (October 28th)
  • Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16th)

Chocolate contains phenols, which may act as antioxidants in the body and reduce “bad” cholesterol. Other documented health benefits to eating chocolate include the fact that chocolate can cause the brain to release all four of its so-called “love chemicals” (oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins). That, however, doesn’t explain why there are so many different kinds of chocolate. I mean, when you really get down to it, there are probably as many kinds of chocolate – and ways of enjoying chocolate (or, in my opinion, ruining chocolate) – as there are people on the planet. We can break it down as chocolatiers do into real chocolate (made from chocolate liquor and cocoa butter) and compound coatings/chocolate (cocoa powder and vegetable oil); however, even then there are different kinds of chocolate.

Some people say mass produced chocolate in the USA tastes like plastic compared to chocolate from Europe. (It kinda does, see previous paragraph to understand why.) Some people only like chocolate in candy, while others only appreciate it in cake or brownie form. Dogs can only eat white chocolate, because, well… it’s not actually chocolate. And some people will eat anything – and I do mean anything – covered in chocolate. Chocolate has a long history of being used as a gift / token of affection and friendship. It also has a long wartime history as it was consumed during the U. S. Revolutionary War and has been a standard part of the United States military ration since the original ration D or D ration bar of 1937. The D ration bar was intended to “taste a little better than a boiled potato.” Arguably, it did not (but the K ration bars arguably did.) Allied soldiers reportedly gave bits of chocolate to people they freed from concentration camps and it is still something soldiers use to establish connections in the field. According to The Chocolate Store, (US) Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate per year (over 11 pounds per person), which is significantly more than our European counterparts – who, I’ll add again, arguably have access to better mass produced chocolate.

Maybe one of these (chocolate) days, I’ll do a deep dive into why there are so many different days celebrating chocolate. (I mean, other than the obvious commercial reasons and well… because it’s chocolate.) Today, however, I just want to point out that people are as particular about chocolate as they are about beer, wine, and burgers – which makes yoga a lot like chocolate.

None of that, however, points to why we compare really amazing things to sliced bread instead of to chocolate.

“He was a very patient, inventive man.He had an office in the basement of this big house they lived in, in Davenport, Iowa, that he called his dog house. He went there every time he got in trouble with my grandmother. When he was there, he was inventing or thinking about inventing things.”

 

– Susan Steinhauer Hettinger  talking about her grandfather Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, born today in 1880 in Davenport, Iowa, invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial use. Rohwedder was an inventor and engineer who studied optometry and spent a short period of time as a jeweler. His work with jewelry and watches inspired him to create machines that would make life easier for people. After a delay, due to a fire that destroyed his original blueprints and prototype, Rohwedder was able to apply for a patent and sell his first bread-slicing machine, which also wrapped the bread to ensure freshness. He sold his first machine to his friend Frank Bench, owner of Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri and his second machine to Gustav Papendick in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1928. Papendick reportedly improved upon the way the machine wrapped the bread and applied for his own patents. While there is some argument about who sold the very first loaf sliced bread using Rohwedder’s machine, documented evidence points to Bench selling the first loaf today in 1928. It was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”

Texas Toast not-withstanding, commercially sliced bread was thinner and more easily accessible than a regular loaf of bread – so people ate more bread. Like chocolate, sliced bread was rationed in the United States during World War II. In fact, sliced bread was briefly banned in 1943. Whether the ban was lifted because of the huge outcry from regular every day housewives and people like New York City Mayor Fiorello Henry La Guardia or because there just wasn’t that much saved in the ban is a matter of opinion.

Bottom line, sliced-bread changed people’s lives and the way they moved through their days… kind of like yoga.

In addition to being World Chocolate Day and (what I’ll call) “the best day since sliced bread,” today is Ivanа-Kupala in the Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It is a Slavic summer holiday that combines the pagan celebration and fertility rituals of Kupala with Orthodox Christian observations of the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist. The observing countries use the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar) so their celebration actually occurs (for them) on June 23rd – 24th (as opposed to July 6th and 7th, in non-Slavic countries). One of the elemental aspects of the celebrations focuses on the combination of fire and water.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 7th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may be the best thing since sliced bread. 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. (This is the playlist dated 06/24/2020. If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

It’s Blackout Tuesday so consider buying chocolate from here today!

 

### C7H8N4O2 ###

 

What’s Behind Your Curtain? June 24, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

“my heart
Is true as steel:”

 

– Helena in Act II, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Life is a matter of perception. We experience certain things and that experience colors the way we experience future things. The way we experience something, based on previous experiences plays a part in what we engage ourselves, others, and our experiences. In other words, life is how you see it. In the yoga philosophy, these layers of experience or layers of perception are referred to as samskāras (which is often translated as “impressions”). Specifically, samskāras are karmic impressions formed by everything we say, do, think, and experience through our senses. These layers of impression can be very subtle, and may be imbedded deep within our subconscious and unconscious memories or they can be very much in the front of our conscious mind. Either way, they can strongly influence the way we think, speak, and act. Part of the practice, both in Yoga and in Buddhism, is to burn away the veil. Or, you could think of it as washing them away.

“Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

 

– from the song “Wash Your Spirit Clean” by Walela

There are lots of great stories about how previous experiences color future and current experiences, and one of those stories comes from Christianity and Islām. It is the story of Zechariah or Zachary. Zechariah was a Jewish priest married to a woman named Elizabeth (who happened to be a relative of the Virgin Mary). According to the gospels (specifically Luke 1:6), the couple were good people who followed the commandments and orders of God. We can take from this, and the fact that Zechariah was a rabbi, that they had spent their lives steeped in their beliefs and, not only keeping those beliefs in their heart, but also acting according to the beliefs in their heart. They were also old and considered their beyond child bearing years. So, it’s not surprising that Zechariah doubted the words of the angel Gabriel, who informed the couple that they would have a son named John and that he would “be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…. and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (Luke 1:14 – 15).

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

Based on his previous experiences, the angel’s message didn’t make sense to the rabbi. It especially didn’t make sense, because Judaism, like many other cultures and religions has very specific naming traditions. Given these traditions, what self-respecting rabbi (with a great name) would name a descendent of Aaron and Moses “John?” Zechariah wanted proof, he wanted a sign, and so Gabriel said the rabbi would be mute until the day the prophecy was fulfilled – basically, until Zechariah believed.

Before the baby was born, there were some other events that were some other unbelievable events. One of those events came in the form of a visit from Elizabeth’s relative Mary. It turned out that Mary, a virgin, had also received a visit from Gabriel and was also pregnant. Her son would be born 6 months after Elizabeth’s son – and both sons were destined for greatness. When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son was born, their friends and family assumed the baby would be named after the father. The still mute, Zechariah, however, wrote down the words that ultimately ended his muteness: “his name is John.” His written words were actually a sign that Zechariah’s experiences had changed his beliefs. Or, more precisely, his disbeliefs had changed and the veils were lifted.

“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”

 

New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke (1:59 – 1:64 NIV)

In the modern world, this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is known as John the Forerunner (in Eastern Christianity), John the Immerser (in some Baptist traditions), John the Baptizer, the prophet John (in Islām), or simply John the Baptist. Born 6 months before Jesus, he would go on to baptize Jesus and be associated with a spiritual cleansing ritual within Christian traditions. To be baptized is to have one’s sins washed away and is a way to be transformed, or to mark one’s transformation.

There are four feast days associated with Saint John the Baptist, one of which is today, June 24th. Also, as an aside, Saint John of Capistrano (b. 1386) and Saint John of the Cross (b. 1542) would have celebrated birthdays today. The fact that today is not a feast day for the other two Johns is actually more interesting than the number of feast days for John the Baptist. Most feast days are traditionally celebrated on the death date of a saint. The idea behind “dies natalis” being that upon death one is born into eternal life (and free of original sin). Today, however, is one of two feast days in Western Christianity associated with an individual’s birth – the idea being that Jesus and John the Baptist were cleansed in the womb. (NOTE: The Virgin Mary is concerned immaculate in that she was “conceived without sin.”)

As Christianity made its way through the pagan and indigenous cultures, this became a “good” day to co-opt… because it already had meaning. Today is also Midsummer. Considered the ancient (pagan) middle of Summer, it is also the astronomical beginning of Summer and was widely celebrated long before Christianity existed. Many of the pagan celebrations involved bonfires; fire being another element used in purification.

Celebrations of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist are recorded back as far as 1333, when the poet and scholar Petrarch noted women in Cologne were “rinsing their hands and arms in the Rhine ‘so that the threatening calamities of the coming year might be washed away by bathing in the river.’” For people in Quebec and for French Canadians throughout the North American continent, today has a particularly patriotic and cultural heritage significance – making it similar to Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.

“No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 24th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

 

 

### BE GRATEFUL ###