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Remember, What’s Important (& You Can Still Practice! Part II) June 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Juneteenth! Happy Dads’ Day!!

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

*

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

It is kind of wild to think about what it means to be a dad, a pa, a da, a papa, a daddy, a pappi, a paw-paw, a gran-daddy, a pepaw… today, Juneteenth, – especially if you are in the United States… especially if you are in Texas. And, if you are new to me, then maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t mention being a father. It is, after all, Father’s Day for much of the world. However, as I have mentioned in the past, today is about more – so much more – than someone’s ability to beget a child. Today, like Mothers’ Day, is about people who raise children. Sometimes they are known by different names than the ones I listed above (and my apologies to the uncle-pappies out there), but they are all still doing they job.

They are still sticking, staying, and raising the children who will be the future.

The thing is, it hasn’t always been easy to stick, stay, and raise a child. I’m not saying it’s easy now. However, now more people have a choice. Go back to yesterday in 1865, in my home state (let alone the little island where I was born) and there were a lot of people who didn’t have a choice. They sometimes didn’t get a say in when, if, and/or how they beget a child. Neither did they often get a say in whether or not they stayed to raise the child. On some level, that changed today, June 19, 1865, with General Gordon Granger’s reading of “General Order No. 3.” However, as history has shown us, the order that announced the (legal) end of slavery – in the Confederate states – didn’t change much for the emancipated people. And, not to seemingly digress, but neither did it change much for “dirt poor” white people in said states. At least, however, people had a choice.

Or did they?

In yoga, I often mention samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits), which – just like neural pathways and culture – are created through repeated behavior. They are the legacy of being alive. Slavery and having choice stolen are also part of the legacy of being alive, especially if you are in the United States, and so we can’t ignore what that legacy has given us: a culture where people who beget a child don’t always know how to stick AND a culture where stereotypes abound about the people who don’t stick.

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

*

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

I’m fortunate in that I have a father, known as Daddy (or Hey), who had a hand in raising me to be the person I am. In fact, for all the ways I am like the women in my family, those are all the ways I grew up wanting to be just like my dad – who, as my Mommy (or Ahma) was fond of saying, I thought was the smartest person on the planet. (He taught doctors and married my mom, so… just saying.) He is a man who was raised by a man who was raised by a man and they all grew up in rural Texas (on hard clay).

The fact that I grew up knowing all these Black men, and got to touch the soil that they owned, is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.

My dad went to a “Negro” school (because that was his only option), earned an undergraduate degree and a PhD from HBCUs, served in Vietnam, and then went on to teach doctors who are practicing medicine all over the world. He also raised two sons… who, along with their many accomplishments, raised their own kids and now have grandkids.

All of these things are gifts I cherish to this day. All of these things I appreciate with the understanding that everyone can’t say the same. Everyone doesn’t get the same gifts, but we get something. We get someone, a teacher, an uncle, a neighbor, a Big Brother…

And today is about celebrating those gifts.

Since today is also about celebrating emancipation and freedom, I think back to my Texas elders and ancestors – my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and all the generations I never met. I think about their dreams. I think about their dreams of freedom. I think about the dreams they had for the generations that were coming after them. I think about the fact that if I had any ancestors listening to General Order No. 3, today in 1865, they could not – in their wildest dreams – have dreamed the details of my life.

Yet they dreamed of me and a world where I could dream of things they never conceived.

In their wildest dreams, they never would have dreamed of people still fighting and struggling to rise in 2022.

Yet, in the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, WE…

“…rise
…rise
…rise.”

*

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

There is no class today, but I will be back on schedule (and on Zoom) tomorrow. If you are on my Sunday recording list, I have sent you a copy of the 2020 Dad’s Day practice and a copy of the 2021 Juneteenth practice. If you want to be added to my Sunday list (or any other list), please email me or comment below.

The “Dad’s Big Day” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

The “0619 Juneteenth” playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

The embedded links in the first paragraph of this post will take you to the appropriate date-related posts from 2020. In a 2022 update (of my Juneteenth 2020 post), The Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America (a. k. a. The Naming Commission) has recommended that Fort Rucker be renamed Fort Novosel – after Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Novosel Sr. (the son of Croatian immigrants), who flew more than 2,500 extraction missions in Vietnam, rescuing more than 5,500 soldiers – and that Fort Hood be renamed Fort Cavazos – after General Richard Cavazos, a Mexican-American Texan who served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was the Army’s first Mexican-American four-star general. These recommendations, along with seven others (including 1.5 which would be named after women who served in the military) will be in the hands of Congress in October of this year.

Let’s keep dreaming, y’all, and let’s keep dreaming (and working) on those dreams coming true.

*

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.)

*

### DREAMS OF FREEDOM (should be part of all our bios) ###

For Those Who Missed It: When Do You Feel Free? (Monday’s post practice re-post) December 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The end of the Chanukah story was the beginning of peace and freedom for the Jewish people, right? If you know your history, then you know the answer is, “Eh, sort of.” Monday’s question connects us to the story of another group of people “crying freedom.” The following was originally posted December 6, 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The Juneteenth 2021 playlist also works for this practice.

“As to the charge of treason, what is treason? I would ask. Treason in a people is the taking up of arms against the government or the siding of its enemies. In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians, for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”

– quoted from a speech given by Missouri Senator George Graham Vest on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

History and precedent are funny things. Consider, for instance, that many Americans celebrate “the declaration of independence” on July 4th, even though the vote to declare independence was cast on July 2, 1776 – which is when the then-future President John Adams thought people would celebrate – and it would take months for it to be signed by the members of the Second Continental Congress.

Then there’s that whole sticky freedom and equality thing.

It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the Committee of Five (and eventually the Second Continental Congress) declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though Article IV, Section 2 of the newly formed nation’s Constitution promised “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the 5th Amendment, which was ratified along with the Bill of Rights in 1791, states, “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It’s a sticky/problematic historical thing, because everyone within the country’s borders was not free, equal, equally represented, and/or entitled to the guaranteed the most basic rights, privileges, and immunities. More to the point, the decision to exclude certain individuals was deliberate and intentional (see Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, quoted below) – although we can argue the level of willfulness that went into the decision.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

– quoted from Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of The Constitution of the United States (link directs to amendments which nullified this section)

Bottom line, neither of the founding documents was perfect; that’s why we have amendments.

Then again, even our amendments aren’t always perfect and, more to the point, the way we remember the history of our amendments isn’t even close to perfect. Consider, for instance, the issue of freedom and representation as it pertains to slaves and their descendants. People are quick to laud and celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Abraham Lincoln September 22, 1862 and went into effect on January 1, 1863, but the document only applied to the Confederate States of America – which were still in rebellion; meaning, the document (technically) didn’t free a single slave.

In an attempt to persuade Southern states to peacefully rejoin the Union, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation for Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863. This was an attempt to not only end the Civil War, but also strengthen his proclamation. But, there were no takers. The Emancipation Proclamation remained purely symbolic – until the end of the war. Even then, however, it would be June 19, 1865, before news of freedom reached Galveston, Texas. And, yes, some of us celebrate that day, Juneteenth.

Much more expedient in its effectiveness, but arguably symbolic in the worst possible way, was the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Signed by President Lincoln on April 16, 1862, the Act eventually freed about 3,185 people (and paid out over $100,100,000 as compensation to former owners of those freed). But, outside of Washington D. C. (where it’s a holiday) very few people take notice of the day unless it falls on a weekend and delays the official tax deadline.

Before we get too far down this rocky road, please keep in mind that President Lincoln (and everyone around him) knew the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a symbolic gesture. They knew that, even after the Union won the Civil War, there was a possibility it would be nullified. Not only could it have been nullified if he had lost his re-election bid, some of his contemporaries worried that he might nullify it (on a certain level) in order to restore the Union. However, President Lincoln was quick to reassure the abolitionists. He campaigned on abolishing slavery and then he set out to fulfill that campaign promise.

“At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed; but an intervening election shows almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on members to change their views or their votes any further than, as an additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by it. It is the voice of the people now for the first time heard upon the question. In a great national crisis like ours unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable–almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority simply because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union, and among the means to secure that end such will, through the election, is most dearly declared in favor of such constitutional amendment.”

– quoted from State of the Union 1864, delivered to the United States Congress by President Abraham Lincoln (on 12/6/1864)

Today in 1864, during his State of the Union Address, President Abraham Lincoln urged Congress and the States to take action “the sooner the better” on an amendment to abolish slavery. He proceeded to very actively, more actively than had previously been witnessed in other presidencies, work towards securing the votes needed to pass and ratify what would become the 13th Amendment – which was, in fact, ratified today in 1865.

Ratification of the 13th Amendment “officially” made slavery illegal in the United States. It also rendered the Fugitive Slave Clause moot and created the opportunity for more representation, by eliminating certain aspects of the Three-Fifths Compromise. So, we celebrate today, right? Right??

Funny thing about that ratification: Even before we address things like the 18th Century “Tignon Laws,” the 19th Century “Black Codes” or “Black Laws,” and the “Jim Crow Laws” enacted in the late 19th and early 20 Centuries – or the fact that a 14th and 15th Amendment were needed to secure the rights, privileges, and immunities of former slaves and their descendants (let alone all the Acts) – we need to look at the how the 13th Amendment was ratified.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

– “Amendment XIII” of The Constitution of the United States

By the time President Lincoln was assassinated, 21 states had ratified the 13th Amendment (starting with Illinois on Feb. 1, 1865 and continuing to Arkansas on Feb. 14, 1865). When President Andrew Johnson took office, he also made it a priority to get the 13th Amendment ratified. His approach, however, was very different from his predecessor. Instead of encouraging the spirit and intention of the amendment, President Andrew Johnson spent his time assuring states that they would have the power and jurisdiction to limit the scope of the amendment. This led to states like Louisiana (Feb. 17th), South Carolina (Nov. 13th), and Alabama (Dec. 2nd) weakening the implementation and enforcement of the amendment by ratifying with caveats. Further weakening its perception, in certain areas, was the fact that ratification only required three-fourths of the states (at the time that equaled 27 out of 36).

Georgia came through today in 1865 as the 27th (and final) state needed to solidify the ratification. Five states (Oregon, California, Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey (after a 2nd vote) ratified the amendment within a few weeks. Texas would get on board over four years later (on February 18, 1870). Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi – all of whom, like New Jersey, initially rejected ratification – would make the amendment official in 1901, 1976, and 1995 (respectively). Curiously, Mississippi didn’t certify their 1995 vote until 2013.

Take a moment, if you are able, to imagine being a former slave – or even the descendant of a former slave – living in one of the states that only ratified the 13th Amendment with a “provisional statement” and/or didn’t ratify it until the 20th Century. You may know when you are technically free, but when does everyone around you recognize that you’re legally free? When do you feel free? Because remember, the Ashtavakra Gita says, “’If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’” (1:11)

So, yes, we can talk all day about the fact that slavery “officially” end in 1865. However, we must also remember that for some folks, like Missouri Senator George Graham Vest, who was born today in 1830 – and was the last of the Confederate States Senators to pass, as well as an ardent supporter of the “Lost Cause” ideology – the “War of Northern Aggression” was a war about states’ rights and there was (they believed) an economic, and therefore moral, justification for slavery.

Because he once defended an African American man in a court of law, my bias is such that I would like to say that “The Gentleman from Missouri” was more faceted that I’ve just painted him. However, he is best remembered for arguing a case about the killing of a dog. So, as eloquent as he was, I’m not sure I can make a case for him. There is, however, at least one thing upon which I will agree with him:

“Look at Adam. I have very little use for Adam. When he was asked who ate the apple he said Eve ate a bit of it first. Shame on him for trying to dodge the result. I know that if Adam had been a Missouri ex-confederate soldier he would have said: ‘I ate the apple and what are you going to do about it?’”

– quoted from a speech given by Missouri Senator George Graham Vest on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 6th) at 2:30 PM. You can 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 always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Yes, ironically, this is the “Fourth of July” playlist. The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos posted on the blog on July 4th do not appear on Spotify.]

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

“When the physical war ended, then the real practical problems presented themselves. How was slavery to be effectively abolished? And what was to be the status of the Negroes? What was the condition and power of the states which had rebelled? The legal solution of these questions was easy. The states that had attempted to rebel had failed. The must now resume their relations to the government. Slavery had been abolished as a war measure….

The difficulty with this legalistic formula was that it did not cling to facts. Slavery was not abolished even after the Thirteenth Amendment. There were four million freedmen and most of them on the same plantation, doing the same work they did before emancipation, except as their work had been interrupted and changed by the upheaval of war. Moreover, they were getting about the same wages and apparently were going to be subject to slave codes modified only in name. There were among them thousands of fugitives in the camps of the soldiers or on the streets of the cities, homeless, sick, and impoverished. They had been freed practically with no land nor money, and, save in exceptional cases, without legal status, and without protection.”

– quoted from Black Reconstruction in America (The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois): An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 by W. E. B Du Bois

### WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FREE? ###

First Friday Night Special #9: “The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself from…” (a post practice post) July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #8 from July 2nd. This was a restorative practice with opportunities with a lot of stillness and silence.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.]

“On June 7, [Medgar] Evers spoke at a rally in Jackson. The speech Evers gave was one of the most emotional of his career:

‘Freedom is never free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them….’

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2 – A Short but Heroic Life: The Jackson Movement” of The Assassination of Medgar Evers by Myra Ribeiro

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, this is the time of year when I my mind keeps thinking about Freedom, Liberation, and Independence. Since I was born in Texas, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life. And, even though I don’t always mention it around this time, I often think about what it must have been like for Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) and the other enslaved Mende, West Africans who revolted on the Amistad around July 1, 1839 – and how John Quincy Adams (then a 73-year old former president and, at the time an active member of the House of Representatives) helped them secure their freedom through the U. S. Courts system. I think about how Caesar Rodney, a Delaware delegate of the American Continental Congress and Brigadier General of Delaware Militia (just to name a few of his roles), rode two days in – across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams; enduring extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms; all while suffering from suffering from asthma and wearing a face mask to cover his cancer-ravage jaw – just to represent his constituents and “vote for independence” today in 1776. And, I know, he wasn’t specifically riding for me (or people like me), but that’s not the point.

My point in bringing him up every year is the same reason I think about (and want others to think about) why John Adams (who would go on to become president) thought people would be celebrating today, July 2nd, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” (according to a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776). It’s also why I talk about a descendant of slaves who was born today in 1908, given the name Thoroughgood Marshall, and grew up to become chief counsel for the NAACP and a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Finally, it’s why I’ve been known to reference Medgar Wiley Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was born today in 1952, worked as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP, and served in the United States Army during World War II – before he was assassinated because people objected to his efforts to overturn segregation and enforce voting rights for African Americans.

Within that last sentence is my ultimate point: Freedom, Liberation, and Independence require effort – effort that should be celebrated rather than taken for granted and/or forgotten. While I highlight the efforts that take place on a national, constitutional, and legal front, let us not forget that freed, liberation, and independence also have to be achieved on a personal front. And that too requires effort: physical, mental, emotional, and energetic effort.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In Yoga Sūtra 2.18, Patanjali breaks down the composition of the “objective world” – that which we can sense – and explains that “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. He goes on, in the subsequent sūtra, to further breakdown the range of the inherent forces that make up the world, thereby giving some explanation as to how one might understand (and even attempt to explain) the nature of things. However, in Yoga Sūtra 2.20 he throws a bit of a curveball – one he had already warned was coming: We can only see what our mind shows us.

In other words, we can only understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised when we are ready to understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised. Furthermore, as long as we are stuck between freedom and bondage, we will interact with others through that same paradigm. We will do things that create suffering and, therefore, create bondage. Here I am talking about physical and legal bondage as well as mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bondage. There are, after all, multiple ways to hold someone back or hold someone down. And, on a certain level, it doesn’t matter if that “someone” is our self or someone else. Ultimately, our belief in bondage goes hand-in-hand with our attachment to the things that cause suffering. Just as effort is required to break physical and legal shackles, effort is required to break mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual shackles.

Just a few years before I did my first yoga teacher training, I was in a situation where most of my yoga practice was through an online practice group and via Steve Ross’s Inhale. Yes, it’s had for even me to imagine myself getting up for a yoga class that was broadcast (on the Oxygen Network) at 5 or 6 AM, but that’s what I did off and on for about 6 months out of a year. I loved the practice so much that at one point I looked up his book. Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About is where I first heard two of my favorite elephant stories – although one is really, really horrible.’

According to the horrible story, circuses train elephants by shackling them when they are very young. The metal shackle is first attached to chain (maybe about 12 feet long) that is driven into the ground with a metal stake. You can imagine what happens if the young elephant manages to pull the stake up and make a run for it. After some years, the metal stake is replaced with a wooden stake. Then, the stake is removed but the chain remains. Eventually, the chain is removed and then, finally, the shackle may be removed. Despite no longer being physically tethered, the adult elephant has been conditioned to stay within a 12-foot radius – and so it does.

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

– quoted from The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7 and 1.11) by Thomas Byrom

What is true about the elephant is also true about human beings (and the nature of human beings): effort is required to shackle someone and effort is required to be free of the shackles. The effort and the shackles can be physical. They can, simultaneously and independently, also be mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. As an example, consider something that has been in the news pretty much since the tignon laws were passed in New Orleans in 1786: Black people’s hair.

Tignon Laws required women of color to wear head coverings in public so that, no matter how fair (in complexion), how “elegantly” dressed, and/or how (legal) free the woman might be she could be identified as someone who could – under the “right” circumstances – be bought and sold at will (just not her will), and thus could be treated accordingly. A similar law, established in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1776, prohibited women of color from wearing shoes – again, with the intention of subjugating the women. In both cases, the women the laws were intended to shackle turned the restrictions into fashion statements that extended beyond the statutes. They kept their spirits up and took back some of their power… but they were still marginalized.

As integration moved into the workplace, some American corporations created employee manuals which included acceptable and unacceptable hairstyles and/or blocked the advancement of certain people based on their hairstyles. While many were (and are) quick to say that the hairstyles in question were “unprofessional,” the hairstyles were (and are) consistently traditional ways to manage and style Black hair. By traditional, I mean that you would see these hairstyles in pre-colonial Africa. Equally important, these are hairstyles that could/can be achieved without harsh chemicals. In other words, they are natural….yet, they were deemed unnatural by people with different hair textures and types.

On July 21, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, upheld an earlier ruling in favor of Beverly Jenkins (in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance Inc.) – although they had previously restricted how far the ruling could be applied. Ms. Jenkins had sued her former employer (in Indianapolis) on the grounds that she had been denied “promotions and better assignments” and was ultimately terminated “‘because of her race, sex, black styles of hair and dress,’ in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C, 2000E et seq. and 42 U.S.C, 1981.” The basis of her lawsuit? She wore her hair in an afro.

Despite the aforementioned 1976 ruling, a New York court ruled against a woman who sued American Airlines in 1981, because (the court) decided that “an all-braided hairstyle is a different matter” than an afro, because it was an “artifice.” Strictly speaking in terms of word meanings, “artifice” is defined as “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.” Keep that definition in mind when you consider that the same New York woman who was told that she could not braid her natural hair and keep her job “even if [the hairstyle was] socioculturally associated with a particular race or nationality,” could use lye to straighten her hair (so it appeared a different texture) and then curl it (or even dye it) and still keep her job. She could do all of that even though it would result in a hairstyle “associated with a particular race or nationality”… it just happened to have been the politically acceptable race.

There are similar cases over the last forty years, including situations with school children and even student athletes who have been allowed to wear their natural hairstyles one week and then told they had to cut their hair – or not compete – another week. On July 3, 2019, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.

“Back in 1964, a hotel manager named James Brock dumped hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool that Black protesters had dived into as a form of protest against segregation, leaving the swimmers with chemical burns. In 2018, a white man demanded that a Black woman show her ID to swim at a private community pool in North Carolina, despite there being no official rules at the time stating that she needed to show any form of identification to enter the area. When she rightfully refused, he called the police.”

– quoted from the July 30, 2020 InStyle article entitled, “Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel on Her Haircare Routine and Why More Black Women Should Get in the Pool” by Kayla Greaves

Recently, as in today/Friday, it was announced that swimming caps designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics. This was decided by FINA (Fédération Internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation), the Switzerland-based governing body, who said (a) that the caps – designed in conjunction with an Olympic athlete – “[did not follow] the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Now, if you don’t see a problem with this situation, I don’t blame you; however, I would encourage you to consider – visualize even – the makeup of the people making the decision and the makeup of the people being affected by the decision. Consider, also, the governing body’s “best knowledge” doesn’t really include a lot of Black bodies. Alice Dearing, the Olympian who worked with Soul Cap, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event. Ever.

Two-time Olympian Enith Brigitha, born on Curacao, swam for the Netherlands in the 1970’s and became the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games). She also set five short course records and won a silver medal and two additional bronze medals at the World Championships (and some say she would have won an Olympic gold were it not for circumstances beyond her control). She was swimming during a time when, in America at least, de-segregated pools was still a new concept, and not one that was evenly enforced. She was also competing at a time when no one else looked her in the pools where she was competing. In pictures, her hair is cut short. If you look at a picture of her with her peers, all fresh from the pool, some of the other young ladies also have short hair; however, like today, the majority swam with ponytails or pigtails.

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith became the first African-American woman to score in a NCAA final and the first to be a first-team Division I All-American. In 1999, Alison Terry became the first Black woman to make a U.S. National Team when she qualified for the Pan American Games. In 2004, Puerto Rican-born Maritza Correla became the first African-American to represent the United States at the Olympics – she won a silver medal as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. That same year, a French swimmer named Malia Metella won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle – which was the highest individual Olympic placing for a Black female swimmer. Ten years later, at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, a Jamaican swimmer named Alia Atkinson became the first Black woman to win a swimming world title. Just a few months later, at the beginning of 2015, there was the first all African-American podium an NCAA swimming championship, when Division I athletes Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds placed first, second, and third (respectively) in the 100-yard freestyle. Simone Manuel would go on to become the first Black woman to win Olympic gold as a swimmer (2016), setting an Olympic and an American time record in the process. Since 2016, she has won three additional individual world championship titles and is planning to compete defend her title in Tokyo.

“‘It is kind of emotional as well… Being a swimmer in a predominantly white sport just exacerbates it in my mind so I am just hyper aware of everything. I am the only Black swimmer on the deck every day. That is something I have always noticed, but now it affects me. All those feelings you suppress as a kid.’

[Natalie] Hinds said there are situations that she sees all the time from people comparing he hai to a poodle, to specific comments about her race.”

– quoted from the September 1, 2020, Swimming World article entitled, “Natalie Hinds Discusses ‘Fighting to be Equal,’ Using Her Platform in Fireside Chat With Elizabeth Beisel” by Dan D’Addona, Swimming World Managing Editor

Natural hair, regardless of race or ethnicity, is classified by curl type – typically ranging from “straight” which would theoretically fall in a 0 or 1 category to 3 graduating types of 2, 3, and 4. So, there are 6 types that are visually recognizable as “wavy,” “curly,” and/or “kinky.” As mentioned above, Enith Brigitha wore her hair short. In 1988, Sybil Smith’s hair was relaxed (i.e., chemically straightened) and in most pictures it appears relatively short. That same is true of Malia Metella. Alison Terry’s hair appears to be 2 (B or C, but maybe 3A) and Maritza Correla’s hair appears to be type 3; meaning they could both (theoretically) pull their dry hair into a ponytail and when their hair is wet it would still hang around their shoulders. This same seems to be true for Alia Atkinson and Lia Neal.

Natalie Hinds appears to wear her hair natural, sometimes with braids, (and possibly has a 4A curl); but, in most of her public facing pictures she’s wearing her swim cap – and her hair is clearly pushing the limits of the cap. Simone Manuel sometimes wears her hair long, and has been featured in articles about natural hair care where she said (in 2020), “…I’m someone who genuinely feels that if you want to be successful in something, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And for me, part of that is my hair.” No shade to my hometown-sister – and I get that chlorine is harsh on hair – but I can’t helping wondering when one of her peers had to “sacrifice” their hair for their ambitions. I also can’t help but think of a dear, dear friend of mine, who is slightly older than me, and who once said that when she was growing up (here in the States) she didn’t realize having natural (unprocessed) hair was an option.

Even if we disregard all of the stereotypes about Black people and swimming that have been perpetuated over the years, the bottom line is that this is the bulk of FINA’s “knowledge” related to Black hair and Olympic swimmers. Take a moment to really notice that even as I have grouped the ladies and their hair, I’ve left out some significant facts pertaining to why their hair is so different – even within those groupings. Even more to the point, I’m willing to bet money that most of the nine athletes mentioned above use completely different hair products than the other aforementioned athletes.

“Intelligence is connected with the brain, but behind intelligence even stands the Purusha, the unit, where all different sensations and perceptions join and become one. The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Letting go of what binds us and restricts us requires effort. It often requires external as well as internal effort – although, more often than not, those two go hand-in-hand. However, we can’t begin the process without acknowledging our tethers: our shackles, our chains, and our metal or wooden stake. We have to recognize what is being done to us, what we are doing to ourselves, and what we are doing to others.

This can sound all theoretical and metaphorical, but one way to think about it is to just acknowledge where you are holding tension in your mind-body. What is limiting you physically? What mental and/or emotional limitations are in balance? Even if you don’t completely understand (or believe) the energetic and spiritual ramifications of those physical-mental-emotional blocks, take a moment to consider what freedom, liberation, and independence mean to you – and then go to your “Freedom Place” and feel those embodied qualities.

Just like people have “Happy Places” that we can visualize (or sometimes, remember), I think it’s a good idea to have a “Freedom Place.” Your Freedom Place might be your Happy Place. It might be a real place and/or a real memory. Of course, it could just be a feeling, a combination of sensations. No matter how you come to understand it, know that in your Freedom Place you can take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day, because you are:

  • Free of fear, doubt, anxiety, grief and anything else that shackles us (and others).
  • Liberated from the bondage of judgement and strong emotions or passions – which, remember, comes to us from the Latin by way of Old French and Middle English, from a word that means “suffer.”
  • Independent of responsibilities and burdens.

In your Freedom Place, you are carefree, but not careless. In your Freedom Place, there is no tension in your body or your mind and you recognize your possibilities. Of course, to feel this free we have change the condition of our hearts and minds – so that we change our understanding. To liberate ourselves from judgement (including self-recrimination), we must develop some insight into the attachments (shackles) that lead to suffering. Finally, being independent of our burdens requires us to lay our burdens down. When we lay our burdens down, we can either walk away from what no longer serves us – and maybe never served us – or we can choose to pick up our opportunities. Just so you know; opportunities are lighter than burdens. Furthermore, when we have a lighter load, we can share someone else’s load without feeling like it’s an imposition. When our load is light, we gratefully and joyful, can help others.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Even when we can’t name everything that holds us down and holds us back, even when we don’t find it particularly helpful to name things, we can come to the mat and start the process of releasing, relaxing, and breathing. Remember, breath is our ultimate (“pranic”) tool. We can use it to bring awareness to different areas in the body and then to release tension in those areas. We can use it to create space and then, also, to engage space. It can set our pace in a moving practice and allow us to stay centered and grounded in every practice. The way we breathe can affect our mood (and overall emotional state) in positive way or in a detrimental way. And, while the goal in yoga is always to take the deepest breaths you’ve taken all day, some practices cultivate a deeper breath right off the bat. One such practice is a Restorative Yoga practice.

You can think of Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga as 1st cousins – in that they resemble each other on outside, but the internal experience is different. There are a lot of times in a Yin Yoga practice when people can’t wait to get out of a pose (and there may be a lot of groaning and moaning as they come out). With Restorative Yoga, however, sometimes people want to stay in a pose a little longer – even when the pose is held for twice as long as you would hold a Yin Yoga pose. There also tend to be more sighs than groans (and less cursing of my name). Both practices can be really prop-heavy, but it is (in some ways) easier to practice restorative without the props. The practice we did for the July “First Friday Night Special” featured three of the most common Restorative Yoga poses, a very soft twist, and a super sweet variation I recently learned from Aprille Walker, of Yoga Ranger Studio. (Because, like you, I’ve been practicing online.) There’s also a lot of silence and stillness!

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “030521 Give Up, Let Go, Trustful Surrender” PLEASE NOTE: I recommend doing this practice in silence or using one of the first two tracks on the playlists. The first tracks are similar, but only YouTube has my original choice for the 2nd track.]

### “FREE YOUR MIND / AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW” ~ En Vogue ###

When Do You Feel Free? December 6, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“As to the charge of treason, what is treason? I would ask. Treason in a people is the taking up of arms against the government or the siding of its enemies. In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians, for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”

– quoted from a speech given by Missouri Senator George Graham Vest on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

History and precedent are funny things. Consider, for instance, that many Americans celebrate “the declaration of independence” on July 4th, even though the vote to declare independence was cast on July 2, 1776 – which is when the then-future President John Adams thought people would celebrate – and it would take months for it to be signed by the members of the Second Continental Congress.

Then there’s that whole sticky freedom and equality thing.

It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the Committee of Five (and eventually the Second Continental Congress) declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though Article IV, Section 2 of the newly formed nation’s Constitution promised “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the 5th Amendment, which was ratified along with the Bill of Rights in 1791, states, “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It’s a sticky/problematic historical thing, because everyone within the country’s borders was not free, equal, equally represented, and/or entitled to the guaranteed the most basic rights, privileges, and immunities. More to the point, the decision to exclude certain individuals was deliberate and intentional (see Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, quoted below) – although we can argue the level of willfulness that went into the decision.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

– quoted from Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of The Constitution of the United States (link directs to amendments which nullified this section)

Bottom line, neither of the founding documents was perfect; that’s why we have amendments.

Then again, even our amendments aren’t always perfect and, more to the point, the way we remember the history of our amendments isn’t even close to perfect. Consider, for instance, the issue of freedom and representation as it pertains to slaves and their descendants. People are quick to laud and celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Abraham Lincoln September 22, 1862 and went into effect on January 1, 1863, but the document only applied to the Confederate States of America – which were still in rebellion; meaning, the document (technically) didn’t free a single slave.

In an attempt to persuade Southern states to peacefully rejoin the Union, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation for Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863. This was an attempt to not only end the Civil War, but also strengthen his proclamation. But, there were no takers. The Emancipation Proclamation remained purely symbolic – until the end of the war. Even then, however, it would be June 19, 1865, before news of freedom reached Galveston, Texas. And, yes, some of us celebrate that day, Juneteenth.

Much more expedient in its effectiveness, but arguably symbolic in the worst possible way, was the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Signed by President Lincoln on April 16, 1862, the Act eventually freed about 3,185 people (and paid out over $100,100,000 as compensation to former owners of those freed). But, outside of Washington D. C. (where it’s a holiday) very few people take notice of the day unless it falls on a weekend and delays the official tax deadline.

Before we get too far down this rocky road, please keep in mind that President Lincoln (and everyone around him) knew the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a symbolic gesture. They knew that, even after the Union won the Civil War, there was a possibility it would be nullified. Not only could it have been nullified if he had lost his re-election bid, some of his contemporaries worried that he might nullify it (on a certain level) in order to restore the Union. However, President Lincoln was quick to reassure the abolitionists. He campaigned on abolishing slavery and then he set out to fulfill that campaign promise.

“At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed; but an intervening election shows almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on members to change their views or their votes any further than, as an additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by it. It is the voice of the people now for the first time heard upon the question. In a great national crisis like ours unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable–almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority simply because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union, and among the means to secure that end such will, through the election, is most dearly declared in favor of such constitutional amendment.”

– quoted from State of the Union 1864, delivered to the United States Congress by President Abraham Lincoln (on 12/6/1864)

Today in 1864, during his State of the Union Address, President Abraham Lincoln urged Congress and the States to take action “the sooner the better” on an amendment to abolish slavery. He proceeded to very actively, more actively than had previously been witnessed in other presidencies, work towards securing the votes needed to pass and ratify what would become the 13th Amendment – which was, in fact, ratified today in 1865.

Ratification of the 13th Amendment “officially” made slavery illegal in the United States. It also rendered the Fugitive Slave Clause moot and created the opportunity for more representation, by eliminating certain aspects of the Three-Fifths Compromise. So, we celebrate today, right? Right??

Funny thing about that ratification: Even before we address things like the 18th Century “Tignon Laws,” the 19th Century “Black Codes” or “Black Laws,” and the “Jim Crow Laws” enacted in the late 19th and early 20 Centuries – or the fact that a 14th and 15th Amendment were needed to secure the rights, privileges, and immunities of former slaves and their descendants (let alone all the Acts) – we need to look at the how the 13th Amendment was ratified.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

– “Amendment XIII” of The Constitution of the United States

By the time President Lincoln was assassinated, 21 states had ratified the 13th Amendment (starting with Illinois on Feb. 1, 1865 and continuing to Arkansas on Feb. 14, 1865). When President Andrew Johnson took office, he also made it a priority to get the 13th Amendment ratified. His approach, however, was very different from his predecessor. Instead of encouraging the spirit and intention of the amendment, President Andrew Johnson spent his time assuring states that they would have the power and jurisdiction to limit the scope of the amendment. This led to states like Louisiana (Feb. 17th), South Carolina (Nov. 13th), and Alabama (Dec. 2nd) weakening the implementation and enforcement of the amendment by ratifying with caveats. Further weakening its perception, in certain areas, was the fact that ratification only required three-fourths of the states (at the time that equaled 27 out of 36).

Georgia came through today in 1865 as the 27th (and final) state needed to solidify the ratification. Five states (Oregon, California, Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey (after a 2nd vote) ratified the amendment within a few weeks. Texas would get on board over four years later (on February 18, 1870). Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi – all of whom, like New Jersey, initially rejected ratification – would make the amendment official in 1901, 1976, and 1995 (respectively). Curiously, Mississippi didn’t certify their 1995 vote until 2013.

Take a moment, if you are able, to imagine being a former slave – or even the descendant of a former slave – living in one of the states that only ratified the 13th Amendment with a “provisional statement” and/or didn’t ratify it until the 20th Century. You may know when you are technically free, but when does everyone around you recognize that you’re legally free? When do you feel free? Because remember, the Ashtavakra Gita says, “’If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’” (1:11)

So, yes, we can talk all day about the fact that slavery “officially” end in 1865. However, we must also remember that for some folks, like Missouri Senator George Graham Vest, who was born today in 1830 – and was the last of the Confederate States Senators to pass, as well as an ardent supporter of the “Lost Cause” ideology – the “War of Northern Aggression” was a war about states’ rights and there was (they believed) an economic, and therefore moral, justification for slavery.

Because he once defended an African American man in a court of law, my bias is such that I would like to say that “The Gentleman from Missouri” was more faceted that I’ve just painted him. However, he is best remembered for arguing a case about the killing of a dog. So, as eloquent as he was, I’m not sure I can make a case for him. There is, however, at least one thing upon which I will agree with him:

“Look at Adam. I have very little use for Adam. When he was asked who ate the apple he said Eve ate a bit of it first. Shame on him for trying to dodge the result. I know that if Adam had been a Missouri ex-confederate soldier he would have said: ‘I ate the apple and what are you going to do about it?’”

– quoted from a speech given by Missouri Senator George Graham Vest on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 6th) at 2:30 PM. You can 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 always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Yes, ironically, this is the “Fourth of July” playlist. The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos posted on the blog on July 4th do not appear on Spotify.]

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

“When the physical war ended, then the real practical problems presented themselves. How was slavery to be effectively abolished? And what was to be the status of the Negroes? What was the condition and power of the states which had rebelled? The legal solution of these questions was easy. The states that had attempted to rebel had failed. The must now resume their relations to the government. Slavery had been abolished as a war measure….

The difficulty with this legalistic formula was that it did not cling to facts. Slavery was not abolished even after the Thirteenth Amendment. There were four million freedmen and most of them on the same plantation, doing the same work they did before emancipation, except as their work had been interrupted and changed by the upheaval of war. Moreover, they were getting about the same wages and apparently were going to be subject to slave codes modified only in name. There were among them thousands of fugitives in the camps of the soldiers or on the streets of the cities, homeless, sick, and impoverished. They had been freed practically with no land nor money, and, save in exceptional cases, without legal status, and without protection.”

– quoted from Black Reconstruction in America (The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois): An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 by W. E. B Du Bois

### WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FREE? ###

Yes, We Say “Happy Juneteenth!” June 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere”

– “General Order No. 3” read by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June Nineteenth, 1865

“Just outside the Oval Office hangs a painting depicting the night of December 31, 1862. In it, African-American men, women, and children crowd around a single pocket watch, waiting for the clock to strike midnight and the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect. As the slaves huddle anxiously in the dimly lit room, we can sense how even two more minutes seems like an eternity to wait for one’s freedom. But the slaves of Galveston, Texas, had to wait more than two years after Lincoln’s decree and two months after Appomattox to receive word that they were free at last.

Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news.”

– President Barack Obama’s “Statement by the President on the Observance of Juneteenth” (2016)

Today is Juneteenth – and for me, it’s personal.

Over the years, as I’ve taught yoga on June 19th and shared the story of this day’s significance I’ve been surprised at the number of people – including some  Black Americans – who didn’t know about Juneteenth. Coming from Texas, I thought everybody (outside of the State of Alabama) celebrated Juneteenth. Buddy, was I wrong! Here it is 2020 and some folks – even some who, theoretically, have commemorated the date – are just now hearing about it.

By now, as it has been in the news this week and will be all over the news today, you have heard some version of the story. My version involves a proclamation, a painting, a bill, a slew of presidents and legislators, the State of Alabama, and me. Here’s the short version with a little back story:

  • On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. The act essentially ended slavery in the capital city (although it did not apply to fugitive slaves who had escaped from Maryland) and set aside over $100,100,000 as compensation for the 3,185 people who were freed.
    • You can read my post on the Emancipation Act here. There’s also a playlist on YouTube and Spotify that works for today.
  • Five months later (on September 22, 1862), President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. Remember, the proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States of America that were still in rebellion. It did not apply to slaves in the so-called “border states” (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and the parts of Virginia that would become West Virginia), which were not in rebellion, or Confederate States that were under Union control (Tennessee, lower Louisiana, and Southeast Virginia).
    • In reference to the painting mentioned in the aforementioned quote, can you imagine being one of those people, watching the clock, anticipating a new year and a brand new start? Can you imagine being free when you and generations of your ancestors had been enslaved? Can you imagine what it would feel like to look forward to living what had previously been a myth or fairy tale?
    • Now, imagine the clock struck midnight – twice – and you were still a slave. How do you feel now?
  • On June 18, 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2,000 federal troops. The next morning, today, June 19th, he stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa and read General Order #3. “Juneteenth” is a portmanteau of June Nineteenth and this announcement is what people are celebrating today. (Although, some people call it “Emancipation Day.”)
    • Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or a special day of observance in 46 states. One of the exceptions is Alabama, which (last time I checked – in other words, as of today) has three official state holidays honoring the Confederacy. Yes, you read and understood that correctly: In the State of Alabama, Robert E. Lee Day (third Monday in January), Confederate Memorial Day (fourth Monday in April), and Jefferson Davis Day (first Monday in June) are paid holidays.

There were no cell phones or internet in 1865, but people had ways of communicating across the country and it is unlikely that no one in Texas, or other Southern states, had heard about the Emancipation Proclamation. Galveston was a major port in 1865. So, even if no rumors had drifted down from the Union, also unlikely, rumors could have easily come from other “international” sources. In all probability, slave owners and their slaves were aware that slavery had been abolished. There are all kinds of theories and conspiracies about what took so long, but that’s another story for another day. Bottom line, part of the reason General Granger came with troops was because he was prepared to meet resistance and needed to enforce all aspects of the general order.

General Granger and the federal troops were not only meant to ensure slaves were freed, but also to ensure the newly freed would keep living in their slave quarters and doing the same work. Sure, they would now (in theory) work for wages; however, the wages would be set by those who had kept them in bondage. To add insult to injury, those same “employers” would also now be “landlords” – and there was nothing keeping the employer/landlord from charging more for rent and board than they would pay in wages (which is exactly what they did).  Furthermore, the federal troops intended to enforce the last part of the order: “[The freedmen] are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Now, I personally have a problem with that last part, because I think – and believe most people would agree – that if you had worked all your life, you deserved a day off. If you and everyone you knew had always been forced to wake up, eat, sleep, even defecate according to someone else’s schedule, it seems like it would be reasonable to have a day or two where you did absolutely nothing – or everything – according to your own whim and desires. But, the general order made it illegal to do nothing and also illegal to seek asylum or refuge at a place people typically went for protection. (Remember, there were no police departments as we have them today.)

People still had impromptu celebrations back in 1865 and in subsequent years. However, segregation and Jim Crow laws made it challenging to have such celebrations. One of the big challenges was that it was illegal for Black people to congregate in public parks. To get around the law, communities of color would pool their money together to purchase land, essentially creating their own parks. If you have ever been to an “Emancipation Park,” there’s a good chance you were standing on hallowed ground: land purchased by former slaves and their descendants specifically to celebrate freedom.

But, there is more to the story. (Since I’m keeping it short-ish and sweet, I’ll leave out the rest of the bad news and get to more of the sweet stuff.)

  • Fast forward ninety-eight years and a day,* to June 20, 1963, when United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) introduced H. R. 7152 in the House of Representatives. This legislation had originally been proposed by President John F. Kennedy and would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would pass (with amendment) in the Senate on Juneteenth 1964 – exactly ninety-nine years after General Granger read General Order #3 in Galveston. The amendment would be agreed upon shortly thereafter, on another fateful date (July 2nd), and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It specifically prohibits “unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.” This is not to say that such discrimination ceased to exist. It simply made such discrimination unconstitutional.
    • Additional, amendments, acts, and laws would be proposed and/or approved over the years in order to ensure constitutional rights continue to be upheld.

“There were ‘things’ to be done. Nobody asked me what I meant by ‘things.’ I couldn’t have defined them if I had tried. ‘Things’ had to do with the study of music (this was a family interest), the books I read, and the dreams of travel, and the glimpses of elegance I caught on Fifth Avenue. But ‘things’ had also to do with the way people were hurt and how, because they were hurt, they were angry and quarreled and were jealous of one another.”

 

– from You Never Leave Brooklyn: The Autobiography of Emanuel Celler by Emanuel Celler, U. S. Representative (D-NY)

That’s more or less where I normally end the story. But, this year, there’s a footnote. Because, this week (specifically on June 15th), 155 years after General Granger arrived on Galveston Island and 56 years after the Civil Rights Act became law, the United States Supreme Court upheld a portion of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6 -3 decision, the highest court in the country affirmed that it is unconstitutional for an employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. That right there, my friends, is a civil rights victory that I plan to celebrate – even though it doesn’t directly affect me. (Not sure exactly where Representative Celler would stand on this verdict, but as a champion of immigration rights I think he would have loved the DACA decision that came yesterday!)

“Everything you do, every thought you have, every word you say creates a memory that you will hold in your body. It’s imprinted on you and affects you in subtle ways – ways you are not always aware of. With that in mind, be very conscious and selective.”

 

– Phylicia Rashād, née Ayers-Allen (born in Houston, Texas today in 1948)

 

“Memory is the story. Our memories are what make us.”

 

– Tobias Wolff (born in Birmingham, Alabama today in 1945)

So, that’s the story of Juneteenth – and for me, it’s personal.

You may think it’s personal because I’m a Black woman from Texas. But the story of Juneteenth is particularly personal to me because I’m BOI, Born on Island – yes, Galveston Island. I was born mere minutes from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. It’s part of my story.

Today, I’m taking a personal day. It’s going to be as much reflection as celebration, with a little bit of remembering thrown in for good measure. At some points along the way I will give thanks. I may go down the rabbit hole again trying to find out if there’s anything named for General Gordon Granger other than a “fort” that’s really a park. Or maybe I’ll just spend my lunch break fantasizing about Fort Rucker (or Fort Hood) becoming Fort Granger…or even Fort Emanuel Celler (remind me to tell you his fascinating story some day)! You can wish me a Happy Juneteenth, but I probably won’t respond until tomorrow.

*NOTE: An extra day is noteworthy, because, historically, it provides a legal marker for the completion of a year. In European feudal societies, a serf who escaped and was absent from their place of servitude for a year and a day, was legally recognized as free and granted certain rights and privileges – just as former slaves in America were granted certain rights on July 28, 1868, with the ratification of the 14th Amendment. Additionally, in a variety of ancient traditions – from the pagan Celts to the Vodou practicing Haitians – a year and a day is a sacred period, a period of time connected to an honorable duty that transcends lifetimes and generations.

Amber Answers (Juneteenth Questions)

### DON’T LOOK IN THE MIRROR, LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF ###