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A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In American English, “bad” has two meanings, one of which is “even better than good.” The saying “bad to the bone” fits with that positive description and is often associated with someone who is “cool,” rebellious, and radical in a way that bucks the system… in a way, even, that can bring much needed change. There are some people who play with the idea of being “bad to the bones,” but the truth is that that kind of goodness has nothing to do with the clothes one wears so much as it has to do with what’s underneath, what’s at the core and the roots of a person. In other words, what matters is who they are all the way down to their bones.

One of my favorite inspirational reminders is based on the idea that, in Judaism, there are 248 mitzvot aseh (“positive commandments”), which are commands to perform certain activities, and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (“negative commandments”), which are commands to abstain from certain activities; meaning, we should avoid avoid the negative things every day of the year and do the good things with “every bone in our body.”* To me, someone who manages to do that in a very public way is “bad to the bone.”

The following is an abridged version of a post from January of 2021. Click here for the original post.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. He felt, at times, abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) at 12:00 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. 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202021 To the Bone”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

A Simple Truth (the “missing” Monday post) January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post related to the Monday, January 10th practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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.

“Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.”

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

Born January 10, 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, poet Philip Levine was the second of three sons (and the first identical twin) born to Jewish immigrants just as the Nazi party was getting a foothold in Germany. He had the unfortunate experience of watching anti-Semitism rise in is own (proverbial) backyard and to also witness how racism (and other -isms) created a schism between the different people who made up the working class. Following in the tradition of Walt Whitman, he started giving voice to America’s voiceless and – even after he left the “mitten state” – he wrote poems about the plight of regular people in his hometown.

In some ways, Mr. Levine followed in his parent’s footsteps. His father, Harry Levine, owned a used (car) parts store; his mother, Esther Priscol (Pryszkulnik) Levine, sold books; and, starting at the age of fourteen, the poet worked in auto factories as he pursued his literary degrees. After graduating from Detroit Central High School, he earned his Bachelor of Arts, in literature, from Wayne (State) University and then “unofficially” attended classes at the University of Iowa. He earned a mail-order master’s degree and then returned to the University of Iowa to teach and pursue a Masters of Fine Arts, which he completed in 1957.

By the he graduated from the University of Iowa (1957), he was beginning to gain significant recognition as a poet. In addition to teaching at a plethora of major universities around the country, he was lauded and recognized with national literary awards, including the two National Book Awards (1980 and 1991), Guggenheim Foundation fellowships (1973 and 1980), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1995, for the collection The Simple Truth), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1987). He served on the Board of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1000-2006) and as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (also known as the U. S. Poet Laureate) from 2011-2012. In collaboration with saxophonist and composer Benjamin Boone, Philip Levine created a collection of jazz poetry, “a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music” – which was released in 2018, almost exactly three years and a month after his death. As a writer, he not only protested the Vietnam War, he kept speaking for the disenfranchised using simple truths… truths that could not be denied.

“Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.”

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

The sixth chakra, which is located around the third eye (and about in inch into your forehead, half an inch above there), is symbolically associated with big “T” Truth, and our ability to seek it, perceive it, and recognize it when we encounter it. The energy of this area is a curious energy, in that it continually pushes us to question everything. It supports healthy self-inquiry when the energy is balanced; however, when out of balance, it can manifest feelings of doubt or an inability to “see the truth” when it is right in front of you.

In Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith, Ph.D., connects the sixth chakra to “knowledge, understanding and transcendent consciousness,” as well as to intuition. In Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, Caroline Myss, Ph.D. further connects it to the Christian sacrament of Ordination and the sefirot (“emanations” or Divine attributes) of Binah (Divine “understanding”) and Hokhmah or Chokmah (Divine “wisdom”). Similar to the love described in the sixth mansion of Saint Teresa of Ávila‘s El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas, ordination distinguishes and elevates the faithful. Note, also, that in the Kabbalah-inspired system I have previously mentioned, the “higher” or mind-related sefirot are not included in a physical practice of the Divine attributes.

My standard summary of how the energetic and symbolic elements manifest in our lives goes something like this: Consider how where you come from determines the friends you make (or don’t make); how where you come from and the people around you play a role in how you see yourself; and how where you come from, the friends you make along the way; and how you see yourself, play a part in how (or if) you embrace yourself (or others), embrace a moment, and extend your gifts out into the world – or not. Consider also how where you come from, the friends you make along the way, how you see yourself, and whether you extend what’s in your heart connect to how you express yourself, how you know (or don’t know) the truth when you perceive it, and how all of that contributes to your experience of this present moment.

That summary can be extrapolated and applied to a variety of scenarios, including how we cultivate new habits and achieve our goals, dreams, and desires. Consider, for instance, that the first chakra is related to physical survival and physical form – which means it is the matter. It’s the plan. Friends are our support system, cheering us on and/or providing guidance, while also providing accountability. When I think of the third chakra, the solar plexus, as it relates to our self esteem, our personality, and our sense of self, I think of the idea that we have “fire in the belly.” We can think of this idiom literally, in terms of digestive juices – which is a whole other conversation – and we can think of it as the internal element that keeps us physically motivated. To continue the metaphor, it’s what makes us hungry for more.

Then there is the heart, which connects the physical with the mental and emotional. It’s the energetic-emotional connection between the mind and the body. Here, it is the connection between the idea (the pattern) and the manifestation (the matter). This is also the idea of purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (elemental, unformed matter or substance). When we get into the throat chakra – related to mental determination and willpower – we are starting to move into the intangible. Those parts of our lived experiences that are “barely describable” and can only be indicated (lingamatra) and those things that are “absolutely indescribable [because they are] beyond any point of reference” (alinga).

Consider that last bit a moment. As you think about that last part, also think about the idea that your goals and desires, your wishes, hopes, dreams (and yes, even your fears), are fully formed somewhere in your heart… and maybe the back of your mind. Somewhere out in the ether, that possibility is real. But there are a lot of steps between conception and manifestation. And until we take the first step, they all feel like giant leaps.

To make life even more challenging, anybody can give anyone a metaphorical road map about physical survival and what it takes to sustain the body. We know the bodies basic necessities and there are people who are dedicated to breaking that down into what different body types need to survive at a peak level. On a certain level, people can also create road maps for the mind – and we do, all the time, which is why the self help industry is so massive. But, there’s still a part of the journey that can only be experienced by the person taking the trip. There’s a part of the journey that is barely or absolutely indescribable. It’s the part of the journey that can never be duplicated. It’s the journey between what’s in a person’s heart and what’s in their head.

Even if someone explained how they got from point A to point B – and even if that explanation came with a Jean-Paul Sartre nauseous-level breakdown of how they felt and what they thought along the way – the only thing the rest of us could completely replicate would be the physical aspects of the journey. But, that part in between, it’s like getting lost, stuck in a traffic jam, and not knowing where you’re going – all while on a schedule.

“The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart.”

*

– possibly a Sioux statement, although it is often attributed to “Anonymous”

*

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Did you see yesterday’s surprise? It’s the first step in a journey (that we’ve already begun)!

*

### Get Into The Habit ###

Being, the Habit (a 2-for-1 post) January 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, January 10th and Monday, January 11th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.]

I. Being, the Habit – Recognizing “That”

 

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not the same blood or birth, but of the same mind and possessing a share of the divine. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We are born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

 

– quoted from Meditations (Book 2) by Marcus Aurelius

Bring your awareness to who you are and what you’re all about. Or, as I put it on Sunday, bring your awareness to what you are. This is an inquiry into who and what you are in the habit of being. Remember that a habit is cultivated through repeated behavior that hard-wires the brain and also creates samskaras (“mental impressions”). One could argue that Western scientists and the ancient yogis were talking about the same thing; but, either way you look at it there comes a time when we have repeated certain behavior so much that we no longer realize (if we ever even knew) that said behavior was a choice. Furthermore, at some point our behavior locks us into a pattern – a pattern that is almost free of choice – and the only way to change the pattern is to break the habit of doing… which is the habit of being (a certain way).

One of my favorite mantras, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is “So Hum, Ham Sa” – Sanskrit for “I am That, That I am.” I have heard that the ancient yogis said it was the sound of the breath coming into and out of the body. It is also, in English, a phrase that comes up again and again in sacred and popular text. For instance, in the story of Exodus, when Moses asks how he should identify the voice that speaks to him in the form of the burning bush, he is told, “ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh,” which is often translated into English as “I Am that I Am.” In this context, the mantra becomes a whisper from the Divine; a reminder, if you will. I often explain that the “That” in the mantra is with a “capital T,” indicating “all that and a bag of chips.” The only problem with the mantra, from a modern day perspective, is that we all too often focus on the “That” as being something positive, life affirming, and wholesome. In fact, the “That” is everything – even things we don’t like and/or see as negative, destructive, and evil.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “That’s not who we are” or “That’s not what we’re about” – and it recently that refrain has been repeated so many times it’s like an old record that has been warped from so much usage. I could point out, in great detail, that the phrases above are almost always used in the context of bad or misguided behavior that has existed since the beginning of time – or, in the most recent case, since the beginning of the United States, but that the speaker either didn’t recognize was happening before; finds abhorrent; and/or wants to create some distance between themselves and the people engaged in said behavior. Both variations of the phrase are also used as a kind of shaming, in the same way that a parent teaches a child that certain behavior is unacceptable. In the current context, however, we are not parents teaching our children. And, rather than go into a history lesson here – or run the risk of sounding overly judgmental – let me just pose a couple of philosophical questions (with really practical implications): How does the habit (of denying what is) serve us and how do we change a habit of bad behavior if we don’t acknowledge our connection to it?

As a side note, thinking about our lives and the way we engage our lives (i.e., our way of being) as a habit, brought my awareness to several Christian authors who adamantly reject the idea that “you are what you do.” Obviously, since I’ve only recently become aware of this rejection, I have not read all the books and theological expositions. A quick survey, however, seems to indicate that these writers and speakers, coming from a religious perspective, are focusing on the religious concept of being and the practical applications of spiritually being. In other words, they are looking at each person as being inextricably connected to the Divine and offering guidance on living a spiritual life in a world that focuses on so much profane doing. Here we see the same power that is in the mantra (“So Hum, Ham Sa”) – that you already are something amazing and you don’t have to do anything to be that. Just as is the case with the mantra, the power is in the realization and the lesson seems to point to people rethinking the way they show up in the world by placing their spiritual/religious beliefs as a priority in all that they do.

 

II. Being, the Habit – Of Cultivating Spirit

 

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. He felt, at times, abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

Old and New Commandments April 9, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Oh, the gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels rumbling
And rolling thro’ the land”

– “The Gospel Train (Get On Board),” a traditional Negro Spiritual sung by Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939*

Thursday, April 9, 2020, marks the first full day of Passover in the Jewish tradition and, for Roman Catholics and Western Christians, it marks Maudy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday). Judaism and Christianity are tied together, historically, as they are both Abrahamic religions. They are also connected, historically, because Jesus was a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, who spent the last week of his life observing Passover and preparing for what only he knew was coming: the Crucifixion and Resurrection. What people believe and how they practice their faiths can seem so different that it’s easy to forget they are connected. Pay attention to the details, however, and you will notice there’s a whole lot of hand washing and feet washing during today’s observations.

During a Passover Seder, when Jewish people commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wash their hands before and after the story of exodus is told through the lens of four questions. The first time, hands are washed without a blessing; the second time, hands are washed with a blessing. Like everything else in the Seder, even the name and the questions, the hand washing is crucial and symbolic.

The Hebrew word “Seder” means “order, procedure.” Just like in our yoga practice, everything happens in a very specific order that tells the story of the people, of their faith, and of their exodus. Symbols are used to engage not only the numerically young children at the table, but also those who are spiritually young and may not have studied the Torah. For example, the elements of the four questions (leavened vs. unleavened bread; all vegetables vs. bitter herbs; dipping the herbs in brine or vinegar and also in a sweet paste; eating in a variety of positions vs. eating in a reclining position) are symbolic of how quickly people fled when given the chance to escape Egypt; the bitterness of slavery; the sweat and tears of the enslaved people, as well as the bricks-and-mortar the enslaved were forced to build; and the luxury and privilege implied in eating in a reclining position – as if one has not a care in the world.  The symbolic nature of the different aspects of the observation means that the ritual is both a mental experience and a visceral experience. Still, it’s easy to overlook the hand washing, even though it’s in the Bible.

“For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

– Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

In the Eastern philosophies (like yoga) and religions (like Judaism) arms and hands are recognized as extensions of the heart. They are how we reach out to others, embrace others, embrace ourselves, and even embrace a moment. We use our hands and arms to build the world around us. We also use our hands and arms to love one another, or not, and to defend or support what we love (or not). Two of the aspects of the Divine (found on the Tree of Life) are love (chesed) and strength (gevurah). Furthermore, Jewish mysticism identifies these elements of the Divine as being embodied by the right and left arms, respectively. It is no accident then, nor is it only an element of good hygiene, that hands are washed before handling the sacred food. In fact, in the Hasidic tradition, “Water represents the healing power of wisdom. Water flows downward, carrying its essential simplicity to each thing. It brings them together as a single living, growing whole. We pour water over our hands as an expression of wisdom pouring downward passing through our heart and from there to our interaction with the world around us.”

Of the 613 commandments within the Jewish tradition, at least 21 – 27 are directly related to the observation of Passover, the Seder, the Counting of the Omer (which begins on the second night of Passover), and Shavuot (which begins at the end of the Counting of the Omer). The Last Supper (or suppers, depending on who you ask) is acknowledged as Jesus’ last meal and the source of the Eucharist or Holy Communion in Christian faiths. While the one of the four Canonical Gospels (John) places Passover after Jesus’s death, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) present The Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Therefore, it would make sense that Jesus – a Rabbi, a teacher, long before he was considered by some to be the Messiah – would make sure everyone washed their hands, twice during the Seder. It’s part of the Law, part of the Commandments. What is interesting is that before the Seder, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This is one of the events commemorated by some Christians on Maundy Thursday.

You may recall that one of the events of Spy Wednesday, the day before Maundy Thursday, is Mary of Bethany washing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil (and even before that, a woman offering hospitality by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair). The occasion with Mary, theoretically, causes Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. In John, Judas leaves (after what will be Jesus last meal) and Jesus prepares to wash the feet of the remaining disciples. When Simon Peter objects, Jesus tells him three particularly noteworthy things:

“If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” (John 13:8, KJV )

“Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12 15, KJV )

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34 – 35, KJV)

The word “Maundy” comes to us, by way of Middle English and Old French, from a Latin word that means “command, order” and while it may be associated with the ritual of washing the feet of a saint, showing hospitality, or preparing a body for burial. The command or order associated with this Thursday before Easter is that “new command,” which John reiterates in 15:12 and 15:17. It is a sentiment echoed by one of the last things Jesus says on the cross, when he connects his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son.

Sunset on Thursday night marks the beginning of the Counting of the Omer in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism). The Counting of the Omer is a 49-day observation which reflects the days the freed Jews were in the desert and segues into the commemoration of the people receiving the Torah. When people observe the Counting of the Omer there is an extra element of prayer, of offering, and also contemplation on two connected elements of the Divine (from the Tree of Life). The first night the connect elements are Chesed She b’Chesed (Lovingkindness in Lovingkindness).

Even though it is a completely different tradition, my offering to you on this Thursday, April 8th, is a Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation:

May you be safe and protected

May you be peaceful and happy

May you be healthy and strong

May you have ease and well-being, today and always.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment. Meanwhile, I will upload a guided Metta Meditation on my YouTube channel and post information about how you can offer a little metta to yourself by way of Yin Yoga (April 15th) and mo’ metta to Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs by way of the Kiss My Asana yogathon (beginning April 25th).

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

That’s plenty of time to Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 9th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 9th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 9th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 9th Practice

* NOTE: Despite what is initially said in the introduction, Marian Anderson’s performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939 was made possible by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused the use of Constitution Hall for a concert with an integrated audience.

### MAY ALL BEINGS EVERYWHERE BE HAPPY & BE FREE ###

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tantra, Tennessee Williams, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (b. 3/26/1911)

Just because we are alone – and in some cases lonely – is not a reason to go it alone. Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between places.” “Throwback Thursday” is a way to look back, but we can’t actually go back in time, we can’t bridge that distance of which Williams speaks. We can, however, bridge the physical distance of social isolation by reaching out (virtually speaking, of course).

Call, text, email, write a letter, make a chalk drawing, or use any of a variety of technological advances to connect to a stranger or a friend. Remember, we are all in this together – and we will succeed or fail based on how we are together, even when we are apart. Remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Right now, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers.

Love/ loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is an aspect of the Divine. In fact, not only is it one of the ten ways (according to Jewish mysticism) that G-d is revealed to the world, it is one of the 7 aspects people contemplate if they are counting the Omer during Passover. Just like in Eastern philosophies, like yoga, Kabbalism associates loving-kindness with the arms (specifically, the right arm). As you go through your practice – or through your day – bring awareness to how you use your right arm. Are you using it to express your heart or withhold your heart?

“(1) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (3) If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

– 1st Corinthians 13:1 – 3 (the part just before all the “famous parts” people use in weddings, movies, and songs)

Consider, for a moment, that when Saint Paul and Sosthenes wrote their letter to the church in Corinth, before they spoke of what love was, they spoke of what love was not. This is very similar to passages which appear in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, where a teacher – and then his spouse – point out that the Divine is not this or that (neti, neti) thing that is so obvious. The Divine is not (just) what is obviously seen, but what is unseen, what is felt. (Yes, yes, but neti,neti: this is not the throwback you’re looking for.)

We can never really know how much it means to someone when we do something nice for them simply out of the kindness of our hearts. They can say thank you a million times – and we may even feel the sincerity of their gratitude – and yet that feeling pales in comparison to the love they felt from the kindness.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– excerpt from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost (b. 3/26/1874)

For Throwback Thursday, here’s last year’s post about the birthday authors I typically include in today’s practice.

While I am not teaching today (Thursday), I am going to spend part of today and Friday updating my schedule to reflect streaming classes I will start offering Saturday – Wednesday.

Right now I am planning to offer seven (7) classes on Zoom. These are (mostly) during times when I had studio classes and they will be (mostly) open for anyone to attend. You can purchase or renew a package on my online store or you can make a donation to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible and I will receive the bulk of the donation.)

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Yoga means union.

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###