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BONUS x2: DOUBLE THE BONUS! DOUBLE THE KINDNESS!! May 14, 2020

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

 NOTE: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it’s a bonus!)

“And so you have found out that secret – one of the deep secrets of Life – that all, that is really worth the doing, is what we do for others? Even as the old adage tells us, ‘What I spent, that I lost; what I gave that I had.’ Casuits have tried to twist ‘doing good’ into another form of ‘doing evil,’ and have said ‘you get pleasure yourself by giving this pleasure to another: so it is merely a refined kind of selfishness, as your own pleasure is a motive for what you do.’ I say ‘it is not selfishness, that my own pleasure should be a motive so long as it is not the motive that would outweigh the other, if the two come into collision?’ The ‘selfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it harmed others, so long as it gave him pleasure; the ‘unselfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it gave him no pleasure, so long as it pleased others. But, when both motives pull together, the ‘unselfish man’ is still the unselfish man, even though his own pleasure is one of his motives! I am very sure that God takes real pleasure in seeing his children happy!”

 

– from letter Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) wrote to the actress Ellen Terry, dated November 13, 1890*

There’s a certain family, with siblings all around the world, who are, even as you read this, pointing out that Yogi #30 (Anthony) is not “Bonus.” And, I want to go on record as saying, “I know that, however…” He and Yogi #31 (Paula) are the bonus yogis for a Kiss My Asana yogathon offering that started four years ago (2016) when the yogathon was in February, during Leap Year, and I only needed 29 yogis. You can say I’m four years, 2 months, and 2 weeks late with this post (or maybe, just a week, or 2, late), but none of that changes the fact that these two yogis are two of the kindest people you’re ever going to meet.

First and foremost, let me point out that Anthony and Paula don’t really know me. They know of me. We’ve met once, and that was the one time they took a class from me. If memory serves, I’ve answered yoga questions for Anthony, over the telephone, a time or two. But, they live in another part of the country and they found out about the 2016 Kiss My Asana yogathon from a friend of mine. The friend told them that making these video would help a lot of people. So, simply out of the kindness of their hearts and without having a whole lot of knowledge about Mind Body Solutions or how making the video would help people do yoga, they answered my questions. And then, they waited to see what would happen.

And they waited…

And they waited…

And they waited…

(but only through 398 days of summer)

“I’ve got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house oh oh oh
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done oh oh oh

 

How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

 

Old dirt road (mushaboom, mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom, mushaboom)”

 

 

– from “Mushaboom” by Feist

And, while they were waiting, life changed. Anthony and Paula got married. Then, as they were still waiting, they had a baby. A very lucky baby who will spend her life surrounded by kindness and love, an appreciation for the great outdoors, and an appreciation for all that the world – and all the different cultures in the world – have to offer. (A baby who will be happy and cherished even when she starts saying the very word her papa tries not to say in yoga!)

All the while they waited they continued their adventures in the mountains, in the world, and in yoga. My guess is that they didn’t give these videos a second thought.

At first glance, Anthony isn’t the person you would automatically assume practices yoga. Yet, he’s the first to admit that he has received a lot of physical and mental benefit from his practice. He’s even encouraged others to practice. If you read the description in her video, you will see that I mention clapping for Paula. She is a nurse and, although I haven’t spoken to her recently, my guess is that even if she isn’t able to actively practice yoga right now, she is still benefiting from the practice.

Yogi #30

 

Yogi #31

I mentioned in the last 2016 Kiss My Asana post (two weeks ago) that there’s a method in the madness. But, I’m off schedule and, you might think that throws everything off. It does and it doesn’t, but (for those of you who are curious) here’s the bonus behind-the-scenes look at why I do what I do:

If I were teaching today, it would be a bonus day of teaching and I’d either carry forward the themes of love, kindness, and compassion from earlier this week – with a little (double bonus) focus on mastering the beautiful art of humility – or I would take a look at George Lucas’s view of the Hero’s Journey (as today is GL’s 76th birthday). Had I stayed on schedule, this year, I would have posted this on the birthday of the author Annie Dillard, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or given myself a little grace and posted this during International Nurses Week, a fitting tribute to Yogi #31.

Back in 2016, had I stayed on schedule, Anthony and Paula’s videos would have been posted on March 1st, Saint David’s Day. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, poets, and vegetarians. He is associated with dragons and doves and his miracles include healing the sick and (as I like to joke) creating mountains out of molehill. According to the legends, Saint David was giving a sermon to a large crowd, which was having a hard time hearing him, when a dove landed on his shoulder and then, suddenly, the ground beneath him rose and lifted him up above the crowd.

Mountains, doves, miraculous healings… – Can you see why I thought March 1st would be a good day for this pair? But, there are also dragons. So, on Saint David’s Day I usually quote Sarah Ban Breathnach (who wrote in Simple Abundance, “Always remember it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.”) and conclude with J. R. R. Tolkien (who wrote in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.”). Today, however, we’ll wrap up with a quote inspired by Tolkien:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

 

– from the movie version of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, adapted by Peter Jackson

Mind Body Solutions, and the work they do to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body, thrives because of “small everyday deeds of ordinary folk…. Small acts of kindness and love.” That’s what gets a person with limited mobility to their yoga class; that’s what inspires a person using a BiPAP machine to keep practicing; that’s what gets the caregiver to get up every morning and take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment; that’s what gets a teacher in Rochester, New York or somewhere in England to study adaptive yoga in Minnesota; that’s what got Matthew Sanford to load up his lap with mats and roll into Courage Center for the first time; that’s what gets every single one of us coming back to the mat, knowing that a bad day off the mat can turn into a good day on the mat, because we will be surrounded by “ordinary folk” and “small acts of kindness and love.”

A Big Hallelujah Asana / Five-Pointed Smile goes to Anthony and Paula, as well as to Meghan and Kelsey (who were the ordinary folk in the background rocking their own small acts of kindness and love). Thank you, also, to everyone who did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others during this year’s yogathon (and the previous 6 yogathons). Friday is the last day to donate and I have one more Kiss My Asana post for y’all. Stay tuned!

*In 1998, November 13th became World Kindness Day (so far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that someone picked the date that coincided with Lewis Carroll’s letter on kindness…but I could be wrong about that.)

 

### HA HA HA HA (SNORT) ###

Threads, Instructions, Truth, Practice, To Contemplate May 12, 2020

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

SŪTRA [Sanskrit; also, “sutta” in Pali] – Thread or String, refers to a statement or collection of statements which make up sacred text and scripture in Indian philosophy and religions.

TALMUD [Hebrew] – Instruction or Learning, refers to collection of work which makes up the central text in Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish law and tradition. It is part of the “Torah,” which can also mean “instruction” – as well as “teaching” and “law” – so that it is “instruction on the teaching.”

GOSPEL [Latin > Old English] – a portmanteau meaning Good Narrative, Story, Sermon, or Speech (also, Good News), refers to accounts of Jesus’ life as told by his disciples in the Christian New Testament – often translated as “Truth.”

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam. It is written in the “Hadith” – which means “speech,” “narrative,” “talk,” and “discourse” – and is one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law.

MEDITATE [Latin > Old French > English] – To Think, Contemplate, Devise, Ponder, refers to the act, habit, and practice used by religious mystics and contemplatives, philosophers, and non-religious people dating back Before the Common Era.

 

Maya Angelou starts off her poem “Human Family,” by stating, “I note the obvious differences / in the human family.” She then goes on to explore the world and a myriad of people in various situations and relationships (including a literal myriad of “women/ called Jane and Mary Jane”) who are all different. Yet, she states at the end, “I note the obvious differences / between each sort and type, /
but we are more alike, my friends, / than we are unalike.”

“We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.”

 

– last lines repeated at the end of “Human Family” by Maya Angelou

As compelling as it is to notice how different we are, those differences can be a distraction that make us forget we are all part of the same human family and, also, that we are more alike than different. Forgetting really basic things like the fact that we all breathe; we all have a heart pumping blood through veins and arteries; we all experience some form of suffering and desire (and deserve) to be free of suffering; we all love something (“even if,” as Chögyam Trungpa famously said, “it’s only tortillas.”) leads to polarization and more suffering. Forgetting becomes a vicious cycle of separation, isolation, pain, and suffering. And here too, unfortunately, we are alike in that our suffering as a result of separation and isolation can lead us to inflict pain and suffering on others.

 

The funny thing is, lashing out at others becomes a source of what we desire most: connection, union, (dare I say it) yoga. It’s really messed up, co-dependent, and abusive connection, but it’s still connection. Like in the movie (and the song) “Crash,” sometimes the only time people who perceive themselves as different from each other connect is through pain, trauma, tragedy, and loss. Here’s the thing though, what brings us together is not nearly as important as how we choose to come together. What I mean by that is, when we crash into each other, our interaction can result in more pain or an alleviation of pain, maybe even joy. When we come together, for any reason, we can do so in a way that creates further separation and isolation (in other words, more pain and suffering) or in a way that reinforces our connections (sometimes on a much deeper level).

 

“Where do we go from here, where do we go?
And is it real or just something we think we know?
Where are we going now, where do we go?
‘Cause if it’s the same as yesterday, you know I’m out
Just so you know

Because, because our paths they cross
Yesterday was hard on all of us
On all of us”

 

– “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” by Fink

 

I could honestly copy the entire Fink song “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” to make my point, but I feel like the pandemic and social isolation that we are all experiencing also makes the point. Even introverts are craving a little social interaction. And those people you see on the news or social media, who are doing things you think are crazy, nonsensical, and selfish (or even independently thinking and patriotic) want the same things you and I want: to be safe, to be peaceful, to be happy, to be at ease, to experience joy and freedom from suffering.

 

We may have different ways of understanding what we desire, but ultimate what we want (and what we need) are the same all around the world. So, how do we get on the same page? Well, I’m going to ask you to consider – just for a moment – that maybe we don’t get on the same page, per se. Maybe, each of us turns towards the book(s) that make the most sense to us and notice what we find. I mean, sure, you could do the whole “choose your own ending” / fortune telling shtick, but I’m being serious. Pick up your sacred text or bible and you will find the truth of Maya Angelou’s words.

 

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhūti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

 

“Undisturbed calmness of mind comes by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, joy or happiness towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil (non-virtuous).

 

 

Yoga Sutra (1.33)

 

“You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

 

Vayikra – Leviticus (19:18)

 

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“On the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) — the servant of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) — that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. [Al-Bukhari]”

 

– 40 Hadith Nawawi 13

 

 

“Accept the things and occurrences to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so truly, sincerely.”

 

– from Meditations (Book 6) by Marcus Aurelius

 

Yes, yes, just because it’s there doesn’t mean anyone has to listen, pay attention, or practice what they preach. This too, we have in common: the ability to stare what we need right in the face… and not see it. The fact that it’s there, however, is an invitation to practice. So, today, we will practice variations on a theme.

Please join me today (Tuesday, May 12th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM, if you are interested (to paraphrase Metallica) in opening yourself up in a different way. (This practice is also Martha Graham inspired.) Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Since I couldn’t cover every practice, tradition, and belief in my little window, feel free to comment below with a “love offering” of your own.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all themes mentioned above and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### WHERE IS THE LOVE? ###

A Fearless River Runs Through This One! April 29, 2020

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

{NOTE: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it comes to you courtesy of the “Wayback (Wednesday) Machine.”}

“And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores”

– “The River” by Garth Brooks

Let’s go way back, for minute. Way back to 2016, when the Kiss My Asana yogathon was, for the first and only time ever, in February instead of April – and it was leap year. I needed 29 yogis to not only answer 7 questions about their yoga practice, but to also let me post a recording of their answers along with (what I thought at the time would be) super short introductions on my blog. Being the generous soul that she is and having the work ethic that she does, Yogi #29 (Meghan M) was the first to volunteer – and also the first to start recruiting others.

This was not her first Kiss My Asana rodeo. If you have seen and enjoyed any of the 2015 KMA practice videos, you were probably watching a video recorded by Meghan M. She is an artist and a craftsman with a steady hand, an eye for putting things together, patience, and a heart as wide as the world. Given all that I knew about her, I didn’t think twice about her volunteering to be the first recording. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive: You see, Meghan M likes to wave the introvert banner and while she wanted me to succeed in my Kiss My Asana campaign and while she wanted to support Mind Body Solutions, she also wanted to make sure I had enough volunteers that I wouldn’t actually need her video.

“But when I’m alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the big blackfoot river, and the four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops; under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

– from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Coming from one of the bigger states in the country and being raised in a house-full of outdoorsmen, Meghan M may claim to be introverted, and even a little shy, but she is far from retiring. She may not always understand the injustices in the world, but she will stand up against them and fight for what’s right. She won’t often walk behind you, but if there’s a chance you’ll need an ally she will walk beside you – or even clear the path ahead. People that know her, love her, and recognize how fortunate they are to have her as a friend.

Meghan M is, in many ways, the best part of what it means to be human – and also the best part of what it means to be an American and a citizen of the world: she is responsible; she is considerate; she is strong; she is compassionate; she is intelligent; she respects the earth, the water, air, and sky; and she is (artistically) creative, as well as innovative. She is constantly learning and growing as a person. She’s also resilient (although we disagree on why that is). And while you will be hard pressed to find someone with a better laugh, you are highly unlikely to find a harder or more self-motivated worker on the planet. She can get more done in an hour than most people get done in a day.

“If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we lose our power and momentum. That’s what I would say to you of these difficult times. If you are going to that place of intent to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the wild lands in Utah, you have to know how to dance.”

– from Two In the Far North by Margaret “Mardy” Murie

So, flash forward to the 7th annual Kiss My Asana in April 2020, and I am finally (finally) wrapping up my 2016 offerings. As you read this, you may be thinking, ‘Oh, does this mean you didn’t end up with enough yogis back in 2016?’ No, quite the contrary (as you shall see) and in no small part thanks to Meghan M. She persists and she succeeds even when others stack the odds against. However, there is a method to the madness and a little nod to Anton Chekov (as I have mentioned before), as well my own fondness for rabbit holes and numbers. So, if you were to go back over the different offerings or even to how I choose my themes for each class, you will find that numbers are important. Dates are important. And, in my head, Yogi #29 was always going to be on the 29th.

Pardon the shaky hands and lack of focus. Did I mention Yogi #29 is hilarious?

Speaking of focus: One of the things that is easy to overlook about Meghan M is her ability to focus and (again) to get things done. People like to say they can multi-task – despite the fact that studies have shown multi-tasking is a myth…or a misnomer. Consider a juggler, they hold something in one hand, toss or catch with the other, and scan for what’s already in the air (or, heaven forbid, crashing towards the ground), but in some ways it’s all an illusion. Lots of things are happening (lots of balls in the air), but the juggler is always doing one thing; focusing on what comes next. If you watch Meghan M in action you will see that same ability at work: she gets each thing in motion (in its own turn); keeps track of what’s coming down (or out); and cleans up after herself with a flourish.

On and off the mat, Yogi #29’s ability to focus is directly connected to her ability not to be distracted.  If you want to explore what it takes for you to focus, please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Wednesday, April 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM. Both practices will engage “fearless play” and dance (in honor of International Dance Day), plus a lot of jazz. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Are you focused and Kiss(ing) My Asana?

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

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

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

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 29th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 29th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 29th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Tuesday’s story was, philosophically, story number 5, a bridge of sorts. Which makes today’s story number 6. Are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 1 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### “DANCE LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING” ###

A Prize-Winning Solution March 18, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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“I am in no way different from anyone else, that my predicament, my sense of aloneness or isolation may be precisely what unites me with everyone.”

– Franz Wright

 

It seems very fitting to me, somehow, that what we sometimes think of as one of the hardest days of the week – Hump Day – during this first week of major league social distancing coincides with the anniversary of the birth of a man who wrote about isolation, loneliness, longing, and death intersecting with kindness, love, faith, and hope. If you are not familiar with Franz Wright, born today (3/18) in 1953, then you might be interested to know that he is the son-half of (I believe) the only father and son to win Pulitzer Prizes in the same category and that Chicago Tribune critic Julia Keller once described one of his collections as being “ultimately about joy and grace and the possibility of redemption, about coming out whole on the other side of emotional catastrophe,” while Denis Johnson supposedly compared his poems to “tiny jewels shaped by blunt, ruined fingers – miraculous gifts.” I know, that’s a lot to take in (and you might need to read that Va. Woolf-like sentence again). The thing is; I think we are in the middle of a Franz Wright poem. So, brace yourself.

I first came across Wright’s poem “Solution” in a 2015 blog post written by Alison McGhee, a New York Times bestselling author who writes and teaches up the street from me. In the post (which I strongly recommend), McGhee wrote about an encounter she had with someone best described as her exterior opposite. Yet the interior movements of the heart, all of our hearts, are ultimately the same – something both McGhee’s short post and Wright’s poem illustrate bluntly, beautifully, and miraculously.

Franz Wright’s “Solution” is something we could all use right now.

“What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.”

Wright’s poems are full of natural spirituality and that oftentimes “heartbreaking human conflict between religion and spirit. The final line of the poem reminds me of 2 Corinthians 4:18 where Saint Paul wrote, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” NOTE: The New Living Translation translates this passage as “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

PRACTICE NOTES:

Start seated or lying on your back. As your move through your practice today, focus on what is unseen. What are you feeling in your heart, in your mind, in your body? How does what you feel move, shift, and change as you inhale – and, especially, as you exhale? Is what distracts you from this present moment seen or unseen, temporary or eternal? At one point in your body (or mind) does everything – including your breath – overlap and become one?

Prior to this week, Wednesdays were one of my busy days, because I would teach three (3) classes in three (3) different locations: a 60-minute YIN Yoga practice, a 60-minute open-level vinyasa practice, and a 60-minute “slow flow” vinyasa practice. My “Franz Wright inspired” sequences would be heart, lung (as Wright died of lung cancer), and core focused, with some emphasis on arm movements and position since arms are an extension of the heart chakra and also contain the heart and lung meridians.

As I am not currently able to post three (3) different practices, the YIN Yoga link above directs you to a Bernie Clark playlist on YouTube. I have posted a 60-minute vinyasa playlist (see here or below) for anyone who wants it and will email a Soma Yoga/Vinyasa practice to people who normally attend the studio classes.

(This is freely given and freely received. I do not own the rights to these songs, but highly encourage you to buy them!)

“Soon, soon, between one instant and the next, you will be well.”

 

– from “Nude with Handgun and Rosary by Franz Wright

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

 

No Fooling…It’s Time To Kiss My Asana! April 1, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

– Emily Dickinson

When Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose” she used capital P’s to juxtapose possibility and prose. (Yes, she capitalizes house as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Her Possibility was Poetry; it allowed her to move beyond the confines of her physical house, as well as beyond the limits of her physical body and mind. Poetry allowed her to move beyond her reclusive, mundane, commonplace, and (dare I say it…), prosaic life. It took her deeper.

Every April, I ask my classes, “What if the “P” stood for Pose? What if it stood for Prana? Could you dwell in that possibility? Could you go deeper?”

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month. For four of the last five years April has also been the month for the Kiss My Asana yogathon. This year, I’m joining the two and offering you the possibility to experience poetry as you practice more yoga and support Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

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. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

Part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon is to post a poem, which you can explore on the mat. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at one of the donation-based classes listed below.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if its one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

I dwell in Possibility – by Emily Dickinson

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new House. Come to your hands and knees; bring your big toes to touch; spread your knees as wide as you feel comfortable. Try it with knees together, then knees as wide as your mat, then knees somewhere in between – the same way you might move furniture around until you find what works. Sink your hips to your heels and bring your forehead and nose to your mat. Hands may be overhead, stretched out wide, by your hips– or you can use them as a pillow. Shift around until you are comfortable enough to be still. If there’s a lot of pressure on your knees, put something under your hips. (Other options for this pose include lying down on your back, curling up in a fetal position, or folding over while seated in a chair.)

Now, consider the Possibilities. In my vinyasa classes I say, “Remember that Child’s Pose, Balasana, is your modification for every pose,” because there are elements of everything in Child’s Pose. Take a moment to consider the difference aspects of the pose:

  • Child’s Pose is a baby Downward Facing Dog, which is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward bend, a back bend, and an inversion.
  • It stretches out your quadriceps, front of thighs, knees, shins, ankles and feet.
  • Curling the toes under (with knees and feet together or the same distance apart) addresses the fascia on the soles of your feet.
  • Knees-wide adds a little hip opening, while bringing the knees together creates hip adduction and gives extra support for the low back.
  • Knees together also creates a massage for the belly and internal organs.
  • You can add a twist by threading one arm under the opposite arm pit.
  • You can use Child’s Pose to move into almost any pose – including Splits (Hanumanasana).

They say our eyes are the Windows to the soul, but here your eyes are shielded, maybe even closed, forcing your awareness inward. Even the other senses (which may be considered Doors into the world) turn your awareness inward.

Next inhale, go deeper: Start to notice your breath or Prana. One of the most Prosaic things we do is breath and yet, as the Upanishads point out, Prana as breath is Superior to the other functions of the body – because without breath, we cease to be.

We can go days without food, water, shelter, sleep, company, and movement. It won’t be comfortable. In fact, going without those essentials will ultimately become painful and eventually lead to our demise. But, we can do it; we can go without those particular essentials. On the flip side, our bodies and mind will not allow us to be without breath/spirit/prana for more the a few minutes. Breathing is an autonomous Occupation, but consciously receiving the breath and letting go of the breath takes us deeper into ourselves and into the practice.

Go deeper still. Follow the breath as it moves from your nose into all the Chambers of your body: into your Cedar-like legs; into the Roof that is your mind, the Gambrels of your hips as they touch the back that now serves as your body’s Sky. Notice what happens when the breath moves out of these same areas.

Breathe, as if you are drawing Paradise into your body and mind – because you are!

Notice something missing from today’s practice? It’s not an April Fool’s Joke…it’s the next poem!

Please join me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs. Inspired by the teachings of Matthew Sanford, this special donation-based practice will explore the connections between centering, grounding, expansion, rhythm, and balance. Please RSVP via myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com.

Saturday, April 7th (2:30 PM – 4:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga (2722 E 50th Street, Minneapolis)

Saturday, April 28th (4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork (3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis)

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

###

Looking for another Easter egg?

 

 

2017 Kiss My Asana Question #2: Why 108? April 3, 2017

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“The number of words you use to answer these questions is going to be divisible by 108? Why 108?” – the obvious questions

The significance of 108 is something pondered pretty much whenever people get ready to practice 108 Sun Salutations (for New Year’s Day, Spring/Fall Equinox, and Summer/Winter Solstice). It is considered an auspicious number in a variety of disciplines and traditions. So much so that if I listed 108 reasons, I might still be missing some. Swami J has a pretty comprehensive list; however, here are some of my favorites:

  • 108 is a harshad (or, “great joy” bringer) number in mathematics, meaning that it is divisible by the sum of its parts (1+0+8=9; 108/9 = 12)
    • Note also 1+2 = 3; 12/3 = 4 and 108/3 = 36; 3+6 = 9; 36/9 = 6
  • 108 is a prime example of numbers being exponentially powerful {(1, raised to the 1st power) multiplied times (2, raised to the 2nd power) multiplied times (3, raised to the 3rd power), i.e., 1*4*27}
  • 108 suitors pursue Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • In Buddhism, the 108 feelings or sensations humans experience result from external/physical and internal/mental stimuli (2) being received through our senses and consciousness (5+1) multiplied times our perception of sensation as positive/pleasant, negative/painful, or neutral (3) multiplied times our ability to experience feelings or sensations in the past, present, and future (3). {2*(5+1)*3*3}
  • In Eastern religions and philosophies, a mala used to count repetitions during meditation contains 108 beads – or a fraction of 108, and this coincides with an old school Catholic rosary which allows you to count out 10 decades, and provides 8 additional beads (for mistakes). The cross would be considered the guru bead.
  • In some religions there is only one God; however there are 101-108 names for God.
  • In an Indian creation story, God as Dance (Nataraja) creates the universe through a dance containing 108 steps or poses; and, there are 108 forms of dance in Indian traditions.
  • Some martial arts forms contain 108 steps or poses.
  • According to some yoga texts, there are 108 nadis (energy rivers carrying the bodies vitality) intersecting at the heart chakra.

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

  • The 108 double stitches on a Major League baseball are hand stitched; AND
  • It took 108 years for a much loved baseball team to break a curse (that may or may not be real) – and they did it in the 10th inning with 8 runs!

Finally, it would be seriously auspicious if a couple of people (2) Kiss(ed) My Asana by clicking here and donating $54 each. Or, you know what would be a real joy bringer? If a certain number of individuals (108) clicked above and donated $108 each.

For those of you doing the math: $25 shares a “Beyond Disability” DVD with a home-bound person living with a disability; $250 provides four yoga classes at a battered women’s shelter or veterans center; $500 provides full tuition for an Opening Yoga Teacher Training Workshop; and $1000 transforms the life of someone living with a disability by providing them an entire year of adaptive yoga. While these numbers focus on the people directly receiving the service, consider how yoga affects not only the individual on the mat, but everyone that individual encounters off the mat.

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Are You Ready? Are You Ready…to Kiss My Asana? April 1, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

It’s that time again! Spring? Yes, but also it’s time for Kiss My Asana. For the fourth year in a row, I am joining joyful yogis everywhere to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

Matthew Sanford and the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions are committed to a yoga practice which “transcends ability and disability, opens people’s lives to new possibilities, and transforms the delivery of health care.” The annual yogathon is a virtual four-week challenge open to anyone, anywhere, and it’s pretty much open to any way you want to do more yoga, learn more about yoga, and share more yoga.

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

Then let’s get started. There are a lot of ways to help raise awareness and resources during the month of April. Here are just a few suggestions.

Erika teaches a Vin-Yin class at Nokomis, and her KMA class will be a Slow Flow Vinyasa. The classes I host (or co-host) will be inspired by the practice principles featured in the adaptive yoga DVD “Beyond Disability” as led by Matthew Sanford. (Please RSVP using the links above if you would like to join one of these donation-based classes.)

  • You can challenge yourself by practicing one thing (an asana, pranayama, or a meditation) every day for 30 days.
  • You can use yoga to embody your favorite story, song, emotion, poem, prayer, visual art, person, or moment in time.
  • You can blog, tweet, instagram, or Facebook link about how your yoga practice on the mat transforms your experiences off the mat.

This is all good, but “What,” you might ask, “are you (Myra) doing as the virtual part of this year’s Kiss My Asana?”

Good question. As you may have noticed (especially after last year), I love questions. I’ve fallen for “Questions” by R. S. Thomas and, like the Creed song quoted above, my personal playlist currently features question-centered songs by Fink, X Ambassadors, Ed Sheeran, Cole Swindell, and Garth Brooks (naturally)!

 

In my favorite “Letters To A Young Poet” passage, Ranier Maria Rilke urges Franz Kappus: “… try to love the questions themselves…. the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

 

Oh, and did I mention that questions led me to yoga teacher training?

 

When I started practicing in Texas, I often encountered people whose only intersection with yoga was me. These people had questions – lots and lots of questions. I, unfortunately, had no answers…other than telling people they could come with me to practice. When some of my teachers suggested teacher training, I thought, “Sure, someday. Then I’ll know some answers – or, at least, know a resource where someone could live (or practice) their way into their own answers.” Flash forward to “someday” and I’m in Minneapolis attending a teacher training focused on teaching people how to teach – and everybody had to teach.

 

So, last year I asked people questions. This year, you get to ask me questions. Answer word count will be divisible by 108.

Want to ask me a question? You can make a comment below, ask me before or after a class, or send an email to myra at ajoyfulpractice.com. Subscribers to ajoyfulpractice.com will receive my answers as they are posted – or, you can check back here throughout April.

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

Seriously, Is That All You’ve Got? December 31, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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It is New Year’s Eve eve. And, while I still have things to do in anticipation of the New Year, I am more than ready for the arrival of 2017. Funny thing is, all of us who are “D-O-N-E, stick-a-fork-in-it, done” with 2016, have to admit that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been some memorable and very personal highlights and there have been many changes for the better. Oh, then there’s the fact that this whole “new year” thing is completely arbitrary.

Yes, yes, there are reasons and explanations for why the Western world celebrates a beginning and an ending at this time of year. But, in some ways those reasons and explanations are beside the point. What’s important is that change is always happening – and most of it is beyond our control. Since being out of control can be psychologically uncomfortable, we take control by choosing a transition to celebrate. The celebration is a reminder that everything, including hard times, ends and that the end of one thing marks the beginning of another thing.

We can only hope the new thing is better than the old thing.

Even when, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different ways of marking transitions. One yoga tradition is to practice 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) when the seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices. Here in the West, we have also taken to practice this yoga variation of a marathon when the calendar year changes. (I am again leading the Surya Namaskar malas at Nokomis Yoga (this practice is full) and at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA (3 PM – 6 PM).)

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a moving meditation consisting of 12 poses. The series of poses are linked with breath so that we mimic our bodies’ natural inclination to extend the spine and open the heart as we inhale, to flex the spine and engage the core as we exhale. Or, you could think of it symbolically: as reaching for the sun as you inhale, drawing its energy to the earth as you exhale. Or, you could reach to the Source of all the things as you inhale, surrender to that Source as you exhale. Or…you get the idea. Whether you come to the practice from a physical-mental, psychic-symbolic, or emotional-energetic perspective, this series of poses engages your whole being: mind, body, and spirit.

Since the practice mirrors the cycle of time – the beginning of each breath marking the end of another, the end of each pose marking the beginning of the next – we inevitably find ourselves appreciating it, enjoying it, and then wishing it were done. We can be lost in/absorbed by the effortless repetition (ajapa japa), but then find our brains want a delineated break.

We seek the break, not because we’re tired, per se, but because it’s a way for our brains to absorb the pattern. And, in that moment, we may create the break by asking the question that has been coming up a lot in my practice: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

I can’t remember if it was during an interview or during a teacher training, but I very clearly remember Seane Corn describing a conversation where she said to the Universe, “Bring it; but, bring it gently.” I love that sentiment. It acknowledges that throughout our lives we are going to be faced with challenges, and it simultaneously reinforces the idea that we can be ready to meet those challenges head on. It is a statement sourced in strength, courage, and wisdom – without being braggadocios. In fact, it embodies the splendor of humility.

This secular calendar year, 2016, New Year’s Eve happens to fall on the 8th Night of Chanukah. (Therefore, New Year’s Day 2017 is the 8th Day of Chanukah 5777.) Hod (humility, splendor, surrender, or gratitude) is the eighth aspect of the Divine found on the Tree of Life (in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah). Physically it is symbolized by the left foot and leg. Energetically it is directly connected to Gevurah (Strength, discipline), Tiferet (Balance, Compassion), Netzach (Endurance), and Yesod (Foundation or Bonding). It can also be energetically connected to the 3rd Chakra, our physical core, which is related to our personality, our sense of self, and our self esteem.

I could go on, but what I’m getting at here is that the question (Is that all you’ve got?) isn’t something I’m asking the Universe. I know the Universe has more in store for us. I know it’s going to bring it (hopefully, gently). What I’m really doing, at those moments when I want to throw in the towel, is asking myself the question: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

My early teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Whether we are in the middle of 1 hour, 90 minutes, or 3 hours of yoga – or anything else – we all have that moment where we want to throw in the towel. But, if we pace ourselves, we inevitably get a second wind. And, while I don’t always feel this way after I other physical things I do, in yoga and in life I almost always feel like I could have handled a little bit more. Not that I want to or need to – but, that if I had to, I could dig deep and pull up a little bit more of whatever I need to face the challenge.

The first day of 2017, is just another day on the calendar; just another day in our lives. It’s a beginning and it’s an ending. So, yes, celebrate, set an intention, and move on.

But, don’t forget that this liminal or transitional moment is also a middle. And, ultimately, the most significant thing that’s changing is your awareness and your perspective. Start noticing what you’re doing when you ask a question like “Is that all you’ve got?” Start noticing what you’re doing when your answer to the question changes.

Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

~ Happy New Year, Happy New Perspective ~

Take the Deepest Breath You’ve Taken All Day – All Day, On Retreat! September 30, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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sukkot-meditation-2015

What if you had a day, just a day? A day away from your regular routines, worries, and fears…. A day where everything you need is provided. Would you still worry? Would you still fear? Would you grumble and complain?

 

Or would you express a little gratitude?

Scientists, meditation practitioners, monks, and nuns have proven a link between gratitude and happiness. Even considering the possibility that there is something in your life for which you can be grateful, can affect your well-being in a positive way. So, what happens if you spend a day giving thanks for what you have – as well as for what you may have in the future?

Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

Deuteronomy 16:14 – 15

Every cultural has rituals, meaningful traditions, marking liminal or threshold moments throughout the year. The Hebrew Bible / Old Testament outlines a series of ritual “holidays,” times when people are to gather for reflection, remembrance, and thanksgiving. Sukkot, the Festival of the Tabernacles, is the seventh and final holiday outlined in Deuteronomy, which some people view as a mandate for happiness. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the Season of Happiness.

But, what is happiness? How is it defined by the sages of various cultures? And how do we make ourselves happy? For that matter, how can we “only be happy” for any given period of time?

The answers to all those questions (and more) are within you. You just have to go deeper.

At the end of Sukkot 2016, join Myra K. Rucker, Meghan Murray, and special guest Kalyani for a day of community, ritual, harvest focused meals, and yoga – all centered around the link between gratitude, mindfulness, and happiness.

WHEN: Saturday, October 22, 2016, 10:30 AM – 9:30 PM (see below for full schedule)

WHERE: St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church (3121 Groveland School Road, Minnetonka, MN), approximately 40 minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis.

WHO: Everyone (sons, daughters, neighbors, strangers) are welcome.

WHAT: Myra will lead two (2) alignment and breath focused yoga practices focusing on gratitude and the ritual of Sukkot, a walking meditation, and conversation to cultivate gratitude. Meghan will prepare yoga-friendly, vegetarian, gluten-free fall harvest meals guaranteed to tantalize the taste buds. Special guest Kalyani (Colleen Buckman) will close out the festival with breath work and music, including selections from her new album Fertile Ground.

HOW: Register online (or offline with Myra) by October 15th.

FULL PACKAGE A (Includes all events and meals*): $125, 10% discount available for senior.

+ Meals are not certified Kosher. Refrigeration is available for any attendee.

….and no one shall appear…empty-handed.” – Deuteronomy 16:16
emptybowls2016

In addition to being a phenomenal chef and baker, Meghan is also an amazing potter, who annually donates bowls to the Powderhorn Empty Bowls fundraiser. You can support this great fundraiser during our retreat by bringing a bowl to donate, purchasing a bowl to donate ($10), or purchasing a bowl as a keepsake ($20, includes donation). Either way, we will use the bowls and fill them with gratitude!

We will provide a limited amount of mats and props. At least one (1) meal and one (1) meditation/yoga practice may be held outdoors. Events are intended to be communal; however, quiet spaces will be reserved for anyone wishing to retreat in silence – and conversation pits will be reserved for anyone wishing to continue dialogue during the silent portions of the weekend.

** St. Luke’s is around the cornder from Mind Body Solutions and less than 2 miles from The Marsh. Contact The Marsh directly if you are interested in reserving a hotel room or utilizing their spa facilities. **

~ We are grateful for your presence ~

Saturday, October 22nd (tentative schedule):

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Heart Opening Yoga
12:30 PM – 1:45 AM LUNCH & “Guided” Conversation (1 space designated for silence)

2:15 PM – 3:30 PM Journey Meditation (1 space designated for silence / journal writing)

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM YOGA
6:00 PM – 7:15 PM DINNER & “Guided” Conversation (1 space designated for silence)
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM Closing Celebration & “Leave” Taking with Music & Breath by Kalyani (Colleen Buckman)

~ NAMASTE ~

Gazing Into the Heart December 14, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Taoism, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“SOLUTION” by Franz Wright
What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given all the things that have happened in the world; however, somehow last week I was caught off guard by people’s request that I hold space for their sadness/grief/anger/fear. And yes, this is something I do on any given Sunday. It’s even, on a certain level, what I signed up to do. And yet, for one blinding moment I was pissed – I mean really royally pissed – to come back from my working vacation/week of Thanksgiving/week of fellowship and find all was not sunshine and light in the world.

As is recommended, I sat with the anger. The anger passed. I got back to my baseline, and I got back to work.

But that’s the short, simple version of the story. And, it’s not nearly as real or messy or satisfying as the whole story.

I say the anger passed; however, really it felt like it diminished or receded to a place where rather than reacting to the craziness in the world I was able to respond in an appropriate manner. But, before that happened, I had to acknowledge that what I was feeling was anger. I know people who are angry all the time – and they have very valid reasons for their anger – but we don’t always acknowledge or articulate the emotion. Oh, sure, we may act angry or spew angry words, but consider the last time (the last angry time) you took a deep breath and explained to someone, “I’m really angry.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever articulated the emotion without directing it at someone or something? Have you ever gone deep beneath the emotion, and found what’s beyond it (as opposed to what’s behind it)?

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

When I first came back from Texas and started reacting, I hadn’t heard Gina Sharpe’s super skillful teaching on Suffering and the End of Suffering (see Thursday’s link below). All I had were emotions (mine and other people’s), desires/requests (mine and other people’s), signs from the Universe, and what I’ll call Divine messages. And I was resisting all of it! I wanted to focus on metta (loving-kindness) meditation or tonglen (giving and receiving) meditation, or sitting in compassion. You know me; I wanted to do that joy thing.

But, when I got on the mat, what came up was the need to be where we were. To feel what we were feeling. To validate and honor what was in the heart – and all that was in the heart.

Here’s a glimpse at a week of heart gazing:

Tuesday, December 2nd: We started with eyes open; I counted down and then had people quickly shut their eyes. In Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (b. 1963) wrote, “The timing of the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights said, ‘You have no need for sight. Listen.'” Pratyahara (sense withdrawal, Yoga’s fifth limb) heightens our awareness. This heightened awareness happens even if we just withdraw one sense. It also happens when we are in a crisis situation similar to the hostage situation that takes place in Patchett’s beautifully written novel.

“She sang as if she was saving the life of everyone in the room.”

And while listening to Maria Callas, Ingrid Michaelson, Indie.Arie, Nelly Furtado, Jj Heller, Pink!, Raya Yarbrough, Sylvia Syms, Kate Bush, Dinah Washington, Amy Lee (of Evanescene), – my examples of “beautiful singing” – I asked people to breath as if they were hitting the high notes.

Ultimately, Bel Canto is a multilayer, multilevel love story set during a horrible crisis. It shows the heart’s ability to feel more than one thing at a time. But, more than that, it shows the heart always wants to find a way to love.

 

Wednesday, December 3rd: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose) and asked people to gaze into their hearts – while listening to the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne (b. 1948).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words about gazing into the abyss seem applicable (maybe even prophetic) when dealing with Heart of Darkness on Joseph Conrad’s birthday (b. 1957). Conrad wrote his short novel after his own experiences in Africa in the late 1800’s and while his own words best describe the world he sees, I think the world he sees is the world in his own heart.

I resisted this book and this birthday, in part because literary greats like Chinua Achebe criticize Conrad and his work as racist and xenophobic – and I don’t think there’s any way to get around that. Neither did I want to seem to celebrate a depiction of racism given currents events in Ferguson and around the United States. However, Professor Peter Mwikisa said Heart of Darkness can be “…the great lost opportunity to depict dialogue between Africa and Europe…” and that makes me wonder: Are we, right now, losing an opportunity for dialogue in the U. S.?

Or, are we just not ready for dialogue?

“People look to me and say / Is the end near, when is the final day? / What is the future of mankind? / Don’t look at me for answers / Don’t ask me / I don’t know.” – “I Don’t Know” from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz

 

Thursday, December 4th: I usually don’t teach yoga on Thursdays. This was, however, one of the Thursdays when I facilitated my meditation group. We sat briefly and then listened to Gina Sharpe’s Suffering and the End of Suffering. The discussion around the talk, current events, and the additional resources (see below) also informed my weekend classes at the YMCA.

 

Friday, December 5th: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose), again gazing into the heart – this time with the intention of listening to the heart until it, as Gina Sharpe puts it, flutters. Physically, emotionally, and musically, this was a heart focused class.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…

 

Saturday, December 6th: Same beginning as Wednesday and Friday, but this time Bear McCreary’s Taiko drums sounded like the heartbeat and Anne Frank’s thunder.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.” — Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

 

Sunday, December 7th: In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that today was “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, in a moment, 2,300 people died. As a result of the attack, the United States entered World War II and, subsequently, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States entry into the war saved countless lives. Yet, in the moments when we dropped the bombs, 149,000 – 266,000 people died (this includes POWs). So, we begin with a moment of silence for all.

~ Taps + 1 minute of silence + Reveille ~

Feeling stuff is hard, messy, icky work. But, the moment you feel is also the moment you heal.

“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”  — Anne Frank, May 3, 1944

“Third we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil- Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”  — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

 

Sunday’s class ended with the same Larry Yang quote from Friday. Both classes also ended with a reminder to honor your work/karma*:

  • Hands at heart: Honor what is in your heart, as what is in your heart becomes what is in your mind.
  • Hands at third eye: Honor your thoughts, as they become your words.
  • Hands at mouth: Honor your words, as they become your deeds/actions.
  • Hands back to heart: Honor your deeds/actions as they give the world a glimpse into your character and pave the way of your destiny.

Thank you to everyone who was in class last week, as well as to everyone in my meditation group. Thank you also to my housemate Meghan (who listened to me explaining that I was angry). Thank you to all of my family and friends (who help me return to my baseline of joy). Thank you to the teachers (on and off the mat, musical and otherwise) who inspired the messages behind these classes. Thank you to Eileen for the Sunny Side post and video that made me cry. And, finally, a special shout out and HUGE, TEXAS-SIZED Utkatsana Woohoo!, to Carolina at YogaOne’s Heights location, whose Humble Warrior flow inspired this week’s physical practice and helped me remember the power of being “a great spiritual warrior.”

 ~ NAMASTE ~