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Interior Movements (the “missing” Sunday post, with Monday notes) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 31st (with notes related to Monday, August 1st). You can request an audio recording of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”

– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield

There are a lot of things that make practicing Yoga special. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary and unique things about the practice is that every time you step into your physical practice space, there is a deliberate and mindful intention to engage/move the mind-body in a way that also very deliberately and very intentionally engages/moves the spirit. Obviously, there are other times and other forms of exercises, even other activities, where we can go deeper inside of ourselves and really pay attention to how what’s moving inside of us (on many different levels) informs how we move through the world. You may even have a go-to activity that engages your mind-body-spirit even if is not recognized as exercise and/or as something spiritual. You may personally have a go-to something that puts you “in the flow” or “in the zone.” Maybe it’s something you deliberately, mindfully, and intentionally do when you need to clear your mind-body and really pay attention to your spirit. There are, after all, many ways that we can do that. However, in many cases that mind-body-spirit benefit is not the originally intention of the exercise; meaning your go-to thing is not a (recognized) spiritual exercise.

I recognize that not everyone recognizes Yoga as a spiritual exercise and, also, that it is not the only practice that could be considered a spiritual exercise. Semazen (Sufi whirling or turning), tanoura (the Egyptian version of Sufi whirling), and all other forms of traditional moving meditations could be considered spiritual exercises. The same could be said of modern practices like journey dancing and Gabrielle Roth’s “5Rhythms.” However, if you mention “the Spiritual Exercises” to a certain group of people in the world, none of the aforementioned come to mind. In fact, what comes to mind are not even physical exercises. Instead, what comes to mind for people within the Catholic community are the collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations codified by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day falls on July 31st.

“To understand fully the Spiritual Exercises, we should know something of the man who wrote them. In this life of St. Ignatius, told in his own words, we acquire an intimate knowledge of the author of the Exercises. We discern the Saint’s natural disposition, which was the foundation of his spiritual character. We learn of his conversion, his trials, the obstacles in his way, the heroism with which he accomplished his great mission.

This autobiography of St. Ignatius is the groundwork of all the great lives of him that have been written.”

– quoted from the “Editor’s Preface” (dated Easter, 1900) of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola on October 23, 1491, the future saint was the youngest of thirteen children born to Spanish nobles in the Basque region of Spain. Not long after he was born, his mother died and he became, on a certain level, an after thought. While his oldest brother died in the Italian Wars (also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars) and his second oldest brother inherited the family estate, the youngest of the brood was expected to go into the priesthood. Yet, he was raised with most of the same privileges and luxuries as his siblings and grew accustomed to the lifestyle. By the time he was a teenager, he was completely infatuated with all the trappings of romance, fame, fortune, and power that could come from military service.

By all accounts, young Íñigo was a bit of a dandy by the time he joined the military at seventeen. He cut a fine and stylish figure in (and out of) uniform; he loved to gamble, fence, duel, and dance; and he had a reputation as a womanizer with a very fragile ego. He also loved stories that reflected his life; stories of romance, chivalry, and military victories. In fact, some have said that he deliberately emulated the stories he read about people like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (“El Cid”), the Frankish military governor Roland, and the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps he even believed that people would one day tell stories about him the way they told stories about his heroes.

And… they kind of do. Except for two pertinent facts. First, the young noble seemed to embody the very worst aspects of masculinity and “nobility.” Second, the trajectory of his life changed almost exactly two months before he turned 30.

After over a decade of military service in which he was never seriously injured, Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s was struck by a ricocheting cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona (May 20, 1521). His right leg was crushed and it was feared that, at worse, he would lose the leg and, at best, he would lose his military career and never walk the same again. After several surgeries, during some of which his leg was re-broken and reset, his leg was saved. He returned to the family castle to recover and thought that he would spend his convalescence reading the romance adventures that he so dearly loved. Unfortunately, he was told that such novels were no longer available in the castle. He was given the Bible and the biographies of saints and, having nothing better to do, he devoured them. Just as was his habit while reading adventures of romance and chivalry, he started imagining himself in the positions of the disciples and the saints. This type of imagination is what he would later identify as “contemplation.”

“While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: ‘What if I should do what St. Francis did?’ ‘What if I should act like St. Dominic?’ He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: ‘St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.’ ‘St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.’ These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising [sic] austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.” 

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

When Patanjali codified the Yoga Philosophy, he outlined eight parts of the practice. The first two parts were ethical in nature and consisted of five external “restraints” or universal commandments (known as yamas) and five internal “observations” (known as niyamas). According to Yoga Sūtra 2.44, “the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice]” is the the benefit of practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”). Some translations refer to “angels” and still others reference “contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” Either way, the practice is basically what Ignatius was intuitively doing: paying attention to his thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, and/or even historical scenarios.

The more he did this kind of self-study, the more he started noticing something curious. He started noticing that the feelings he felt while reading and imagining the profane romantic adventures didn’t last as long as the feelings he experienced while reading and imagining the lives of the sacred. When he could walk again, the former soldier set off on a religious pilgrimage that eventually led him to a cave in Manresa (Catalonia). It was in that cave, which is now a chapel, that Saint Ignatius started spelling out his Spiritual Exercises, a four “week” practice of ritual examination and introspection.

After years of religious study, a series of visions, and another extended pilgrimage, Ignatius and six of his seminary friends took vows and committed themselves to religious service. In 1539, Saint Ignatius de Loyola and two of those friends – Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber – formed the Society of Jesus. Also known as the Jesuits, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, whereupon its leadership set off on missions to create educational institutions built on the foundation of discipline (specifically a “corpse-like” discipline), devotion (to the Pope and the Church), and trustful surrender. Interesting (to me), those same foundations can be found in the Yoga practices of tapas (“heat,” discipline, and austerity) and īśvarapraṇidhāna (“trustful surrender to the divine source”), which are the third and fifth niyamas.

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali referred to the last three niyamas (internal “observations”) as kriya yoga, which is literally “union in action.” Some people think of kriya yoga as a prescription or cleansing ritual. As I mention throughout the year, there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals (from different traditions) which fit within the rubric described by Patanjali. The Spiritual Exercises, published in 1548, contain one such example. It is a short booklet intended to be used by the teacher or guide who leads the spiritual retreat. Although the “Long Retreat” is broken down into four themes, which are traditionally experienced over 28-30 days, Saint Ignatius also included statements that allow people to experience a “retreat in daily life” if they are unable to leave their everyday life behind for a month. Additionally, the experience can be broken up over a couple of years. Whether one is Catholic or some other form of Christian, Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers the opportunity for reflection and introspection by way of prayer and meditation in the form of contemplation and discernment.

This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits.”

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

A portion of the following description was previously posted on February 6, 2021.

In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self. In other words, it requires svādhyāya (“self-study”). In the context of The Spiritual Exercises, the discernment is related to the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.

During the first “week” of The Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is instructed to reflect on “our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us.” This reflection focuses on concepts of personal sin, Divine love (which is unconditional) and Divine mercy with the intention of considering free will and how personal behavior can limit one’s ability to experience Divine love and mercy. To be clear, the idea here is not that such things will be taken away if you are bad or engage in bad behavior. Instead, the idea is that our thoughts, words, and deeds (i.e., our karma) may inhibit our ability to perceive the love and mercy being freely given. This period ends with a meditation on following in the (historical) foot steps of the Divine – which is quite literally the meaning of brahmacharya, Patanjali’s fourth yama (external “restraint”).

During the second “week,” retreatants begin to place themselves in the scenarios of the Christian scriptures as they relate to the beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and moving through his baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, and his raising Lazarus from the dead. The prayers and meditations center around the idea of how one’s life and life’s work can be a reflection of God and God’s love.

The third and fourth “weeks” continue the contemplation by first contemplating the the Last Supper, the passion (or “suffering”) of the Christ, Jesus’ death, and the significance of Jesus’ last week (during the third “week”) and then contemplating Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances/apparitions to the disciples (during the fourth “week”). The final section of the retreat is also an opportunity to contemplate how one moves forward with renewed faith, commitment, and fire.

Yes, again with the tapas, because Saint Ignatius continuously told the early Jesuits, “go, set the world on fire” – words that echoed Abbot Joseph’s instructions to Abbot Lot:

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

“Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

– “The Prayer of Generosity,” often attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 07/31/1556)

I habitually think about discernment in terms of the “interior movements of the heart” and, while it is something I regularly do on my mat, the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius is a day when I am reminded of the power of the practice. My awareness of this powerful practice is also enhanced by the fact that I start August by focusing on the lives of “impossible” people – that is to say, people who did things others said was impossible. This year, in particular, I find my heart (and mind) moved to contemplate the will and determination that gets things done, as well as the power of the resistance that keeps certain things from happening. Mixed in with this is the idea that our will and determination is strengthened when we are surrounded (and supported) by people who are focused on the same goals and desires; focused on achieving the same “impossible” goals and desires.

August 1st is the anniversary of the birth of an “impossible” woman and a man who wrote about achieving “impossible” things. It is curious to note that Miss Maria Mitchell (b. 1818) was raised in a household where her interests and endeavors were supported – despite the fact that she was born in a time and place where some believed her sex and gender should dictate/limit her vocation and occupation – and that the greatest works of Mr. Herman Melville (b. 1819) were created and published when he was in close proximity of (and in close communion with) his dear friend, and fellow writer, Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could put yourselves in their shoes; notice the interior movements of your own heart; and consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds can best reflect your possibilities.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s playlist  is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07292020 Breathing, Noting, Here & at the UN”]

NOTE: In hindsight, I realized that the playlist we used last week works really well with today’s practice. It is still available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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.)

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###

A Night of Great Power & Great Peace (a “renewed” post) April 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

The following was previously posted in 2020. Holiday related dates and statistics, as well as class details have been updated.

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

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HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

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QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

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RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

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– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma,” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

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– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Saturday, while others will be praying tonight (Wednesday, April 27th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 over 2 billion Muslims in the world (almost over a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

Please join me today (Wednesday, April 27th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Ramadan 2020”]

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

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.)

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### PRAY FOR PEACE ###

Remember Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Baha'i, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Riḍván, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

This is A 3-in-1 “missing” post (with a coda) for Wednesday, April 20th. It features information on overlapping sacred traditions and also on an anti-bullying non-profit and is a bit of a “renewed” post (since it contains some previously posted material). You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, feel free to comment or email me.

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.)

“[Bridge: P!nkKhalid & Both]
Hope floats away
If you could spend a day in my shoes
Your mind would change
If you knew what I’ve gone through
We want the same (Yeah, we do)
Maybe then you’d understand
How it hurts to be human, oh”

*

– quoted from the song “Hurts 2B Human” by P!nk, featuring Khalid

A lot of this week was devoted to the subject of suffering, on and off the mat. Sure, we all have friends that were suffering this week – and then there’s all the general suffering in the world. Because there is, and has always been, a lot of suffering in the world; there is, and has always been, a desire for the end of suffering. There is, and has always been, people actively seeking an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many paths, practices, and methods that – on some level – promise an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many really great books, poems, movies, plays, and songs about suffering and how people deal with suffering.

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

One of the things I find interesting about humans and suffering is how often we tie our salvation to something more than ourselves and our own agency. What’s particularly interesting to me is that when we look at religious traditions (and philosophical traditions that are sometimes culturally religious), the teachings very specifically connect the end of suffering to our own agency and something more than ourselves… something divine, or Divine.

“[Chorus]
What if you were told that today
Was the last day of your life
Did you live it right?
Love is a gift you give away
And it reignites
Don’t wait, don’t let it pass you by
(don’t let it pass you by)”

*

– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

Over the course of this week, all the Abrahamic religious traditions – and at least one tradition with ties to the Abrahamic religions – have been engaging in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Jewish communities have been celebrating Passover and, as of Sunday, some are also Counting the Omer. Western Christian communities (including Roman Catholics) observed Easter on Sunday and then, for some, Easter marked the beginning of the Octave of Easter (or Eastertide). On the flip side, this week marked the Holy Week or Great Week for people within Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. This month (in 2022) is also the holy month of Ramadān in Islām. Finally, Thursday marked the beginning of Riḍván in the Bahá’í community.

Since several of these holy observations started on Saturday, I’m going to point out that Hanuman Jayanti (or Hanuman Jannotsav) – which is celebrated in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora – also has a connection to suffering and the end of suffering. Oh, and then there’s Earth Day – which is not a religious holiday, per se, but is still connected to suffering on this planet, a desire to end that suffering, and the realization that the path to that freedom from suffering must come from a global community acting together… which would be divine.

Because everyone uses different calendars, this conflux doesn’t happen every year. Yes, there is usually an overlap between Passover and at least one Holy Week; however, this year is different. This year, these sacred times overlapped tragic anniversaries related to April 19th and 20th. This year, there’s more suffering and more awareness of the different ways we could/can/might end suffering – in ourselves and in the world around us.

There’s just one problem. Actually, there are several problems.

One, we don’t always pay attention to the right part of the stories. You know, the part where we have to practice what we preach, act in ways that are congruent to our beliefs, and – like Hanuman (or Nahshon) – take giant leaps (or wade in the water) in order to help and/or save others. Two, we sometimes forget that we are community; that while it may hurt 2b human, we have each other and we (can) have each other’s backs. We forget how breaking bread with someone (whether it be on Spy Wednesday or Easter Wednesday) can reveal the true nature of things. Finally, we all too often lash out at others when we are suffering.

Sometimes we lash out like Pharaoh – and our hardened hearts result in everyone being plagued with more and more suffering. Other times we are like Judas – and we lash out in ways that seem small, inconsequential, and petty; but have magnificent consequences. Then there are those times when our personal suffering is like that of Jesus’s followers who, once their suffering is alleviated by a striking realization, go on to share the good so that others may also find relief from their suffering.

All the stories told during this week’s holy observations and celebrations are reminders that we are in community – even when we are not in a religious community. While there are bullies and bad guys in these stories, there are also reminders that any one of us can make a good (meaningful) difference. We can be Moses or Aaron or Miriam or Nahshon. We can be any of the disciples or Marys or Martha or Joanna. We can be like Hanuman. We can be like Baháʼu’lláh, in that we bring communities together even as we are being separated.

Finally, we can be like Rachel Joy Scott whose legacy is a challenge. It’s not a religious challenge, it’s an existential challenge. It’s a challenge that could not only change your life, it could change the lives of those around you.

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020. However, I have revised and expanded some sections related to Moses and Passover.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

*

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”), was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. In fact, one way to look at Shemot / Exodus 2, is that Moses left the luxury of the palace specifically to witness the suffering of his first family, his tribe, his community of birth. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten; and he was 80 when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Theoretically, he was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people and he was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He went on to describe how afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he described exactly what he meant by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gave examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggested (YS 1.33) is offering loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali also offered physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation. Those physical techniques are the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, outlining the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It may also help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.’”

*

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / The Book of Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. Some traditions even credit him as the author of The Book of Job, the events of which took place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. The Book of Job is the story of a man who endured great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there was a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering was alleviated and the way in which he endured the suffering is rewarded.

Job clung to his faith and believed that G-d was always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in a previous post, was told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel” (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translated G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this choice works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. (Remember, not everyone celebrated that first Passover and not everyone left Egypt when they had the chance.) Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – includes a correlation between free will and suffering, a connection between our actions and the end of our suffering.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

*

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

*

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2021. 

WARNING: This post specifically references a horrific and tragic event from 1999. You can skip most of these references by jumping from the first highlighted quote to the second highlighted quote.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. According to Webster’s Dictionary, compassion means a feeling of sympathy for another person’s misfortune. My definition is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Back in 2018, as one of my Kiss My Asana yogathon offerings, I referenced a lot – well, some – of the people who tragically lost their lives throughout history on April 19th and 20th. One of the people I mentioned was Rachel Joy Scott – the first person shot at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In some ways, it is hard to believe that 22 23 years have passed since that mass shooting. Remember mass shooting that some people thought would change everything? It’s equally hard to believe that there are adults – people who can serve in the armed forces, legally vote, and in some cases legally drink alcohol in the United States – who were not even born when 2 high school seniors killed 12 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives. It’s mind-boggling to me that (based on recent events in early 2021 and data compiled by The New Yorker and Trace in 2019) there have had been over 200 mass shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999. (As of April 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in schools since this week in 1999.) Those shootings have affected thousands upon thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is astounding that what was (at the time) the fifth deadliest shooting in the United States (after World War II) “is now not even in the top ten.”

I’m not going to spend my time here (or in class) talking about my opinion about gun control and/or the 2nd Amendment. Nor am I going to spend a lot of time stating the obvious fact that, as the statistics and the lives lost clearly attest, we have a problem – because, let’s be honest, we have a lot of problems right now. What I am going to focus on today is Rachel’s Challenge. Not the program (although I will mention that) so much as the idea(l).

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Somewhere on her person, perhaps in her backpack, 17-year old Rachel Joy Scott had a notebook. It was one of several notebooks that turned up after Rachel’s death. Some of the notebooks were full of thoughts, poetry, and art she was just sharing with herself. Some of the notebooks, however, were a form of communication between her and her “big brother” Mark Pettit. They would each write in the notebooks and then swap them during small groups at church.

The notebooks became a way for Rachel’s family to tell her story and also a way to spread her message about the importance of compassion. They, along with the stories that other people shared about their encounters with Rachel, led her family to start Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit that creates “programs that promote a positive climate in K-12 schools.” They also have comprehensive programs for colleges and businesses.

On the foundation’s website, the Rachel’s Challenge mission is stated as “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.” They also indicate that when the program is fully implemented, “partner schools achieve statistically significant gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate; along with reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.”

“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”

*

– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

I did not know Rachel Joy Scott or Cassie Bernall (17), Steven Curnow (14), Corey DePooter (17), Kelly Fleming (16), Matthew Kechter (16), Daniel Mauser (15), Daniel Rohrbough (15), Isaiah Shoels (18), John Tomlin (16), Lauren Townsend (18), Kyle Velasquez (16), William “Dave” Sanders (47), nor (to my knowledge) do I know anyone else that was at Littleton, Colorado, today in 1999. I did not know the two seniors that wrecked so much havoc (and whose names I am choosing not to post, even though their families also suffered greatly.) I am not affiliated with the foundation Rachel’s family started and neither have I gone through their program. However, I believe in the message and I believe in the idea(l).

I have seen the chain reaction that starts with compassion and kindness – just as I have seen the chain reaction that begins with a lack of empathy and a lack of equanimity. In that essay she wrote in period 5, Rachel talked about first, second, and third impressions and how they don’t always give you a full picture of someone. She wrote, “Did you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from, did they experience love, did they experience hurt, did you look into their soul and not just at their appearance?” We are, right here and right now, experiencing the chain reactions that occur when we don’t really see each other and when we don’t recognize the fact that we are all connected. We are – right here and right now – about to set off a new chain reaction.

Quick, ask yourself: What is motivating you and what do you expect to come out of your actions?

“One of the big things we’re focused on is how you see yourself. Each and every one of us in this room has a great capacity to do great things.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking to a small group of students during a Rachel’s Challenge event

*

“I challenge students to choose positive influences. Rachel wanted to make a positive difference. So, she surrounded herself with the right influences that helped her be a powerful, positive person.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

*

𝄌

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

*

There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

In the past, when I’ve talked about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve used a fairly non-religious playlist. This year, however, the overlapping holidays inspired me to remix the playlist for these holy times. I wanted music that would reflect the different traditions and the different stories, while also reflecting Rachel Joy Scott’s ethics and codes of life. I also wanted something that was inspiring and hopeful, like the young woman herself.

As I was remixing, I came across “Godbone” by (one of my favorite composers) Bear McCreary. In the the television series See and in games like “King of Dragon Pass,” “godbone” is a term used for metal and/or concrete. I’m not 100% positive about the etymology of the term, but it reminded me of the Lunar New Year story about the Kitchen God and how the fireplace poker came into existence. It also made me think about Krishna’s explanation of tapas – which can be defined as heat, discipline and austerity, as well as the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity.

Whenever I reference tapas, which is one of the niyamas (“internal observations” in the Yoga Philosophy), I mention that it can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. It can also be applied religiously. In fact, fasting during the holy month of Ramadān, giving something up for Lent, and giving up leavened bread during Passover are some of the examples I use throughout the year. Those same traditions also incorporate the the final two internal observations – svādhyāya (“self-study”) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (“surrendering to [a higher power]”) – which combine with tapas to form kriya yoga (“yoga in action,” or an ongoing process moving towards union with Divine). (YS 2.1) These sacred rituals are all about refining the (c)ore of who we are.

“And he shall sit refining and purifying silver, and he shall purify the children of Levi. And he shall purge them as gold and as silver, and they shall be offering up an offering to the Lord with righteousness.”

*

– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

Back in 2010, Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote an article about bitter herbs, suffering (in Passover and in life), and a group of women who were inspired to go deeper into the Biblical idea that the Jewish people’s suffering in Egypt was “the ‘kur habarzel ― the iron crucible[.]’” She wrote about how these women went to see a silversmith at work and how, through their observations and questions, they gained a better understanding of the process of suffering and how to deal with suffering. Like Rachel’s challenge, Sara Rigler’s insight gives us a better understanding of how we can graceful engage our own suffering: Always look for the image of the Divine in ourselves and always look for that same reflection in others.

“As the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire, he explained that he needed to hold the silver where the flame was hottest in order to burn away all the impurities. The woman, remembering the Biblical verse, asked if he had to sit there the whole time the silver was being refined. The silversmith responded that not only did he have to sit and hold the silver the entire time, but he had to keep a careful eye on it, because if the silver was left in the flame a moment too long, it would be destroyed.

‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ the woman asked.

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I see my image in it.'”

*

– quoted from the aish.com article “Why Celebrate with Bitter Herbs? – Yes, God took us out of Egypt, but He put us there in the first place!” by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04202022 Rachel’s Challenge, Holy Remix”]

“She was a real girl, who had real struggles, and – just was in the pursuit to, you know, pretty much just show compassion and love to anybody who needed it. You know: Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever class – any of that stuff. I mean, it did not matter to Rachel…. She saw my heart.”

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– Mark Pettit, talking about the movie I’m Not Ashamed, a 2016 film based on their journals

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

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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.

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### AMEN, SELAH ###

Effort and Effect (a “missing” post from a week ago) February 28, 2022

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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“‘Life Is’ is a simple thing, with piano, strings & synth, and is the result of my ruminations on recent events in my life. In many ways it’s a microcosm of my life. Repetitive, in a warm, familiar kind of way, with sprinklings of sadness, and joy… always slightly improvised, but never too much drama. ;)”

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– quoted from the description of the song “Life Is” by Scott Buckley

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“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to consider what it means to be human. In the process of considering what it means to be human, we have to also address what it means to live life as humans. Here, we can use the words of either Scott – because life is “a simple thing” and “life is difficult.” Then we need to add in the fact that life is a beautiful thing, a hard thing, a challenging thing. Life can also be messed up, twisted, upside down, and backwards – and not always in a fun way. Life is full of dichotomy and full of contradictions. It can be, and often is, out of balance. What’s more, the way we live our lives can also be all of these things – at the same time… which can make life really hard.

It can also make it hard to do the right thing.

We would like to think that when we do the right thing everything will just fall into place. We would like to think that life will be easier if we make the right decision, at the exact right time, and do the right things. I mean, that’s what we’re taught, right? That’s the secret, right?

Sure, yes. I stand behind the idea of being in the flow. Here’s the thing though: In order for things to fall into place, they have to be set up in a certain way – which requires work, effort. That’s the part of the lesson we always seem to skip over. But, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful opportunities fall into your lap, you still have to use the opportunities. You still have to do the work.

“The literal meaning kriya is “verb.” Every verb is representative of a distinct process or function and no process of function reaches fruition without a doer.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated into English as “work” or “effort,” and which both apply to our thoughts, words, and deeds/actions. The first word is kriyā and the second word is karma. Most English speakers are familiar with the word karma (or kamma in Pali). Even if they are not 100% certain about the meaning, they understand the general concept of cause-and-effect. What they may miss is that karma is the effect or consequence, while kriyā is the cause. Kriyā is an ongoing process and also the steps within the process; it is active. You could also think of karma as fate and kriyā as destiny; where the former is unchangeable and the latter as the journey to your destination.

Some traditions specifically use kriyā in relation to internal action or work and speak of karma when referring to external work. In some ways, this dovetails with Yoga Sūtra 2.1, which defines kriyā yoga (“union in action”) as a combination of the final three niyamas (internal “observations”): discipline/austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self). In this context, kriyā yoga is a purification ritual and, as I mention throughout the year, there are several religious and philosophical observations that would fit within this rubric (including Lent, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and the holy month of Ramaḍān).

Additionally, in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, “kriyā” is the term applied to sequences with specific energetic intentions.

This is where it gets (even more) convoluted, because karma can also be the intention. Classically, when we talk about karma, we talk about planting seeds and things coming into fruition. So, one way to think of it is that we plant seeds that already have within them the image of the final product and kriyā is what we do to nurture and harvest what’s been planted – and/or what we do when we need to uproot the poisonous weeds.

“There comes a time when we should be together
United in our fight to make things better.
Our world is here,
But will not be forever,
Depending on our will to change [the] matter.”
*
“This is a song of hope.”
*

– quoted the song “Song of Hope” by Avishai Cohen

The practice on February 20th was partially inspired by current events and people who feel called to do hard things for the right reasons. These same people have even called on others to help do the work that is required to bring more balance into the world. In thinking about these people in the modern world, I found myself thinking back to people who did hard things in ancient worlds. One such person was Arjuna in the events of The Bhagavad Gita, and, even though it wasn’t the right time of year – per se – I decided to focus on the wisdom of another such ancient person: Syncletica of Alexandria, one of the Desert Mothers.

The Bhagavad Gita is set during a lull in battle during a great civil war. Arjuna is a prince and military leader on one side of the battle. As others magically look on, he stands in the middle of the battlefield and has a crisis of faith. He looks at his family and friends on both sides of the battlefield and he “loses his resolve.” He questions why he fighting and what will be resolved. He shares with his best friend and charioteer that he is filled with an amalgamation of emotions, including the possibility of shame and unhappiness if he were to kill his own friends and family.

As he is sharing his deepest worries and fears, his friend (Krishna) reveals himself as an avatar of God and emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right even when it (and everything else) seems wrong. He outlines several different methods by which one can live a “truth-based life” and experience ultimate fulfilment (which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the spoils of battle). Krishna is very clear that there are different methods or paths for different people and (sometimes) for different situations, but that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine and to self-realization. In this context, “Karma Yoga” is defined as “the path of action for the busy, action-oriented person.”(BG 3.3) However, and this is also emphasized throughout the text, the goal is to work without desire and without expectation. Krishna indicates that “both the action and the fruits of the action” are to be offered up to the Divine so that the action is nonbinding and selfless and, therefore, will not lead to reincarnation. (BG 3.9) Remember, offering your efforts back to the Source is the same instruction Patanjali gives in outlining kriyā yoga.

Ever skeptical, Arjuna thinks it is impossible for him to work without desire. Krishna explains to him, again and again, that it is not impossible. It does require however, that one has the right mindset. It also requires (hard) work and sacrifice. (BG 3.10-3.16, 6.33-36)

“‘Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.47) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

One of the big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is that everyone has a role to play in society. As Krishna explains in Chapter 18 people’s different personalities play a part in determining their different roles and duties. In very general (but explicit) terms, he describes “Seers, Leaders, Providers, and Servers.” He also emphasizes that “No particular group of people is superior to any other, but like limbs of the body, each has a respective role to play.” (BG 18.41) The descriptions are clear enough that we can easily identify ourselves and also recognize that there are times when we are called to serve more than one role.

For example, a professional teacher could be described as a seer and/or a leader. But, even if we are not professional teachers, the way we live our lives sets an example. The way we live our lives teaches others – especially younger generations – how to love, how to care for each other, how to stand up for what’s right, and how to do the right thing… even when it is hard. In this way, we are all leaders.

“‘Consider them one by one. Society’s Seers are the holy ones (in some societies referred to as Brahmins). Seers are expected to establish the character and spiritual underpinnings of society. Their duties are generally of pure, unmixed sattva and are therefore congenial to a person of sattvic nature. This is what is meant by the term “born of their own nature.” Providing spiritual and moral leadership is generally “natural” to Seers.

*

‘Seers must have spiritual knowledge and wisdom – knowledge of God-realization obtained through devout study – and wisdom beyond knowledge, acquired through direct experience of the Atma. Seers must have purity of heart, mind, and body; and allow no perversity or corruption to creep in. They must possess serenity, calmness, forbearance, forgiveness, and patience – and hold to an unwavering faith in the divinity of all life. The primary purpose of the Seers is to help transform society’s exemplary human beings into godly beings.

*

‘The primary objective of society’s Leaders is to help transform ordinary human beings into exemplary human beings. The Leaders (referred to as Kshatriyas) are expected to guard the welfare and prosperity of society by serving the people. They are charged with bringing moral stamina and adherence to duty through courage, fearlessness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of changing conditions. They must be examples of law, justice, and generosity. They must lead by inspiring the populace through good example and yet be ready to enforce their authority.

*

‘Both groups are strong in their own ways. The strength of the Leaders lies in their courage; the strength of the Seers lies in their spiritual glow.'”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.42 – 18.43) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Saint Syncletica is a perfect example of a seer. Also known as Amma Syncletica, she was a 4th century Christian mystic who was reportedly born into a wealthy Macedonian family in Alexandria, Egypt. By all accounts, she was a beautiful woman who could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege. Yet, from an early age, she felt a calling to serve God. From a very early age, she committed herself to God.

When her parents passed away, Syncletica donated her inheritance to the poor. Then, she cut her hair and, much to the chagrin of her many suitors, she and her younger blind sister moved to something akin to catacombs. One abbot reported that she just kept going deeper and deeper into the desert – which might have been a metaphor. Eventually, her lived example drew other women into the ascetic lifestyle that was focused on salvation, self-realization and union with God – the same end goal outlined in the Yoga Sūtras, described in The Bhagavad Gita, and highlighted in sacred texts from a variety of different traditions (including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).

It is believed that Amma Syncletica died around 350 AD, when she was eighty or eighty-four years old. The Vita S. Syncleticæ is one of the primary sources of her life and stories related to her life. The Greek biography is attributed to Athanasius I of Alexandria – although it appears to have been written after his death (and around a hundred years after hers). Thirty to fifty years after the appearance of the Vita, she is one of three women whose stories and words are included in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Saint Syncletica was venerated by the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. In some Greek traditions she is honored on January 4th (on the Julian calendar). In most traditions, her feast day is January 5th – although, she is no longer included on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the Episcopal Church (in the United States) she is celebrated along with two other Desert Ammas, Sarah and Theodora.

“Amma Syncletica said, ‘In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [Heb 12:24]): so we must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

*

– based on The Life of the Blessed & Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie 

Coda: A couple of weeks ago, I really felt the need for this message. What I mean is that I needed to hear the encouragement of this message. Given the fact that I knew some other people were facing tough decisions, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one that needed the reminder that even something that reduces us to tears, can lead us to “unspeakable joy.” I thought maybe we all needed to hear how important it is to keep doing the work even when you don’t feel supported by others – and, also, to keep doing the work even when you’re being supported by people with whom you have no other common ground.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was only thinking about metaphorical battles and metaphorical battlegrounds.

Yes, there were real wars and battles happening a couple of weeks ago, but they were (in many ways), out of sight and out of mind. Today, those battles and battlefields are front and center again. As we watch war play out in real time, we can clearly see the Seers, the Leaders, the Providers, and the Servers. We can see how hard it is to do the right thing – and even the high cost of doing the right thing. We can also see that the final words of the Gita are still true:

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.'”

– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to “the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*Dr. Peck noted that he was essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

*

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

*

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

*

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.’”

*

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

*

### You Gotta Do The Work & Honor The Work You’re Doing ###

Let Me Reintroduce the Practice (the Saturday post) January 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 23rd. It contains some examples not included in the class. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’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.]

 

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Last week’s practice included a quick a quick summary review of the “Samadhi Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Concentration), in which Patanjali explains (in 51 sūtras) how the mind works and how to work the mind. This week’s practice focuses on reintroducing the practice that Patanjali introduces in the “Sadhana Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Practice), which is 55 sūtras outlining the 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy.

One of the things that I appreciate about the practice of the Yoga Philosophy is that it is practical. Granted, the Buddha (historically) did not agree. I have heard that, in his time, yoga as a philosophy was not widely practiced by householders and the Noble Eightfold Path was his codification of a practical practice for all. However, I feel that Patanjali also did this with the Yoga Sūtras. I feel that way because I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice yoga just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice Buddhism – just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, struggle with integrating the 8 elements of either practice into their lives. More to this point, however, is the fact that Patanjali starts off the second section of his practicum talking about “Yoga in action” (kriyāyogah).

Even before breaking down the 8 Limbs, Patanjali offers what some have called a prescription for achieving the state of yoga that will cease the fluctuation of the mind. This prescription is a combination of what he will eventually explain are the last three “internal observations” (niyamāh): “austerity or heat” (tapah), “self-study” (svādhyāya), and a trustful surrender to the Divine (īśvarapraņidhāna).

These are things anyone can do – if they truly understand what it is they are doing. Part of the problem in the modern world (and Buddhism runs into a similar problem) is that people get things twisted. They focus on what’s happening on the outside, superficially; rather than what’s happening inside. Even if they know that tapas can be defined as “heat, discipline, and austerity” – as well as the practices that cultivate the same – they might look at a really sweaty physical practice and think, “Oh, no, I can’t do that. That’s not for me.” And, while those styles and traditions can be a form of tapah, they are not the only form – and it is possible to do those very hot or heated practices and not cultivate discipline or austerity, which begs two questions: What are you practicing? What are you accomplishing?

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Having previously established (in the first chapter) how the mind works and how to work the mind, Patanjali reiterates the purpose of yoga (“union” of mind-body-spirit and an end to the causes of suffering) – this time as it specifically relates to afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns. He gives a more detailed explanation of those afflicted thought patterns by describing them as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He establishes ignorance (āvidya) as the root of the other four and states that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then breaks describes the different ways of āvidya manifests in the world – which basically takes us back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and explains how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how āvidya and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example. Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born today (January 23rd) in 1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung and, when he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that, just as he initially thought that, you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

 

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education of physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

He not only graduated from high school, he also attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of those students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads” – and they were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings, and therefore changing policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

In the second chapter Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali continues to emphasize the importance of the practice by explaining how the afflictions can end – with meditation being one of the methods – and also outlining the connection between these afflictions and karma (“work, effort”), which can be a never ending cycle of action and reaction. In explaining this connection, Patanjali (like the Buddha) points to how the causes of suffering can also be the way to “fulfillment and freedom” from suffering. He also breaks down the composition of the “objective world;” the three properties of energy; the four ways in which we can understand or sense everything in the objective world; and reiterates the power of the mind – both in its ability to delude and its ability to achieve clarity.

In his discussion of personal power, Patanjali expounds on how powerful the mind-body can be and how that power is magnified when combined with the power of the Divine. He also explains that this power, fueled by two levels of “unshakable discerning knowledge,” which fall into seven categories. After laying out this foundation, Patanjali states (just like the Buddha does after him) that his path leads one to the “end of suffering.” The remainder of the second chapter is devoted to outlining the 8-Limbed philosophy, and explaining the benefits of the first 5, as follows:

1. Yamās (External Restraints or Universal Commandments): Non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, an awareness of one’s connection to the highest reality, and non-grasping/non-hording

2. Niyamās (Internal Observations): cleanliness, contentment, heat/discipline/austerity, self-study, and a trustful surrender to the Divine

3. Āsana (Seat or Pose)

4. Prāņāyāma (Awareness and mastery of energy)

5. Pratyāhāra (Withdrawing the Senses, inward)

6. Dhāraņā (Focus or Concentration*)

7. Dhyāna (Concentration or Meditation*)

8. Samādhi (Meditation, Perfect Meditation, or Spiritual Absorption*)

 

*NOTE: Different English translations are based on different traditions.

Patanjali very specifically states that the five yamās (“restraints”) are “universally applicable” and are not limited by an individual’s identity and/or circumstances. Anyone and everyone can practice them! He emphasizes the importance of cultivating an awareness of opposites, which can be useful in attenuating negative and afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns, especially in the absence of or in conjunction with the 10 elements of the ethical component. He references seven steps (or stages) or prāņāyāma, as awareness of breath, and basic practice instructions related to the three parts of the breath. He then references a fourth state or experience, which transcends the other parts of the breath.

His explanation of the direct benefits of the first five limbs illustrates how each limb takes you inward in a way that can be partially measured by external factors. Additionally, he points to how the “mastery” of the third limb allows one to practice the fourth limb, the mastery of which allows one to practice the fifth limb, and so on. Even though he does not go into a great deal of detail (with regard to the final three limbs), Patanjali’s breakdown of progression in the practice is shown to also apply to those higher limbs: dhāraņā, dhyāna, and samādhi.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

 

### OM AUM ###

A Night of Great Power, A Night of Great Peace May 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

 

HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

 

QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

 

RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

 

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Sunday, while others will be praying tonight (Tuesday, May 19th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (almost a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

 

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

 

All that is to say, tonight is the night we’re going to open our eyes, or hearts, our bodies, and our minds. If you’re interested and available, please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Prayer for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### PRAY FOR PEACE ###

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

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

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

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

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

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

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

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

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

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

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

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

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

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

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

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

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###