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What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###

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Just… Look – Part II: Beginnings and Endings September 10, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Basketball, Books, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Texas, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women.
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 “To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

– from In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Today (Monday) is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my grandmother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have turned 90 today. Given a few more months beyond this, she would have seen me reach the half century mark. So, this is me, holding space for beginnings and endings.

As many of you know, my grandmother was one of my constants. Through her example and her work as a nurse (especially for children, veterans, women, shut-ins, and those experiencing end-of-life care), I saw the various stages of life and the importance of being treated with respect and dignity as we all move through those stages. She was the person who always reminded me to be proud of my hair, proud of my body, proud of my spirit, and proud of my life.  And, maybe more than anyone, she illustrated how life is an adventure…an opportunity to fly…a dream…and a dance between the physical and the spiritual.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of superior role models, but Miss Jean (aka Miss Jean Rockets) was the elder in whom I saw myself. We were kindred spirits. And I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

At her funeral in June, I was charged with following the Neighbor/Nurse remarks with the family remarks. Even now, on her birthday, I can think of so many more rich and endearing memories that I could have shared. However, I stand by these:

“Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.” Taraji P. Henson started her 2017 SAG Awards speech with those 8 words. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen.” While her speech goes on record as an awards acceptance speech, it was really a thanks giving, an expression of gratitude for women who were trailblazers and light bringers, a celebration of women who lived lives no one expected them to live. Since today my family charged me with giving thanks and celebrating the life of a trailblazer and a light bringer, I start the same. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.”

Before I was born, she was Miss Jean and she remained Miss Jean after I was born because, as she said, she was too young to be a grandmother: She was 40 then. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was one of her first lessons to me – I say me, but really, to all of us: be yourself, define yourself, live for yourself.

That last part, “live for yourself” might seem odd given how much of her life she devoted – and lived – for all of us, and for all of her patients. Long before I knew the words from John 17 (verses 16 and 18), Miss Jean taught me – taught all of us – what it meant to be in the world, but not of the world; to recognize the Spirit in everyone and everything; and to honor mind, body, and spirit through action. She was a living, breathing instrument of God who – as she told me now and again – was stuck together with spit, glue, and chewing gum.

I don’t really remember her chewing gum, but she sure had a lot of gumption. That spirited initiative allowed her to listen to her heart and follow her heart, fiercely – even when it led her to cold places, like Kansas City, and back home again. Clearly, given how far some of us traveled this week, we learned that lesson too.

Miss Jean taught me the power of being still, being quiet, and appreciating your own company. She taught me the power of a smile; the power of getting on your knees at the end of the day and first thing in the morning; and she taught me the power of prayer even when you’re not on your knees. All the way to the end of her life, she taught me the power of the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things you cannot change; to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She taught me to not only tell stories and listen to stories, but to really hear other people’s stories. She taught, by example, the power of being open to other people’s ideas even while standing in your own truth. She’s the reason we cousins and siblings have the conversations we have.

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” But, throughout my life [Pleasantville] has been my home, because that’s where Miss Jean and Paw-Paw WANTED to take us in. It was the place where there were always chocolate chip cookies and a biscuit in the cookie jar; your favorite dessert on the cake tray, sweet tea in the fridge, homemade popsicles in the freezer, baked potatoes and salmon on the grill, Cornish hen in the oven, and the only friends I’ve known my whole life. Standing in her doorway first thing in the morning, stretching and greeting the day and standing in the doorway waving as we drove away, Miss Jean taught me – taught us – to savor life and savor love.

She was passionate about the things and people she loved: music, movies, books, God, her friends, her family, teddy bears, and the Houston Rockets – not necessarily in that order. I could tell you stories she probably wouldn’t appreciate me telling in church, but if she were here to hear me repeat some of our conversations she would just get that sparklingly defiant look and say, “Well, it’s the truth.”

Here’s one more truth: Despite how I started today, I don’t think of my grandmother as a hidden figure. I think of her as a beacon of life and light. I have lived my whole life in Miss Jean’s light. Make sure you heard that right – not in her shadow, IN HER LIGHT! And although her physical body is gone, her light still shines bright. If you have any doubts today, look around you; if you have any doubts tomorrow, look in the mirror: See your life, see your light, and honor it – as she did.

If this were one of my yoga classes, I’d end by saying, “Namaste,” which is a Sanskrit word that literally means, “I bow thou,” and is often translated as “The light in me honors and acknowledges the light that is also in you.” However, today, I’m finishing up one of our last conversations and sending my grandmother off with words from Joy Unspeakable by Barbara Holmes. Holmes wrote,

“For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

### Ecclesiastes 3:4 ###

 

 

Just… Look – Part I: Love September 10, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Black Elk, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Men, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Wisdom, Women.
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“‘Cause when you love someone
You open up your heart
When you love someone
You make room
If you love someone
And you’re not afraid to lose ’em
You probably never loved someone like I do
You probably never loved someone like I do”

– from “Love Someone” by Lukas Graham

Click here if you do not see the video.

### Ecclesiastes 3 ###