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Compassion and Peace (when I Accuse You!) July 19, 2020

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“And now the image of [our country] is sullied by this filth, and history shall record that it was under your presidency that this crime against society was committed.

 At the root of it all is one evil man. … Nobody would ever believe the experiments to which he subjected the unfortunate….

… what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people’s cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

J’Accuse! I accuse you! Yes, you! This is all your fault!!!

Loudly, publicly, and bluntly, I accuse you of doing something heinous. Before we get into the details of the accusation, pause for a moment. Consider how you are feeling. Don’t be surprised if you are feeling a tightening; maybe an immediate impulse to do something to defend yourself; maybe – before we even get into the details – you are already spinning the story, as if you know what I’m going to say. Even though this is a safe place (and you probably do know what I’m doing here: i.e., giving you a container in which to practice), you may already be feeling the bite of the hook. Shenpa; it’s the Tibetan word that American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön translates as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. She points out that while it is usually involuntary “it gets right to the root of why we suffer.”

When you feel it, even a little bit, you are feeling the “urge” or “impulse” to do something to defend/protect yourself… or, at least, defend/protect the afflicted thought that is your false sense of self. Remember, that while this may feel, physiologically, as if someone is threatening you with bodily harm – and while your body will react accordingly – shenpa in this context is not related to physical harm. It is related to suffering and, therefore, Recognizing what you are feeling (and why you are feeling it) is the first “R” in the practice of getting “unhooked.”

“At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

We are living in a time when a lot of people are getting “hooked” by a large number of things. One thing in particular that stands out is people experiencing shenpa because of loud, public, and blunt accusations. The accusations are all related to what in the yoga philosophy would be called avidyā (ignorance) and all four of the other afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. The loudest of the accusations comes in the form of one of several words: racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic. And, let’s be honest, if someone uses the right “mean” word, they don’t have to do it loudly (or publicly) for the accused to feel the bite of the hook. Furthermore, this shenpa-related reaction is so prevalent right now that we don’t have to turn on the news, read about it, or look online to see someone experiencing this particular form of suffering: all we have to do is look in the mirror.

Just to clarify, the suffering to which I refer – the suffering that comes from this particular type of ignorance – is not the suffering of the person who is doing the accusing. Yes, there is suffering when someone is subjected to another person’s hatred and small thinking (and yes, it is related to this same kind of dysfunctional/afflicted thinking), but that’s not the point of today’s practice. Today is more about the suffering of the accused.

Wait, what?

I know, I know, some of you are thinking I’m sleep deprived again – but stick with me.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

For further clarification, let’s talk about a former housemate of mine. This person is a person of color (really, a member of more than one ethnic minority group) and held a position of power within a certain organization. They are also male-presenting and, let’s get real, there’s some power in that. At one point while we were living together, my former housemate was accused of being racist and sexist. Now, he was troubled by this for a number of reasons – not the least of which was that (a) as a minority he felt like he couldn’t be racist, (b) he adored and respected women, and (c) he had personally been the victim of a lot of different kinds of racism. Being accused of such a thing is hard on its on, it’s harder when you know how it feels to have that hatred directed at you.

Part of what makes it hard to be accused of being {fill in the blank} is that for many of us the idea of holding a negative and/or stereotypical view of someone because of something they can’t change goes against who we think we are at our core. We reject the very notion that we could hold views that have been described as “unmitigated evil.” Additionally, even if we think there’s nothing wrong with our view, we recognize that such views and the behavior associated with them are not socially acceptable. So, even if we think we’re right, it’s embarrassing to be accused of something that the populace views as wrong.

It all comes down to perception. As I told my housemate at the time, as soon as someone says something is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic – it is. Full stop. The urge to argue about it is coming from being “hooked” and generates an endless (and, I’d argue, useless) cycle of suffering. Practice the second and third “R’s”: Refrain, Relax. We don’t solve anything by denying what is real in the moment. Our denial, however, is part of what is real and may prevent us from getting to the root of the problem: avidyā.

“I call it, it’s ‘dog-whistle racism.’ It’s something that, everybody could be in the same room as you, but you’re the only person who’s hearing it. And it’s loud and clear to you, as to the reason why you’re being treated this way or not allowed to come here; or being asked for your ID, several times; asked why you’re here; told to go sit somewhere else, even though you’re with a group of people – they don’t see you as part of that group. It happens a lot.”

 

– Canadian author and CTV news anchor Andrea M. Bain, appearing on ET Canada (07/16/2020)

There are very few, if any, modern (First World) societies that were not built on a foundation of ignorance. Here in the United States, racism, sexism, and xenophobia are – in many ways – the very bedrock of our civilization.  (Are you tightening up over these statements? Take a deep breath. Sigh it out. Repeat and then read on.)

To me, a woman of color (from the South, no less), everyone in this country has been socialized to be have ignorant thoughts (be they racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist. Yes, everyone! To turn away from this is to turn away from the opportunity to fix the problems that result in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist behavior. Let’s be clear here, we may not (at this stage) be able to change our thoughts, but we can in this moment change our words and deeds/actions by paying attention to our thoughts. An accusation brings awareness to what’s real in this moment. It’s an engraved invitation to practice. Yes, it is a really stressful, awkward, and horrible invitation, but it’s still an invitation.

By accepting the invitation, we accept the opportunity to make real change. Bringing awareness to what’s going on in our minds (consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously) gives us the opportunity to decide how we want to engage the world and the people in the world. In other words, pausing for a moment to recognize what is happening in this moment allows us to move forward with the final “R,” Resolve. It gives us the opportunity to internally declare, “I just had a racist thought, but I’m not going to follow that up with straight-up racist behavior. I’m not going to be racist today. I’m going to be {fill in the blank}.”

Here’s the thing though: You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the impulse to defend yourself against the accusation. You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the attachment you have to believing you are something you like when someone is accusing you of being something you dislike. You only get to fill in the blank if you allow your “false sense of ego” to die. Yes, you have to let go of you think you are. All of that is to say, you only get to fill in the blank if you let go of your avidyā.

“If we can see shenpa just as we’re starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there’s the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it. Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do. Generally speaking, we don’t catch the tightening until we’ve indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. And unless we equate refraining with loving-kindness and friendliness towards ourselves, refraining feels like putting on a straitjacket. We struggle against it. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

 

Today in 1898, the novelist and essayist Emile Zola fled France after being found guilty of libel in a case associated with the “Dreyfus Affair.” The libel case and subsequent conviction were based on an open letter in which Zola accused the army, the government, and even the court system of illegally arresting and convicting Captain Alfred Dreyfus of espionage and treason. Dreyfus was a French artillery officer, who was also Jewish, and there was no indication (or evidence) that he committed the crimes in question. In fact, two years after Dreyfus was court martialed and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, evidence proved that the real culprit was a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Esterhazy was tried, found “not guilty” of conspiring with the Germans, and allowed to retire in 1898, with the rank of Major. Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, who brought forward the evidence against Esterhazy, was transferred to Tunisia. Once he was out of the country, military officials portrayed Picquart as anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, military officials manufactured evidence against Dreyfus (and convicted him a second time) – and all of this was leaked to the press.

While historians still debate why Dreyfus was arrested, framed, and convicted, everyone agrees that he was innocent. This is not revisionist history. His innocence was firmly established at the time – which is why Zola, a noted writer of the time, was so outraged. Knowing the power of his words and the power of his reputation, Zola penned a 4,500-word article which was published on the front page of L’Aurore. The headline, above the fold, read “J’Accuse…!” and almost 300,000 copies were distributed (on January 13, 1898). That was 10x the normal distribution. The open letter was a detailed timeline of “L’Affaire.” It included names of officials, accused them of anti-Semitism, and provided explicit details to back up the accusations. Zola wanted to “hook” the government and force them to sue him for libel so that all of the evidence from the secret court martial cases would be made public. Additionally, Zola’s letter further incensed the French public, which became even more outraged by Zola’s trial and conviction. His sentencing did not go well, as it turned the already volatile populace further against the military. As Zola fled, more publications took up the fight, the world started watching, and the citizens of France began what many consider major social reformation. They took a look at themselves and the reality of what they were versus what they professed to be: a Catholic nation or a republic where all citizens had equal rights regardless of religion.

“The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor.”

 

– Alfred Dreyfus, after accepting a Presidential pardon

Dreyfus was offered a Presidential pardon in 1899, which he accepted; however, he was still considered a traitor to France and spent several years under house-arrest. It would be 1906 before he was officially exonerated by a military commission, readmitted to the army and promoted to major, and then named to Knight of the Legion of Honor. He retired within a year, but returned to the army at the beginning of World War I. He would eventually be promoted to lieutenant colonel and be awarded the rank of “Officer” within the Legion of Honor. When he died in 1935, he was given full military honors – plus a little extra pomp and circumstance since his funeral procession occurred during Bastille Day. His tombstone inscription is in Hebrew and English, and only refers to his unfaltering service to France.

Zola returned to France after the French government collapsed, but would die of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902. In 1908, during a ceremony to honor Zola by interring his ashes at the Panthéon, a right-wing reporter would attempt to assassinate Dreyfus. In 1953, a roofer admitted, in a death-bed confession, that he had murdered Zola by initially blocking the chimney. Years after the fact, there were still people getting “hooked.”

“Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there’s no way to be arrogant. The trick is to keep seeing. Don’t let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That’s just another hook. Because we’ve been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can’t expect to undo it overnight. It’s not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

Please join me for a compassionate 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson  

 

 

### RRRR(R) ###

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

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.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

Compassion and Peace for Pema July 14, 2020

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“I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others.

Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however… it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

There’s a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the last few years: persistence, staying with it, stick-to-itiveness, leaning in, being present. I would argue that the ability to be present is part of being human, but so is the ability – even the desire – to get away from something (or someone) that is toxic or challenging. You could say that these two sides of the coin are two sides of human nature and, so, it’s natural that abiding (i.e., enduring) is part of the practice. The problem we run into when we move aspects of human nature from the practice – be it Buddhism or Yoga – and into business or personal relationships, without the benefit of the practice and/or an understanding of human nature, is that we take it out of context.

Born today in 1936, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is the author of almost two dozen books and countless articles. She is one of the teachers credited with spreading the teachings of the Buddha into the Western world. She was married and divorced, twice, in her early twenties and thirties and calls her second ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. She is a mother and a grandmother, as well as the principal teacher and director at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in North America for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She might appear to be the poster child for “leaning in” – and yet, she recently resigned (in protest) from her leadership role at Shambhala International after a series of accusations related to the misconduct of other teachers and leaders led her to conclude that the governing organization was going in an “unwise direction.”

Just to be clear, calling something “the unwise direction” is very definitely calling it antithetical to the tenets of Buddhism.

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings often center around the concept of shenpa, a Tibetan word she defines as “attachment” and the practice of the 4 R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve), which is the practice of getting unhooked. From the outside looking in, this could look like the opposite of stick-to-itiveness.  Yet, the core of the teachings is what she refers to as “compassionate abiding.” It is being present with what is, leaning in (if you like that phrase), but without engaging the additional layer of suffering that can come from dealing with a toxic or “unwise” situation. It is, absolutely, recognizing the reality of the situation and also offering oneself the opportunity to let go of what no longer serves them. It is breathing in to what is, recognizing and acknowledging it, and then breathing out, relaxing and “giv[ing] the feeling space.”

That’s it, that’s the practice. I realize that sometimes I may explain this in a way that seems opposite of what Chödrön teaches; so let me clarify. Both the inhale and the exhale are opportunities to recognize/acknowledge what is and relax into it. Both the inhale and the exhale create space around what is. When I say, “let go of what no longer serves you” (on the exhale), it is not a suggestion to run away. Instead, it is an opportunity to release the tightness that comes from the shenpa: It’s an opportunity to get unhooked. As attachment is the root of suffering in Buddhism (and in the philosophy of Yoga), the ultimate act of self-compassion is any act of non-attachment or detachment. This, the compassionate part, is what is missing when we take the practice and/or human nature out of the “leaning in” equation. After all, we can leave a toxic situation and still be attached to the toxicity.

“This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

 

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct.”

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

“Compassionate abiding” is sustained by metta/maitri (“loving-kindness”) and it is an inherent part of the practice of the Four R’s. Ani Pema Chödrön says that it can be a stand-alone practice and also a way to prepare for tonglen meditation, a form of compassion often defined as “taking in and sending out” or “giving and receiving.” Either way, it is breathing with intention and that intention is related to the end of suffering. It is, again, recognizing/acknowledging the ways in which we are suffering and, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others are suffering in this same way. It is recognizing/acknowledging our own desire to be free of suffering while, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others also want to be free of this same suffering. It is simultaneously working towards our own liberation as a means of liberating others – and it opens us up to the reality of people whose suffering is different and/or greater than our own. The desire, the work, the effort are not separate. In fact, the minute we start separating our own needs, desires, and suffering from the needs, desires, and suffering of others is the minute we create more avidyā (“ignorance”) and therefore more suffering.

“By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 Please join me today (Tuesday, July 14th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom to experience a little heart melting. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 

Check out the full article at Tricycle and

 

Fill your cup with Ani Pema and Oprah

 

 

 

### “May [all of us] be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” ###

 

Have You Noticed The Change? April 21, 2020

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“In your meditation today,

May your body be still and comfortable;

May your head, neck, and trunk be aligned;

May your breath be smooth, slow, serene, and with no pauses;

May the flow of thoughts in your mind not disturb you;

May your meditation today bring you peace, happiness, and bliss.”

– Intention for meditation, set by Swami Jnaneshvara

 

There’s a lot going on right now, inside and outside; a lot to notice. So, perhaps you’ve noticed something is different, but haven’t mentioned it. Perhaps you have noticed the things that are the same, and appreciated them. Yet, even as we’ve spent the last few days very deliberately and very intentionally noticing things, perhaps you haven’t noticed one of the things that has changed.

In all fairness, there are a number of reasons why you might not have even encountered the specific change of which I speak. The biggest reason you might not have noticed the change is that you might not be using the playlist and/or you might not be listening to the before/after class music.

Over the years, music has become part of the ritual of the practice. A friend once remarked that she came into one of the studios at the Y and didn’t see me, but she heard a Garth Brooks song playing over the stereo and knew I was somewhere in the building. Some people have told me that don’t really like the outdoor classes (because there is no music) and others have said they prefer no music. Some people have said they never even notice the music, and then there are the times where it is just a little too loud.

Still, many people have remarked that the chanting at the end of the playlist really sets the tone and gets them in the right mindset. And that, ultimately, is why the music is there before and after the class. It helps to bring us into the space and into the moment; it helps us transition from the profane to the sacred and then back to the mundane – but this time taking a piece of the sacred with us.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

– “Teaching Santipat,” chanted by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

 

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May All-Beings, Everywhere, Be Happy & Be Free”

– Metta (Loving-kindness) mantra often chanted at the end of the practice

That said, sometimes I change the chanting at the end of the playlist. Don’t get me wrong; we still start with the practice with the English translation of the “Teaching Santipat” (a.k.a. “the group intention”), but there are times when I want to set the tone in a slightly different way before I ever say a word. So, I’ll change the ending that leads to the beginning. More often than not it’s just a simple change, like replacing the Santipat for the “Gayatri Mantra” on the days when we are focusing on the light. Other times, there’s a bit of a story, like a prologue, that I want to subtly and subliminally convey. And, usually, people notice the change (because it’s pretty obvious) – but not this time.

I’ve collected a pretty massive amount of music over the years – not professional DJ massive – but I have a lot of music and I am always buying more. As I mentioned this past Saturday, however, sometimes music on my playlist is not available on Spotify and/or YouTube. No one knows, unless I mention it, when I make a little switch – especially since I try to stick with the same composer and, obviously, maintain the same motif, tempo, and timing. And I only mention it now, because I want you to notice something is different.

“In the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind,
I bow to the lotus feet of our great teacher,

 

Who uncovers our true self and awakens happiness
Like a Shaman in the Jungle he brings total complete well-being.
He can even heal the most awful poison of conditioning and illusion.

 

The upper body of human shape, carrying
a mussel horn (original tone), a discus (infinity) and a sword (power of differentiation)
having 1000 bright heads,
I bow to Patanjali.”

 

– Ashtanga mantra, used to open Ashtanga practices all over the world

In searching for alternative pieces over this last month, I have discovered new songs from two of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary and Alexandra Stréliski, and also discovered the lyrics to a song, “Merci Bon Dieu,” that I had only ever used as an instrumental piece. In the case of the latter, it turns out the lyrics reinforced the reason I had so often slotted the instrumental piece into certain playlists and, in the case of the former, well…let’s just say I’m going to be buying more music when this is all said and done.

But that’s all lagniappe, just a little something extra that tells you a bit about my process. The real focus today, is what I’m offering and that’s the chant at the end of the YouTube and Spotify playlists. It is not, however, the “Teaching Santipat” recorded by Richard Freeman, which I normally I use in the practice and which I still recite at the beginning. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the version I use in the studio is only available on a CD set I purchased years ago when I wanted to add more chanting to my practice. Instead, what appears in the online playlists is a bit of kirtan recorded by Krishna Das.

“Mere Gurudev,” can be translated as “My Ultimate Teacher” or, literally, “My Teacher-God.” I have heard the chant was originally written by an unnamed Indian woman, who (as you will see by the words) intended it as an offering and a tribute to her teacher, Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba.

Maharaji was a lifelong practitioner of bhakti yoga (“union through devotion” or “union through love”), which includes the practice of kirtan (mantras chanted with music). He was the teacher of Ram Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Jai Uttal, Trevor Hall, and Krishna Das, as well as a host of entertainers and business moguls. Maharaji was reportedly so touched by the woman’s offering that he immediately asked for someone to write it down and for everyone to learn it. The Krishna Das version (which may exclude one of the original verses) translates as follows:

“My Gurudev, I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet
Whatever I have, you have given to me, and I dedicate it all to you.

 

I have no love, nor do I know you.*
I don’t even have the strength to worship you,
But this mind of mine, this body of mine,
my every atom is dedicated to you.

 

You are the only one in my heart and my thoughts.
You are the one who I call out to.
Now Make me your instrument…all I am I offer to you.”

 

– “Mere Gurudev” recorded in Sanskrit by Krishna Das

*earlier translation = “I have no love for you, nor any desire for you”

I was taught, and I believe, that our ultimate (and best) teacher is inside of us. That may mean different things to different people, but I don’t believe it makes it any less true. Part of what is true about that, is that I carry (as we all do) the lessons of all of our teachers – regardless of what they taught us. I was also taught, and also believe, that each and every one of us is simultaneously student and teacher to those around us. Meaning you all are as much my teachers as I am yours. Rather than using an online version of the “Teaching Santipat” that didn’t really resonate with me, I decided to add this bit of kirtan to the end of each playlist as a reminder, during this unsettling time, that what I offer is a gift to my teachers.

Thank you, for accepting these gifts.

“Namaste.”

– salutation / benediction meaning “I bow Thou”

If you are interested and available, please join me class today (Tuesday, April 21st) at 12 Noon or at 7:15 PM on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Tuesday’s playlist is the same as Sunday’s playlist (dated 04192020) and is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You may notice that the playlist is longer than normal – that’s because it is actually two (2) different playlists. If you are using the music, you get to choose your musical experience.

My apologies to anyone who was expecting the “In Memoriam (Musicians)” practice I have previously led on April 21st (in 2017, for instance). If you go to The Roots YouTube channel, you will find thatQuestLove has stocked the Wrecka Stow and made up for my omission, 5x over.

It’s Almost Time to Kiss My Asana (cause the yogathon starts Saturday, April 25th!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

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

Teacher, teacher, tell me your Kiss My Asana story!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 21st (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 21st)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 21st)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 21st Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above or the Sunday and Monday posts from this week for an actual preview)

 

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###

 

Something Good…On Friday April 10, 2020

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“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

 

– “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

 

For the first time in 11 years, I am not teaching on Good Friday. For the first time in 11 years, I am teaching on Easter. It’s a little surreal and bittersweet. Because, while I know some people appreciate a yoga practice that essentially mirrors the Via Dolorosa and walks through the Stations of the Cross; I also know it’s a little much for some folks. Every year, someone asks me if I’m going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanks me and says that it’s meaningful, which is good.

Most people think of the word “good” in the modern context, as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome. Non-Christians have a hard time understanding why the day associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus would be considered good. It becomes more obvious when you go a little deeper.

In the Old Testament time, the time in which Jesus lived, saying something was “good” meant that something was meaningful, it had a purpose. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He serves his purpose, because he lives, suffers, is crucified, dies, is buried, and rises – in order for sins to be forgiven. There is no passion, no crucifixion, no death, no burial, nor resurrection, however, without the betrayal. Implying that the betrayal and Judas, by extension, are good, because they are meaningful (and have a purpose) is one of the things that gets me into trouble.

“And God saw that it was good.”

 

– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t /Genesis

 

Every year, with the exception of last year, someone complains to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It doesn’t matter that the complaint often comes up in a class where I’ve also told the Passover story. It doesn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It’s always Passion Week that causes someone to say that what I teach and the why I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, people will sometimes tell me that I made them uncomfortable (or even touched them) because of something that was personal only to them. Yoga can be very healing, but in the process it can bring up a lot of trauma. Religion, specifically religious fanaticism, has caused a lot of harm in the history of the world; so it is not surprising that some folks would be upset to hear me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice – especially if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes through management and it always involves Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“That they all may be one. (John 17:21)”

 

 – YMCA motto adopted, along with the “Paris Basis,” by international delegates at the First World Conference of the YMCA, 1855

 

I would like to think that I’ve become a little wiser and a little more conscious as a teacher. I definitely appreciate feedback and take it into consideration. That said, I still teach the themes I teach. I still teach with the understanding that everyone doesn’t believe what I believe. I still teach with the understanding that even when I teach from a historical, philosophical, and conceptual perspective, some people will think I am of a certain faith and have a religious agenda.

I hate breaking it to y’all, but I’m neither Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Daoist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, nor any number of things you might have considered. But, I do have an agenda.

“Yoga” means union. Throughout the 8-Limb philosophy there is a recognition of and belief in something Divine – G-d. Whatever that means to you at this moment, it is simultaneously that and not that (neti, neti). The end goal of the philosophy is sometimes referred to as “union with the Divine.” That, however, does not mean – or does not only mean – union with an anthropomorphic being. It does, however, mean a state of awareness and existence that understands how everything and everyone is connected. Being connected, working together, that is yoga. Being intentional about our thoughts, words, and deeds, because what we think, say, and do affects everything and everyone around us, that is part of the practice. As a yogi, that’s my agenda: yoga.

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

 

– from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

While I am not teaching on Good Friday this year, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Christian traditions and this Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions and Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Christian traditions). I’m not sure how things will work on Sunday. I haven’t even decided how I will hold space for the practice. But, I would love for you to join me on Zoom, Saturday (12:00 PM – 1:30 PM) and/or Sunday (2:30 PM – 3:35 PM). Playlists will be available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, I offer you a little taste of my personal practice (see meditation below) and a little peek at what’s to come (see Kiss My Asana “flashbacks” below). Stay tuned for a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

 

KISS MY ASANA YOGATHON:

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

I know you wanna Kiss My Asana!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 10th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 10th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 10th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 10th Practice

 

### STAY WELL ###

 

 

 

Old and New Commandments April 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

May you be safe and protected

May you be peaceful and happy

May you be healthy and strong

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

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

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

That’s plenty of time to Kiss My Asana!

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

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

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

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

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 9th Practice

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

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

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

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

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

REMEMBERING, COMPASSION – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #19 April 21, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Life of meaning 

Life of hope 

Life of significance

is mine to cope.”

– from an untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott

 “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.”

– from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

Even though I’m running behind and posting this super late on April 20th, what is true of today was true of yesterday: We lost somebody, somebody we should never forget.

We could go back as far as April 19, 1506 (to the Lisbon Massacre) or April 20, 1916 (to the Ludlow Massacre) and 1945 (to the Neuengamme / Bullenhuser murders) – or as recently as April 19, 1993 (to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, TX) and 1995 (the Oklahoma City bombing) or April 20, 1999 (to the Columbine High School massacre): Either way, we lost somebody…somebody who should not be forgotten.

Obviously, and unfortunately, I’m leaving some people out.

I’m leaving out the 47 sailors killed when a gun turret exploded on the USS Iowa on April 19, 1989. I’m leaving out David Beverly who was killed in a shooting at Johnson Space Center on April 20, 2007. I’m leaving out people killed on April 20th in an explosion (2010, Deepwater Horizon accident), a plane crash (2012 in Pakistan), an earthquake (2013 in China’s Sichuan province), and a bombing of a UN convoy (in Garowe in Samolia). That’s over Four hundred, forty-six people I was going to leave out, but didn’t…and yet, I’m leaving somebody out, somebody we need to remember.

Poems are a way to tell a story, to send a message, to inspire, to remember. They can be historically accurate – or not. They can rhyme – or not. They can be laugh-out-loud funny or satirical – or not. The can be somber and serious – or not. They can be visual and/or repetitive – or not. What is a poem if it can be all of these things?

According to one definition from the Oxford Dictionaries, a poem is “both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical.” Another definition, also from Oxford Dictionaries, says that it is “something that arouses strong emotions because of its beauty.” Meaning that maybe somebody, and their life, can be a poem.

Rachel Scott, age 17, loved poetry. She was also the first person shot in the Columbine High School. Neither of those facts are the most interesting part of her too short life. It is likely that had she lived there would be a whole litany of things that made her life interesting; however, given the facts, one of the most interesting things about Rachel is how she lived…and how she is remembered.

Rachel was buried in a casket covered with the words of the people who knew her. Mixed in with the typical condolences were messages of love and gratitude. Rachel was a firm believer in compassion and unity, and what struck her parents after her death was how many people gave thanks for the brief amount of time they knew Rachel. In an effort to continue her legacy of positivity and inclusivity, Rachel’s father and step-mother started Rachel’s Challenge, a non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to reducing violence, bullying, and teen suicide.

“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.”

– from the essay “My Ethics; My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott

Practicing yoga, physically as well as philosophically, creates plenty of opportunity to offer yourself self-compassion, but it also taps into a wellspring of compassion you can offer to others. Remember every time you bend over backwards for someone, you are opening your heart for them. The chain reaction starts with you!

An untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott & For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

(Practice Time ~35 – 40 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees, give thanks for the support and start to consider how you can engage on the inside to lessen the stress on the outside. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the position of the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the sensation of being supported – how the body rests between or on the legs, how the breath deepens. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. Now, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up – as if you are going to spring off the mat, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Push through your hands and feet to stretch the full body in this position. Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and use the hands on the thighs to press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you have lost some of the sensation/information in the back of the legs, return to the Half Lift/Flat Back. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and press up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, isometrically engage the adductors by squeezing the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Make sure your back thigh is firmly engaged and lifting away from the floor (unless, you are modifying for stability). Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). This pose is sometimes referred to as “Anointed Warrior,” indicating the warrior is blessed, prepared, and ready. Consider how it feels to be anointed by love.

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog. While in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push the hands and left foot into the earth to create more space. Then push through the hips and both heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate how gravity pulls on the lifted leg and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog.

If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

Exhale and step the right foot in between your hands for Low Lunge. If the foot needs help reaching the space between the hands, lower the back knee so that you can use your hand to scoop the leg forward. (NOTE: Never go back with the hands, as this will cause you to crawl off the mat as you move through the practice.) Take a deep breath in to extend the spine and then use the exhale to heel-toe the right foot towards the right. At the same time you are creating space for the hips, lower the back heel down to the mat (even if that means you have to step the back foot up). Remember, the hips will go where the toes point them; so, place your feet in the position that allows the hips to be parallel to the short/front edge of your mat. One your feet are flat on the floor, inhale your arms and heart up for Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Let your hands melt down if you are manually adjusting your hips. As you inhale, isometrically squeeze the thighs towards each other. As you exhale, use the front foot and leg to push the front hip back. Use the back foot and leg to push the back hip forward. Press down to inhale arms and heart up. Make sure the sits bones are pointed down. You can even repeat the earlier hip adjustment from Crescent Lunge/Anointed Warrior. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior ready to answer the call to action.

After several breaths, exhale hands to the mat and adjust the feet so that the right foot is more centered and the left foot is parallel to the short edge of the mat. You may need to heel-toe the left foot further away (front to back) from the right foot, but once your right heel lines up perpendicular to your left arch, inhale blossom or cartwheel your arms and heart up for Warrior II (Virabhdrasana II). Arms will end up in the letter “T” position, with the hips and heart open to the long edge of the mat. Bend the right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to get it, but keep the weight balanced between both feet, both legs, and both hips. You may feel a tendency to put all the weight and effort into the front foot and leg; but find the place where you feel balance. Make sure your sits bones are pointed down between the ankles. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior balanced between the past (the left arm and leg), the present (the heart), and the future (the right arm and leg).

After a few breaths, step back to Downward Facing Dog or step forward into a Forward Fold. From Downward Facing Dog, firmly push your hands and feet into the ground, glide your body forward until the shoulders are over the wrists and the arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lengthen your neck so that your cervical spine continues the line of the rest of your spine and your head is lifted, eyes forward. This is the beginning of Plank Pose. You can always bring your knees down for extra support, but keep the thighs firm. If you are skipping the arm balances, repeat Half Lift / Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend with arms reaching forward and wrists flexed so that palms face away from the body. This can also be done seated in Staff Pose.

Lengthen the spine so that it is parallel to the mat and you have similar engagement to Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. Spread your fingers and toes, push into your thumb and first finger. Resist the earth and use that resistance to push the shoulders into your metaphorical back pockets. Rotate your elbows towards your belly button and broaden across the collar bones. Find Equal Standing/Mountain pose in this position. Resist the urge to lift your hips away from the mat or let them flop down. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale to Child’s Pose, inhale to the backbend of your choice, and exhale to Downward Facing Dog and repeat the sequence on the left side, starting with the Three-Legged Dog.

After the second set of Warriors I+II and Dog poses, inhale to Plank Pose or Cow Pose and lower all the way to the floor on the exhale. Point the toes behind you and, with hands by your hips, reach the fingertips in the same direction as the toes. As you inhale, lift your gaze, lift your heart, and lift your arms. As you exhale, lift your legs. This is a variation of Locust Pose (Salabhasana). If there is pain or discomfort in the low back, bring the feet back to the ground and actively press them down to support the heart lifting up. Consider stretching the arms out wide.

After several breaths in Locust, exhale to release the pose. Inhale to Table Top and then exhale to Downward Facing Dog. Use an inhale to lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes if you are in Downward Facing Dog). Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step or “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. This pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana). Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms, and offer yourself some compassion by bending your knees as needed.

Now, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath into your heart and follow the breath out of your heart.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

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

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

Click here for more information about Rachel’s Challenge.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

 

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #22:Working with an Awakening Heart February 24, 2016

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“This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who seeks the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,”

– Excerpt from “Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” (Sn 1.8), translated from the Pali by The Amaravati Sangha. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013

 

“The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we’re feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta—like the open sky—is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.”

– Excerpt from“Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart” from The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Time by Pema Chödrön*

 

Yoga, and its sister science Ayurveda, can be great healing tools – especially if you’ve identified what’s going on in the body and in the mind. Since I’m not a medical doctor, a psychotherapist, or an Ayurvedic practitioner, I avoid diagnosing people who come to my classes. However, if I were to offer a simple assessment of Yogi #22 (Mary C.), I would say she exhibits the characteristics outlined in the Karaniya, has a tendency to breath into the soft spot of her own heart, and “hear the cries of the world.”* On and off the mat, she practices ways to awaken the heart.

 Chitta means “mind” and also “heart” or “attitude.” Bodhi means “awake,” “enlightened,” or “completely open.” Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”

– “Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart” from The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Time by Pema Chödrön

When you’re talking to Mary C. there is no question that she is present, engaged, and listening. Her focus is deliberate; mindful; skillful – and results in a hum that sounds a lot like someone whispering the question, “Do you realize you are loved?” If one can hear such a hum, and not be unsettled by it, it becomes one of the most comforting experiences in the world.

But, everyone isn’t comfortable being loved. And, being the one who always loves is not always easy or comfortable. In fact, there could be a downside to being the person that instigates that hum. After all, everybody isn’t humming along. And, if you are aware of the hum – and aware of the harmony – you are also aware of the dissonance, the lack of harmony. Being aware is a beautiful blessing, but not getting swamped by the darkness in the world requires effort. Mary C. not only makes the effort, she works it!

 “An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic; sometimes to anger, resentment and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”

– “Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart” from The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Time by Pema Chödrön

 

I don’t mean to imply that Mary C. is a saint. Just like everybody else, she has her off days. However, while some of us check out on our off days, I’ve seen Mary C. own hers. In fact, I think her off days make her more curious. She is curious about the techniques and skills that will improve her life physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, underlying her personal curiosity is the awareness that if she improves her life, lives around her will improve.

If you are curious about ways to improve your life – physically, mentally, and emotionally – check out a yoga class at Mind Body Solutions (or at your local Y or neighborhood studio). If you’re not sure where to begin, check out a donation-based class anywhere or contact Mind Body Solutions to find out if they’ve trained a teacher near you. Even people across the pond are KISS(ing) MY ASANA! Have you?
Want to KISS MY ASANA while you practice? Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two) at a donation-based class on Saturday, February 27th (3:30 - 5:30 PM) or Saturday, March 5th (6:30 - 8:00 PM). Space is limited.Click here for more information about things to do in February and March.

 

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~