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I Hope You See The Light (the “missing” Tuesday post) February 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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My apologies for the delay, but I was not feeling 100% this week. Here, finally, is the “missing” post for Tuesday, February 15th. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Always old, sometimes new…”

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– a riddle* (read post for clues, see the end for the answer)

Philosophically speaking, part of our yoga practice is about bring awareness to what we know – or what we think we know – about ourselves and the world around us. Once we do that, we have begun the process of recognizing how what we know or think we know determines our actions, our thoughts, our words, our deeds. Our beliefs influence the we interact with ourselves, with others, and with our environment. Once we really get into it, we also start to notice when – or if – we incorporate new information into our belief system; thereby adjusting our actions as we grow and mature.

At some point, we may start to notice how our experiences shape our beliefs and how our experiences and beliefs determine what we chose to do on any given day. Hopefully, we also recognize that other people make other choices based on the their beliefs and experiences. If we can see that, be open to the reality of that, and maybe dig a little deeper into that reality, we gain better understanding of ourselves (and maybe of the world). In other words, we gain insight.

Vipassanā is a Buddhist meditation technique that has also become a tradition. It literally means “to see in a special way” and can also be translated as “special, super seeing.” In English, however, it is usually translated as “insight.” This insight is achieved by sitting, breathing, and watching the mind-body without judging the mind-body. Part of the practice is even to recognize when you are judging and, therefore, recognizing when you are getting in your own way. It is a practice of observation – which is also part of our yoga practice.

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

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– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Born February 15,1564, in Pisa, Duchy of Florence, Tuscany, Italy,  Galileo Galilei is remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense given the aforementioned definition of insight. Galileo was able to see things others had not seen thanks to advancements in telescope technology and also because he was willing to pay attention. He was open to new information and to how that information supported or did not support his understanding of what had previously been observed by himself and others.

Galileo was an astronomer, a physicists, an engineer, and a polymath who studied all aspects of physical science and invented the thermoscope and a variety of military compasses. He used the telescope to track and identify the moons of Jupiter; the phases of Venus (which are similar to moon phases); and the rings of Saturn. He also analyzed lunar craters and sunspots and supported Copernican heliocentrism (the idea that the Earth rotated on it’s axis and also rotated around the Sun). In fact, his observations became the basis of his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) – which was banned in Italy for a while and resulted in Galileo being convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that the ban extended to the publication of his future books, Galileo wrote Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences while he was under house arrest. This latter work, which was basically a summation of thirty years worth of physics, could not find a publisher in France, Germany, or Poland. It was ultimately published in Leiden, South Holland and featured the same characters who were conversing in his Dialogue. There was one notable change in the characters, however, the “simple-minded” one that had previously been viewed as a caricature of the pope was not as foolish or stubborn. When the text made its way to Roman bookstores, it quickly sold out.

“But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”

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– quoted from the 1615 letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany (mother of Cosimo II de ‘Medici) by Galileo Galilei

Susan B. Anthony, who was born February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts, was also considered quite controversial by the establishment of her time. Like Galileo Galilei, she was an observer. Her primary observations, however, were related to the social interactions of humans. She was a suffragist as well as an abolitionist and is remembered for her great friendship and collaborations with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women had different backgrounds made different life choices, but they were firmly united in the quest for equal rights.

The second-oldest of seven, Susan B. Anthony was born into a liberal Quaker household despite the fact that her mother (Lucy Read Anthony) was Methodist and her father (Daniel Anthony) was shunned (for marrying outside his religion) and disowned (for allowing dancing in his home). The Anthony children were taught Quaker values, as well as the importance of self-sufficiency and social responsibility. At least three of her siblings were activists. Ms. Anthony herself, attended a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia until 1837 when the Anthony’s, like so many, faced financial ruin and depression. She left school for a bit, but ultimately became a teacher at a different Quaker boarding school. By this time, the family had moved to New York and eventually joined what would become the Congregational Friends, and offshoot of the Quakers.

The Congregational Friends were active social reformers and many attended services at First Unitarian Church of Rochester, which was also socially active. Around the late 1840’s, the Anthony farm in Rochester had become a favorite place for activists to come together. One of those activists was Frederick Douglass, with whom both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony would develop a friendship.

“I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.”

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– quoted from the end of Susan B. Anthony’s “Power of the Ballot” speech (probably on July 12, 1871) as printed in “Chapter XXIII: First Trip to the Pacific Coast (1871)” from The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Complete Illustrated Edition – Volumes 1&2): The Only Authorized Biography containing Letters, Memoirs and Vignettes of the life of the World Renowned Suffragist, Abolitionist and Author and Friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Ida Husted Harper

In 1846, Susan B. Anthony accepted a position as headmistress of the girls’ department at Canajoharie Academy in Canajoharie, Montgomery County, New York. A year or two later, she was offered the position of superintendent or director of the women’s department. She was in Canajoharie, almost 173 miles away from her family, during the Seneca Falls Convention (July 19-20, 1948) and the Rochester Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 (on August 2nd), but at some point she was aware that her parents and her sister (Mary Stafford Anthony) had (at least) attended the latter.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention organized by women (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Martha Coffin Wright) and it produced the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Several online sources indicate that the three Anthony’s signed the declaration; however, they are not listed by the National Parks Service (NPS) and their names do not appear on the original document preserved by NPS. According to a media report included in The History of Women Suffrage, edited by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper (published in 1902), no attendees at the National-American Convention of 1898 (February 13th – 19th, in Washington, D. C.) attended the Seneca Falls Convention. However, the report indicated that Mary W. Anthony stated that she had attended the Rochester convention and signed the declaration at that time.

Between her unhappy experiences as a student and the observations she made as a teacher, Susan B. Anthony found herself more and more disenchanted with the disenfranchisement of women and enslaved people. She didn’t have the same agenda as her parents and siblings, but she wanted to be paid the same as her male counterparts – for doing the same work. When she left the Canajoharie Academy around 1849/1850, she went home and found herself feeling more and more at home with the radical ideas around her. She even started to dress less and less like a traditional Quaker woman and more and more like a radical feminist. She even wore started wearing the pantaloons associated with the publisher and editor Amelia Jenks Bloomer. In fact, it was the erudite and entre Mrs. Bloomer that introduced Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851.

“It is often said, by those who know Miss Anthony best, that she has been my good angel, always pushing and goading me to work, and that but for her pertinacity I should never have accomplished the little I have. On the other hand it has been said that I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them. Perhaps all this is, in a measure, true.”

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– quoted from “X. Susan B. Anthony” in Eighty Years and More (1815 – 1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a writer; Susan B. Anthony was an organizer; and their friendship was the ultimate collaboration. By the time the dynamic duo met, Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of four and would eventually be the mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships and that a woman should absolutely have domain over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. Henry Brewster Stanton was a lawyer and a politician, who was traveling ten months out of the year in the 1850’s. So, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” Her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote; Susan B. Anthony organized and spoke.

This relationship, too, required compromise – and not only because the ladies had different personalities and working styles. Susan B. Anthony stopped wearing bloomers so people would listen to her rather than get distracted by her clothes. And the whole Stanton family made room for “Miss Anthony.”

When the Stanton family moved to New York City in 1861, the women had established a finely tuned system. Sometimes they would write together, sometimes Ms. Anthony would take care of the kids while Mrs. Cady Stanton wrote – but both methods required the pair to be in the same place. So, whenever the Stanton’s moved, the set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and she became part of the family.

“Eventually Anthony supplanted Henry in Elizabeth’s affections. Both Henry and Susan moved in and out of her life and her household, but overall, Stanton probably spent more hours and days with Anthony than any other adult.”

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– quoted from the “Methodological Note: Stanton in Psychological Perspective” section of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elisabeth Griffith

The collaboration between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not restricted to speeches. They co-founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society – after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was female – and the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863. The league, which used different iterations of the name, was specifically formed to lobby for the abolition of slavery. At one time they collected almost 40,000 signatures in support of abolition, which was the largest petition drive in United States history at that time. They also initiated the American Equal Rights Association (1866) and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).

On January 8, 1868, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started publishing the weekly paper The Revolution. The paper’s motto was “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In addition to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, the paper covered general politics, the labor movement, and finance. Ms. Anthony ran the business end of things. Mrs. Cady Stanton co-edited the newspaper with the abolitionist minister Parker Pillsbury. The initially received funding from the transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train – who shared their views on women’s rights, but not on abolition – but eventually transferred control of the paper to the wealthy writer and activist Laura Curtis Bullard, who toned “the revolution” down a bit.

The ladies that started it, however, did not tone down at all.

“Miss [Anna] Shaw said: ‘On Sunday, about two hours before she became unconscious, I talked with Miss Anthony and she said: “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel!”’

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“I replied: ‘Your legacy will be freedom for all womankind after you are gone. your splendid struggle has changed life for women everywhere.'”

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– quoted from the obituary “Susan B. Anthony” in the Union Labor Advocate (Vol. VII. May, 1906, No. 9)

Anna Shaw was correct: Susan B. Anthony’s legacy includes the 19th amendment to the United States constitution, which was ratified fourteen years after the Miss Anthony’s death. That legacy also includes United States v. Susan B. Anthony, a very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial that changed the fight and helped change laws that had nothing to do with the suffrage movement.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted after she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York. The judge over the circuit court was the newly appointed Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) Associate Justice Ward Hunt. The election official, a Mr. Beverly W. Jones, testified that when he said he wasn’t sure if he could register her, she asked him if he was “acquainted with the 14th amendment.” He also testified that when said that he was, and she asked if he would consider her a citizen, the Supervisor of Elections said there was no getting around her argument. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

Because the judge refused to jail her (for refusing to pay the fine), she was unable to take the case to the Supreme Court. The other women, who also registered and voted in that election, were arrested, but never tried. On the other hand, the election inspectors who allowed them to vote were arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed (for not paying their fines). President Ulysses S. Grant eventually pardoned the inspectors and all of the attention from the trials pushed suffrage to the front of the women’s rights movement. Justice Hunt’s controversial actions during Susan B. Anthony’s trial resulted in years of legal debate and, in Sparf v. United States, 156 U.S. 51 (1895), or Sparf and Hansen v. United States, the SCOTUS decision that a jury must apply the law based on the facts of the case; the court  may not direct the jury to return a guilty verdict; a jury may convict a defendant of a lesser crime if that is part of the case (in some cases); and that juries can – but do not have the explicit right to – dispute the law.

Over the years, Susan B. Anthony gave hundreds and hundreds of speeches. In addition to giving up the “bloomers” she considered more sensible and reasonable, she was subjected to yelling mobs that would throw rotten eggs and sometimes even furniture at her. People would brandish guns and knives and, of course (I say sarcastically) she had to continuously contend with questions about why she wasn’t married. Her answers to the questions changed depending on her mood, or perhaps, who was asking the question. My personal favorite answer was when she said that she had never wanted to spend the majority of her life as “a housekeeper and a drudge [which she would have been had she married someone poor]” and neither had she ever wanted to be “a pet and a doll [which she would have have been had she married someone rich].” But, all that being said, she believed in a woman’s right to choose… whether she got married or not.

“Marriage, to women as to men, must be a luxury, not a necessity; an incident of life, not all of it. And the only possible way to accomplish this great change is to accord to women equal power in the making, shaping and controlling of the circumstances of life.”

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– quoted from the speech “Social Purity” by Susan B. Anthony

As I mentioned over the last two weeks, some people celebrate the Lunar New Year for a handful of days and then go back to their regular routines. For some, however, there’s the Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. This year, the Lantern Festival occurred on February 15th, and one of the customs turns the event into something similar to modern-day Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, women would write their contact information on oranges and then toss the oranges in the river where men would scoop them up. Then, the men would eat the oranges. A sweet orange meant the couple could potential have a good relationship, but if a bitter orange meant the match was best avoided.

Of course, the oranges in the river makes for a pretty sight but that’s not the main focus of the Lantern Festival – nor is it the most spectacular. In fact, anyone observing areas celebrating the Lantern Festival would primarily notice cities, towns, and villages adorned in red lanterns and lit up… almost like everything is on fire.

There are several different legends associated with the Lantern Festival. There is a story about the Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty wanting every person in every class to honor the Buddha as the monks would on the fifteenth day of the year. According to another story, Dongfang Shuo (a  scholar and court jester) came upon a homesick maiden from the place. To console her and lift her out of her despair, he told the young lady that he would reunite her with her family. Then he dressed up like a fortune teller and told everyone who came to his stall that they must beg the “red fairy” for mercy on the thirteenth day of the new year or else everything would burn down in a couple of days. When the maiden, Yuan Xiao, appeared all dressed in red, people flocked to her and all that she could think to do was say she would take a message to the emperor. Of course, Dongfang had already “tricked” the emperor and convinced him to tell Yuan Xiao to make her sweet-rice dumplings called tangyuan, because they were the favorite dessert of the God of Fire.

The whole town, and people from surrounding towns, came together to make the dumplings as a tribute to the God of Fire. As word spread, more people came – including Yuan Xiao’s family. And this is why Dongfang Shuo’s plan was so clever: In Chinese, the dumplings are 湯圓 or 汤圆 (pinyin: tāngyuán), which sounds like 團圓 or 团圆 (pinyin: tuányuán), which means “union.” While the round dumplings are enjoyed at a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, they are a staple during the Lantern Festival, which is actually 元宵節 or 元宵节 (pinyin: Yuánxiāo jié) – Yuan Xiao’s Festival.

“‘When you see it, it’ll affect you profoundly…'”

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– Wang De quoted in the Feb. 19, 2019, The Strait Times article entitled “Blacksmiths keep alive the flame of China’s molten steel ‘fireworks'”

There are more variations on this them, but the legend with which I am most familiar, and the one I share in the practice, is the story of the Jade Emperor and his favorite bird, a crane. This crane was beautiful and unlike any other bird or species. In some stories, the ruler of heaven and earth decided to treat people with a glimpse of the exotic bird. In other versions of the story, the crane got discombobulated and flew close to the earth. Either way, what happened next is why we can’t have nice things: Someone shot the exotic bird. The Jade Emperor was furious and decided to send down fire breathing dragons to destroy the towns and villages. The Jade Emperor’s daughter warned the townsfolk and someone suggested that if they lit lanterns, started bonfires, and set off fireworks, the dragons – who are not that smart in these stories – would think everything was already on fire. The trick worked… on the dragons. The Jade Emperor was not tricked, but his anger had passed and he decided to offer a little compassion to the people on Earth.

To this day, people carry on the tradition of lighting up the skies. Traditional, lanterns are paper, wooden, or jade. Some people will spend months designing and creating delicate lanterns that they will enter into competitions. Other people will make simple lanterns or purchase fancy store-bought lanterns. In addition to the plethora of basic red lanterns, there will also be animal-shaped lanterns – the most popular of which are in the shape of the animal of the year. Many of the lanterns will have riddles at the bottom – which adds to the fun, because if you know the answer to the riddle you can go find it’s owner and they will give you tangyuan (those sweet dumplings that sound like “union”) as a reward.

In addition to the lanterns, there are bonfires, fireworks, and a 300-plus years old tradition called Da Shuhua.

Da Shuhua is one of the English spellings for 打树花 (dǎshùhuā in pinyin), which is a 300-500 years old tradition handed down through families of blacksmiths in China´s northern Hebei province. It is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s fireworks, because it is produced from scrap metal that people in the remote village of Nuanquan give to the local blacksmiths. Dressed in straw hats, sheepskin jackets, and protective eyewear, the blacksmiths and their assistants melt down the scraps and then the blacksmiths throw the molten liquid up against a cold stone wall. When the liquid metal – which can reach up to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius) – hits the cold wall, sparks fly.

The spectacular display looks like a blossoming tree and so the name of the art form translates into English as “beating tree flowers.” Although there are a few other places in China where this art form is showcased, it is traditional to Nuanquan and there is a square in the village (“Tree Flower Square”), which was specifically built to hold tourists who travel to the village to see the display. In addition to three days of performances at the end of the Spring Festival, the tradition is also performed during the Dragon Boat Festival. Also called Double Fifth Festival, this second event takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar New Year (June 3 of this year). Although UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated Da Shuhua as a prime example of China and Hebei province’s intangible cultural heritage, the tradition may be dying out. In 2019, there were only four blacksmiths trained in the art form and the youngest was 50 years old. Wang De, one of the four, had trained his youngest son; however, like so many of the younger generations, his son had moved to the big city and started working in a different industry. His concerns, and hopes, for his legacy are not unlike those of Galileo Galilee and Susan B. Anthony.

“‘It’s extremely dangerous and it doesn’t make much money,’ said Wang, who also farms corn to supplement his blacksmith’s income.

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[…] Still, Wang De is hopeful he will return to keep the flame alive.

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‘When we no longer can pull this off, people can learn from him. I have this confidence that (Da Shuhua) will be passed on.'”

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– quoted from the Feb. 19, 2019, The Strait Times article entitled “Blacksmiths keep alive the flame of China’s molten steel ‘fireworks'”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lantern Festival 2022”]

*RIDDLE NOTE: The riddles at the bottom (or sometimes underneath) the lanterns, are literally called “riddles written on lanterns,” but are sometimes referred to as “tiger riddles,” because solving them (in Chinese) is akin to wrestling a tiger. They often have three parts: the riddle, a hint or suggestion (which is that the answer is in the post), and the answer. In this case, I took a page from Dongfang Shuo’s book and only gave you part of an English riddle so that instead of having one definite answer, there are three possible answers. Highlight the space between the hashtags for the answers.

### The moon (which is the original answer), a bit of history you didn’t know, and a legend from a culture with which you are unfamiliar. Let me know if you got the answer(s)!  ###

I Hope You See The Light (mostly the music) February 15, 2022

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“Happy Lantern Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

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– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 15th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lantern Festival 2022”]

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

### 🎶 ###

Thinking About “Love” (Monday’s post-practice post) February 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival! Happy Lantern Festival” to those who are celebrating.

This post-practice post for Monday, February 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

And, [L]ove – True [L]ove – will follow you forever.”

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– “The Impressive Clergyman” (Peter Cook) in the movie The Princess Bride by William Goldman

No one can be surprised that “words” are one of my favorite supernormal powers. In fact, śabda (or shabda), ranks as one of my top six siddhis or “powers.Yet, there’s also no denying that words are not only one of our super powers, they are also a form of kryptonite – especially when we’re dealing with English. The English language seems to have as many rules as exceptions and as many homonyms that are homographs as homophones. And if the homonyms that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings (homophones) and the homonyms that are spelled the same but have different meanings and/or pronunciation (homographs) aren’t confusing enough there are words that just have different meanings to different people – or different meanings based on the context. The word “love” is a prime example of a word that can mean different things to different people and at different times.

If you mention love on February 14th, a lot of people in the West will automatically think of “romantic love” – which is kind of ironic since Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic saint’s feast day and that saint may or may not have had anything to do with romantic love. The fact that the African American abolitionist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass celebrated his birthday on this date is, loosely, connected to it being Saint Valentine’s Day. However, the fact this year’s date overlaps the fourteenth day of the Lunar New Year – when some people that are preparing for the Lantern Festival are also getting ready for some romance – is purely coincidental… or, maybe it’s synchronicity.

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than erosAgape is more than philiaAgape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

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– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

In the song “Gravity,” Jamie Woon sings of loving “a girl who loves synchronicity” and who “confided that love, it is an energy.” We humans (in general) have a tendency to block and/or limit that energy instead of “passing it on,” as the girl in the song does. And, we often use words to limit that energy. Some languages have different words for different kinds of love. Ancient Greek, for example, has érōs for sensual or passionate “love” or “desire;” storgḗ instinctual “love,” “affection,” or familial love (which can also extend to friends and pets); philía, which can be translated as “friendship” or brotherly love and was considered by some to be the “highest form of love;” and agápē, which is also described as unconditional love and “the highest form of love.”

Early Christians co-opted the Greek agápē and added to it their own understanding of the Hebrew chesed, which is sometimes translated into modern English as loving-kindness; stems from the root word (chasad) meaning “eager and ardent desire;” and includes a sense of “zeal” (especially as related to God). However, even in the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament), chesed has been translated (in different places) as “mercy,” “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “kindly” “merciful,” “favour,” “good,” “goodliness,” “pity,” and even “steadfast love.” There’s also a couple of places where it is used with a negative connotation. Judaism (and, particularly Jewish mysticism) also have words like devekut (which might be described as an emotional state and/or an action that cultivates a state related to “cleaving” or clinging to the Divine). Additionally, there is an understanding of a fear/awe of God (that also migrated into Christianity).

In English, we have a tendency to just use the same word for multiple things. Sometimes we add qualifiers like “brotherly” or “romantic;” but, sometimes we just use “love” – which, again, comes with different meanings and associations. On Monday night, when I asked people for a word or phrase that they associate with love, I got some really phenomenal answers: acceptance and compassion, bravery (specifically as it relates to social change), trust, all the people that [one] cares about, and giving. To this list, I added earnest.

The “Valentine’s Day” portion of the following is partially excerpted from a 2021 post about Being Red,” which includes a story about red and the Lunar New Year.

“EARNEST, adjective

  1. Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain; having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

They are never more earnest to disturb us, than when they see us most earnest in this duty.

  1. Ardent; warm; eager; zealous; animated; importunate; as earnest in love; earnest in prayer.

  2. Intent; fixed.

On that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes were fixed.

  1. Serious; important; that is, really intent or engaged; whence the phrase, in earnest To be in earnest is to be really urging or stretching towards an object; intent on a pursuit. Hence, from fixed attention, comes the sense of seriousness in the pursuit, as opposed to trifling or jest. Are you in earnest or in jest?”

*

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People premiered on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London. It is a love story (or love stories) of sorts, but it is also a comedy of errors and a social satire full of love, love triangles, double entendres, double lives, mistaken identities, the dichotomy of public versus private life in Victorian society, and so many trivialities that one can hardly be blamed for questioning that about which one should be serious… or earnest. Like his other plays, Earnest was well received and marked a professional high point in Wilde’s life. However, it also marked a personal low point: Wilde’s trial, conviction, and imprisonment for homosexuality – which was illegal in Victorian England. Earnest would be the last play written by Oscar Wilde and, some would argue, his most popular.

While English speakers around the world might not come up with the same definition of “earnest” that was known in Victorian England, I would expect there would be some consensus around it meaning “serious” and “true.” On the flip side, the color red means something different to everyone. Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines it as “a simple or primary color, but of several different shades or hues, as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, orange red etc.” – but even that doesn’t begin to address the fact that, on any given Sunday, the color signifies different things to different people all over the world. I say, “on any given Sunday,” but just consider last year’s Sunday the 14th[see link above], when red was associated with Valentine’s Day, The Lunar New Year celebrations (in some countries), and even the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with red hearts, cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dates, and romantic love – a very commercial endeavor – but it didn’t start out that way. The day actually started as (and to some still is) the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, in the Western Christian tradition. There are actually two Christian martyrs remembered as Saint Valentine, but the most well-known is the 3rd-century Roman saint (who is honored on July 6th and 30th in the Eastern Christian tradition). According to the legends, Valentine was imprisoned for practicing Christianity during a time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Before and during his incarceration, Saint Valentine had several conversations with the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Throughout these discussions, the emperor tried to convert the priest to the Roman pagan religion (ostensibly to save the priest’s life) and the priest tried to convert the emperor to Catholicism (theoretically to save the emperor’s soul, and the souls of all that followed him and his decrees).

Around this same time, Valentine had multiple interactions and conversations with the daughter of his jailer. Julia, the daughter, was blind and one of the last acts Valentine reportedly committed (before he was executed) was to heal Julie’s sight. After he was martyred (around 269 A. D.), Julia and her household converted to Catholicism in honor of Valentine. His feast day was established in 496 A.D. and around the 18th century, many additional details of the story started cropping up. One such detail was that Valentine married Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry (possibly because it would divide their focus and loyalty). Another detail was that he left Julia a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.”

“For this was on Seynt Velentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,”

*

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,”

*

– quoted from the poem “The Parliament of Fowls” by Geoffrey Chaucer, translation by A. S. Klein  

As to why red became associated with Valentine’s Day, there are lots of theories and they all come back to those embellishments (some of which are attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer), which focused on Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers – and love was associated with the heart, which people associate with red. Additionally, a red stain is traditionally viewed in the Western world as the sign that a woman came to her marital bed as a virgin (and so there’s some very suggestive, subliminal messaging going on).

But, let’s go back to the idea of the heart being red. Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, use green to symbolize the heart chakra (i.e., the energetic or spiritual heart), but of course, these systems also recognize that the physical heart is red when exposed to the air – or it’s being depicted by an artist, which is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted as red.

Speaking of the energetic or spiritual heart: Swami Rama of the Himalayan tradition taught that we all have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left; an emotional heart, which for most of us is on the left; and that energetic or spiritual heart of the middle. That “heart center” includes the arms (also fingers and hands) and connects the hearts within us and also connects our hearts with all the hearts around us. Chinese Medicine and their sister sciences of movement, including Yin Yoga, also map the vital energy of the heart through the arms.

Going back to Jewish mysticism: In the Kabbalah, the sefira (or Divine “attribute”) of chesed is related to the right arm. It is balanced by gevurah (“strength”), which is the left arm, and tiferet (“balance”), which is the upper torso and includes the physical heart. These energetic paradigms really reinforce Robert Pirsig’s statement that “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“Indeed, some have called me a traitor…. Two things are necessary to make a traitor.  One is he shall have a country. [Laughter and applause] I believe if I had a country, I should be a patriot. I think I have all the feelings necessary — all the moral material, to say nothing about the intellectual. But when I remember that the blood of four sisters and one brother, is making fat the soil of Maryland and Virginia,—when I remember that an aged grandmother who has reared twelve children for the Southern market, and these one after another as they arrived at the most interesting age, were torn from her bosom,—when I remember that when she became too much racked for toil, she was turned out by a professed Christian master to grope her way in the darkness of old age, literally to die with none to help her, and the institutions of this country sanctioning and sanctifying this crime, I have no words of eulogy, I have no patriotism.[…]

*

No, I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard, on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightening scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.”

*

– quoted from the 1847 speech “If I Had a Country, I Should Be a Patriot” by Frederick Douglass 

Frederick Douglass was born somewhere in Eastern Maryland in 1817 or 1818. If you’re wondering why I can name the exact time and place that Oscar Wilde’s play premiered a few years later (not to mention the exact time and place of that illustrious playwright’s birth), but cannot the time and place of one of the greatest speakers and writers of the 19th Century, it’s because Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. So, there is no heritage birth site you can visit (Covid not withstanding) as you can visit 21 Westland Row (the home of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in Dublin). You could visit Cedar Hill, the Washington, D. C. house that Mr. Douglass bought about forty years after he escaped from slavery. But, the historical marker related to his birth is at least four miles from where it is assumed he was born.

By all accounts, he was born on the Holme (or Holmes) Hill Farm and most likely in the cabin of his grandmother, Betsey Bailey – which is basically where he lived for the first part of his life. His mother, on the other hand, lived twelve miles away and died when he was about seven years old. Some of his vague memories, as he recounted in his third autobiography, included his mother calling him her “Little Valentine.” Ergo, he celebrated his birthday on February 14th.

Most of what we know about the abolitionist, statesman, and activist, comes from his speeches and his writings, including three autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American SlaveMy Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. In some ways, each book is an expansion of the previous books, with the third being the most detailed about his escape and activism*. As he explained his the final book, he left certain details and facts out of the first two books in order to protect himself, the people who helped him escape, and some of the people associated with him.

Since slavery was still active in the United States when his first book was published on May 1, 1845, Mr. Douglass also relocated to England and Ireland for two years in order to ensure he would not be recaptured. While he was in Europe, his supporters paid ($710.96) for his emancipation. That’s about $26,300.66 in today’s economy, that went to his former owner.

“This is American slavery; no marriage—no education—the light of the gospel shut out from the dark mind of the bondman—and he forbidden by law to learn to read. If a mother shall teach her children to read, the law in Louisiana proclaims that she may be hanged by the neck. If the father attempt to give his son a knowledge of letters, he may be punished by the whip in one instance, and in another be killed, at the discretion of the court. Three millions of people shut out from the light of knowledge! It is easy for you to conceive the evil that must result from such a state of things.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC  RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

According to his first autobiography, the wife of his second owner, Mrs. Sophia Auld, started teaching a young Frederick Douglass the alphabet. When the lessons were discovered and forbidden, he overheard Mrs. Auld’s husband telling her that an educated slave would be unfit for slavery. This motivated Mr. Douglass to teach himself to read and write. The more he learned, the more he was motivated to be free. He was further motivated to escape when he fell in love with a free Black woman named Anna Murray, who was also a member of the Underground Railroad.

The success of his autobiographies changed the way some people – specifically, white abolitionists – viewed him and treated him. It expanded his audience and also uplifted his platform. While some pro-slavery advocates still saw him as a puppet and a parrot, abolitionists realized that he was actually an intellectual capable of giving very vivid (and compelling) first-hand accounts of the atrocities of slavery. Critics persisted in doubting him, but again and again, he dismantled their doubts and defamation. Furthermore, as he advocated for the civil rights of Africans in America, their descendants, and for all women, he lived a life that had been previously denied him.

“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one-sixth of the population of democratic America is denied its privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?—what must be the condition of that people? I need not lift up the veil by giving you any experience of my own. Every one that can put two ideas together, must see the most fearful results from such a state of things as I have just mentioned.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC – RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray married on September 15, 1838 – just twelve days after his escape from slavery. For a while, they lived under an assumed surname. Frederick Douglass made a living as a public speaker, writer, and publisher. He traveled the world, served as a diplomat, and also served as an Army recruiter. Throughout his lifetime, he influenced people like Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. He was the first African American to be nominated for vice president (in 1872); the first African American person to receive a vote for president during a a major parties roll call (in 1888); and, if we want to get technical, one of the first person to publicly protest Civil War era statues. (He specifically objected to the way former slaves were depicted.)

Frederick Douglass started the first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, whose motto was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” He was also the only Black person to (officially) attend the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the only Black signer of the Declaration of Sentiments.

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass had five children. Rosetta Douglass worked on her father’s newspapers and eventually became a teacher, an activist, and an founding member of the National Association for Colored Women. Lewis Henry Douglass worked as a typesetter at The North Star and The Douglass’ Weekly before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Frederick Douglass Jr. was also an abolitionist and journalist and who, along with his father, recruited for the Union Army during the Civil War. (Lewis and the two Fredericks would also co-edit The New Era.) Charles Redmond Douglass was also a publisher, is remembered as the first African American to enlist in the Union Army in New York, and was one of the first African Americans to serve as a clerk in  the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau). He also worked for the United States Treasury and served as a diplomat (as did his father). The fifth Douglass child, Annie, died as an adolescent.

Anna Murray-Douglass died in 1882 and, in 1884, Frederick Douglass married a white abolitionist and radical feminist who was two years his junior. Helen Pitts Douglass co-edited The Alpha and eventually worked as her husbands secretary. After her husband’s death in 1895, the second Mrs. Douglass purchased Cedar Hill from the Douglass children (because her husbands bequest to her was not upheld) and worked to establish the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. After her death in 1903, the properties reduced mortgage was paid off by the National Association of Colored Women and is currently managed by the National Park Service.

“Believing that one of the best means of emancipating the slaves of the south is to improve and elevate the character of the free colored people of the north, I shall labor in the future, as I have labored in the past, to promote the moral, social, religious, and intellectual elevation of the free colored people; never forgetting my own humble origin, nor refusing, while Heaven lends me ability, to use my voice, my pen, or my vote, to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER XXV. VARIOUS INCIDENTS. NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE—UNEXPECTED OPPOSITION—THE OBJECTIONS TO IT—THEIR PLAUSIBILITY ADMITTED—MOTIVES FOR COMING TO ROCHESTER—DISCIPLE OF MR. GARRISON—CHANGE OF OPINION—CAUSES LEADING TO IT—THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHANGE—PREJUDICE AGAINST COLOR—AMUSING CONDESCENSION—”JIM CROW CARS”—COLLISIONS WITH CONDUCTORS AND BRAKEMEN—TRAINS ORDERED NOT TO STOP AT LYNN—AMUSING DOMESTIC SCENE—SEPARATE TABLES FOR MASTER AND MAN—PREJUDICE UNNATURAL—ILLUSTRATIONS—THE AUTHOR IN HIGH COMPANY—ELEVATION OF THE FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR—PLEDGE FOR THE FUTURE.” of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

*

“But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER V.” of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

*NOTE: The full title of the third autobiography of Frederick Douglass is Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including His Connection with the Anti-slavery Movement; His Labors in Great Britain as Well as in His Own Country; His Experience in the Conduct of an Influential Newspaper; His Connection with the Underground Railroad; His Relations with John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry Raid; His Recruiting the 54th and 55th Mass. Colored Regiments; His Interviews with Presidents Lincoln and Johnson; His Appointment by Gen. Grant to Accompany the Santo Domingo Commission–
Also to a Seat in the Council of the District of Columbia; His Appointment as United States Marshal by President R. B. Hayes; Also His Appointment to Be Recorder of Deeds in Washington by President J. A. Garfield; with Many Other Interesting and Important Events of His Most Eventful Life; With an Introduction by Mr. George L. Ruffin, of Boston.

Showing the Love (part of my Nine Days series)

Curious about why I referenced romantic love related to the Lantern Festival or why women’s suffrage will keep coming up this week? Check out the video above and stay tuned for tomorrow’s practice.

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### “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.” ~ OW ###

Absolute Liberation (mostly the music) February 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Music, Philosophy, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

“But we can see the past, though we may not claim to have directed it; and seeing it, in this case, we feel more hopeful and confident for the future.

*

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.

*

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.”

*

– from an address at a “Sanitary Fair” on April 18, 1864 in Baltimore, Maryland by President Abraham Lincoln (b. 02/12/1809)

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, February 12th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07282021 The Difference A Day Made II”]

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

 

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Sweet Links (mostly just that) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, New Year, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating! 

“On the eve of the ninth day, a pair of sugarcane plants are usually placed one on each side of the offering table or the front door of the house. This pair of the sugarcane symbolises unity, cooperation and strength. The cane itself is a symbol of harmony and a token which can bring good ‘sweet’ results.”

*

– quoted from “SECTION ONE: CHINESE – Chapter 2. Chinese Community and Culture in Singapore (Variation of Practices during Chinese New Year: Hoikkien) by Soon Su-Chuin, Elvin Xing Yifu and Tong Chee Kiong, as published in The Singapore Ethnic Mosiac: Many Cultures ,One People edited by Mathew Matthews

Please join me today (Wednesday, February 9th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 9 2022”]

NOTE: The platforms have different versions of the full “Emperor Concerto” included in the before/after music. The YouTube also has extra videos.

Please click here for the 2021 post about the Jade Emperor’s birthday!

You can click here for a post related to February 9th, that includes date-related music.

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

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Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

*

When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

*

– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

*

– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

*

– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

*

– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

*

– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

*

– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

*

– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

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“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

*

The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

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– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

*

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

*

– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

*

*

### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###

When You Need A Good Hard Rain (the “missing” Sunday post) February 7, 2022

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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those celebrating the Spring Festival.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, February 6th. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

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– quoted from “Part Two: Logotherapy in a Nutshell” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

I don’t know about you, but this morning I woke up and I was looking for something. It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking for was someone to give me answers; someone who could make sense of things that just don’t make sense; someone who could offer me a little comfort – reassuring me that every thing is going to be OK – and a little encouragement. I was looking for a little hope.

Do you ever find yourself doing that? Scroll through your browser or your email or pulling books off of your shelf and then putting them back? Do you ever find yourself looking for the music that will fit your mood, but then deciding silence is better… only to discover the silence is a little annoying? I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I do. And, I definitely did this morning.

As soon as I realized what I was doing, I also recognized that what I was looking for was (already) inside of me. I think it’s natural – human, even – to seek answers and solace. We all do it and, more often than not, we look at something we may consider to be an external source. However, all the major religions and philosophies instruct us to turn inward. As we are part of the natural world, even turning to science can involve turning inward.

Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Before we go any further, let me acknowledge the elephant (or cow) in the room: God (or gods). God, is the elephant or cow in the room, because people of certain religions – even some atheists or agnostics – may view the (big-D) Divine as something external. Without getting into a big theological debate or explanation, I’m going to humbly disagree with that perspective. I’m going to disagree, in part, because all of the major religions acknowledge that humans are created with some element of the Divine. We’re also capable of expressing those divine attributes. Additionally, I think the instructions that we find in sacred texts like the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament), as well as the Japji Sahib, support the idea that turning inward is the path outward.

And, while we’re on the subject, I will also admit that while we may differ in our conceptualization of God (whatever that means to you at this moment) I believe that every one believes in something (or someone). You can say that you don’t – but that’s a belief. You can say that you believe in Nature, community, the laws of science, or the laws of karma and I will happily point out that all of these systems have overlapping principles. In a nutshell, one of the big overlaps is the idea that what we put out into the world is what we get back.

“Cast your bread upon the water and it shall return to you.”

*

– My great-grandmother Pam, quoting Ecclesiastes 11:1

“The law of Karma is a universal process, whereby causes lead to effects. This is something that all of us are already familiar with, whether or not we use the word Karma to describe it. Newton’s third law of motion, that every action leads to a reaction, is an application of the law of Karma.”

*

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Today was the sixth day of the Lunar New Year. For many people who have been celebrating, things have gone back to the ordinary. There are, however, some people celebrating the Spring Festival who attribute special significance to this sixth day. Instead of re-opening their businesses (and welcoming the God of Wealth) on the fifth day, some shop owners will wait until the sixth day. Some folks will celebrate the birthday of all horses, based on the creation story whereby different animals were created on each day. Finally, some associate the sixth  day with kicking out the Ghost of Poverty and/or welcoming the Clear-Water Grand Master.*

The Ghost of Poverty is remembered as the son of a wealthy man – possibly Zhuan Xu, one of the Three Emperor and Five Sovereigns. This son was short in stature, poor in health, and eschewed any signs of wealth. Legend has it that he ate plain food and that even when he was offered nice clothing, he would refuse the gift unless it was distressed. In other words, he was shrouded in poverty throughout his life and assigned the name “Ghost of Poverty” after his death. Since people want the exact opposite of what he had (or didn’t have), they take steps to rid themselves of things that remind them of his scarcity. Bottom line, they get rid of the rubbish.

People accumulate a lot of trash during the the initial celebrations to bring in the new year, welcome in the God of Wealth, and then welcome back the Kitchen God. However, throwing out the trash or doing a lot of cleaning before the fifth day (which is also associated with “breaking taboos”), is considered unlucky – or, just misguided, as you might throw out your good fortune. So, on the sixth day, people clean up, take out the trash, and get rid of accumulated waste. The house cleaning may be very simple and straightforward. Or, it may involve some rituals to highlight the symbolism of getting rid of what no longer serves the family (or the business) while making room for more prosperity, health, and well-being.

One such ritual involves candles lighting up the path away from the house or business (so the Ghost of Poverty can see himself out). Another ritual is cleaning the toilet – which ties back to an ancient tradition of cleaning out latrines and manure pits every three to five days. Cleaning the toilet is usually needed after big celebrations with family and friends. Additionally, a clean toilet simultaneously ushers out the Ghost of Poverty and curries favor with the Clear-Water Grand Master.

“Actually Qingshui was not a beginner. He was a monk who had already awakened to his essential nature. He engaged Coashan in a dialogue in order to see if he could refine or expand his insight. When Qingshui said he was solitary and poor, he was referring to the experience of emptiness – the experience of essential nature or ‘no thing.'”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Born Chen Zhaoyin, Qing-Shui Zushi was a Chán Buddhist monk who lived during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). Chán Buddhism is a Chinese form of Mahāyāna Buddhism that is rooted in meditation (or a “meditative state”) and is one of the predecessors of modern day Zen Buddhism. In addition to being called the Clear-Water Grand Master, he is also known as “Dropping Nose Ancestor” and “Black Faced Ancestor.” According to the legends, the monk** lived near Clear-Water Rock Mountain and traveled the countryside praying for rain during draughts. He also taught people to build bridges and plant trees in order to insure clean water in the villages and towns. Additionally, he was reportedly well-versed in herbal medicine and associated with the idea that ensuring the good health of one benefits those around them. When he passed, many miracles were attributed to him and to consecrated water.

Qingshui is particularly revered in Taiwan and in the Hokkien diaspora. In fact, there are temples dedicated to him in Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore. Many people will gather at the temple to pray for what they need in the coming year. At at least one of the temples in Taiwan, the celebrations involve a lot of pageantry, traditional Chinese opera, and even a contest for the largest pig.

Given the fact that the Grand Master of Clear-Water was a vegetarian, it’s kind of odd to me that this contest involves a pig. Then again, I’m on the outside looking in. Also, maybe it’s not so odd when you consider that Qingshui was all about what sustained the people and this contest sustains the people. Furthermore, the contest is a perfect example of how cultures overlap.

“When Caoshan called Qingshui’s name , he drew Qingshui’s attention to emptiness, or essential nature, manifesting in the relative world. It manifests in the unique person of Qingshui and in his every action. Each meal he eats, each glass of water he drinks, and each breath he takes is a cup of the finest wine. He wakes us up and helps us see that when we experience the underlying unity of all creation, our eyes are opened and we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment, person, and thing. The light of essential nature shines forth in myriad ways. When we appreciate our many blessings our life is rich and abundant and we are filled with gratitude.”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Many rains ago, there were people in a valley who were routinely attacked by wild boars. They also had ongoing conflict with the people in the mountains surrounding them. So, every year, they would sacrifice a pig to the God of the Mountain and pray for safety and protection during the new year. Based on this tradition, the sixth day of the Lunar New Year became the Day of the Pig. People gather at the temple to see the pigs entered in the contest and the heaviest (real) pig earns the title “God of Pig.” The pork from the winner can earn the owner over a million Taiwanese dollars (which converts to over $36,000 USD – and is more than the average household income in Taiwan).

While I’m not sure when it became customary to decorate the slaughtered pigs and present their backs as if they were a framed painting, it is a modern tradition for the pigs to be incredibly oversized. Their abnormally large size is one reason animal rights activists have objected to the contest. It is also one of the reasons why some families have switched to big packets of rice constructed into the shape of a pig. Some believe it is also why the number of entries has diminished over the last 15-20 years.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

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– quoted from “Part One: Experiences in a Concentration Camp” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

At the end of the day, what do a man who chose to be poor and a monk who focused on sustainability (and who could also be described as one who chose to be poor) have in common with a giant pig, a horse, and our physical practice of yoga?

More, actually, than I can cover in this post.

On the simplest level, both men looked inside of themselves to determine what was the best way to live their lives – and then they lived accordingly. Their personal decisions had profound effects on their communities (for generations) and their stories offer us a moment of svādhyāya (“self-study”), a moment to reflect on how our decisions impact ourselves and those around us. We can consider what no longer serves us and what, metaphorically speaking, constitutes getting rid of the rubbish so that we can make room for more health, more wealth, and more prosperity. In the process, we can also consider when we are overblown or too full of ourselves; when we have more than we need; and when we are doing something all for show.

Yes, we can also do all of that in a seated meditation practice. Similarly, we can let things go as we exhale in a deep-seated meditation practice. However, our moving meditation creates an opportunity to move the muscles and, in doing so, move lymph throughout the body. Remember, the lymphatic fluid washes away dead cells and carries nutrients to the healthy cells. Moving the body helps to detoxify the mind-body. Even though we didn’t do any “horse poses,” we did what constitutes as prep for one of the more challenging “Horse Poses.” We also practiced in a way that “reined in” the wild horses of the mind and (potentially) created the mental and emotional clarity to see our way forward. Finally, the physical practice is a way to engage tapas (“heat,” discipline, and “austerity” and the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity).

Some believe that engaging tapas burns away karma (past thoughts, words, and deed). In fact, one of my teachers once said that we can burn away karma even when we don’t believe in such things. Think about it like this: If every thought, word, and deed is a seed being planted; then every seed has the possibility of coming to fruition. We may plant flowers, fruit trees, shade trees, lush greens, vegetables and/or weeds. Sometimes it takes a while for things to come to fruition. And, sometimes we don’t know what we’ve planted until it pushes through the soil or we uncover it. There are things that can be both nutritious and delicious, as well as things that are deadly and toxic.

Either way, there comes a time when we nourish and harvest what we’ve planted and there are times when we dig it up and throw it away. The practice is simply a method of gardening. It’s also that good hard rain that keeps the soil hydrated and washes away what we no longer need.

“Physicist Stephen Hawking has remarked that mysticism is for those who can’t do math. In response to Hawking’s remark, my friend George Cairns retorted, ‘Mystics are people who don’t need to do math. They have direct experience!'”

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– quoted from “Part I. Finding What Unites Us: Introduction. The Mystic Heart: Our Common Heritage – The Parliament of the World’s Religions” in The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale (b. 01/16/1945)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 6 2022”]

*ERRATA: During the practice I misidentified both the Ghost of Poverty and the Clear-Water Grand Master as “God of….” While some people do worship the latter, many simply honor them as examples of how we can live our lives.

**NOTE: Qīng shuǐ means “fresh water, drinking water, [or] clear water.” The Clear-Water Grand Master should not be confused with Jiang Shichao, who was born poor and made his wealth by building a dam along the Qingshui River.  Some said he “mastered” the water and turned it into silver, metaphorically speaking.

*

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

*

### Keep Breathing, Being Hope ###

First Friday Night Special #16: “The Diff’rence A Moment Makes” February 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #16 from February 4th. This practice featured a Restorative Yoga sequence with emphasis on releasing the midsection (belly+low back and iliopsoas).

You can request an audio recording of Friday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

We all have defining moments in our lives. These may be moments that we use to describe the trajectory of our lives or maybe moments that we use to describe ourselves. Either way, when a single moment plays a big part in who we are and what’s important to us, we sometimes forget that that single moment – as important as it may be – is part of a sequence of moments. It is the culmination of what’s happened before and the beginning of what happens next; it’s just a single part of our story. Even when – or especially when – that moment is the story, we have to be careful about how we frame it. It doesn’t matter if we are telling our story or someone else’s story; how we tell the story matters.

For a lot of people who are celebrating the Lunar New Year, the fourth day is the day when things start going back to normal (whatever that is these days). People go back to work and back to school. People who were able to travel to see family start heading back home (or are already home). Even though those celebrating the Spring Festival for 15 days, will reign in the festivities a bit. However, each day still has significance and special rituals. For instance, the fourth day of the Lunar New Year is not only the birthday of all sheep (in some Chinese traditions), it is also the day when the Kitchen God returns to the hearth.

According to one set of stories, the Kitchen God was at one time a man who, after gaining a certain amount of power and wealth, abandoned his first wife and married a younger woman. Years after the original couple divorced, the man fell on hard times. He lost his wealth, his power, his second wife, and his eyesight. He became a beggar on the streets. One day, the stories tell us, the man’s first wife saw her former husband begging in the streets. She was a woman of great kindness and compassion and so she invited him to her simple home and offered him a shower, some food, and a moment of warmth by the fire.

Remember, the old man could no longer see and didn’t know that this generous woman was the same woman he had treated so poorly. Full, clean, and sitting by the fire, however, he started to talk about his first wife. He lamented about his first marriage and the life they could have had if he hadn’t dumped her. In the process of soothing her now sobbing former husband, the woman revealed her identity and said that she forgave him. Miraculously, the man was suddenly able to see; but he was so distraught that he threw himself into the kitchen stove.

Legend has it, the woman could only save his leg – which became the fireplace poker – and the man became the “Kitchen God,” who leaves the kitchen alter just before the New Year and returns to heaven in order to give the Jade Emperor an accounting of each household’s activities during the previous year. In the final days of the old year, people will clean up their homes – so the alter(s) will be ready for the return of the gods and ancestors – and, sometimes, smear honey on the lips of the Kitchen God so that his report is extra sweet. Then the Kitchen God and other household gods return on the fourth day of the New Year.

I always imagine that some years the Kitchen God’s report is really, really, wild. Can you imagine? Seriously, imagine what he would say about the way we have treated each other over the last few years. Sure, some of us might not be portrayed too badly; but others of us….

More to the point, consider what happens when the Kitchen God’s report includes an update about someone’s defining moment. Just imagine a report from the beginning of 1913 (which would have been the end of the year of the Rat); some point in 1932 (the years of the Goat and the Monkey); not to mention 1943 and 1955 (both Goat years).

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents, Leona (née Edwards) and James McCauley, were a teacher and a carpenter, respectively. When they separated, Rosa and her younger brother moved with their mother to a farm in Pine Level (or Pine Tucky), an unincorporated rural community about 25 miles outside of Montgomery, Alabama. The farm they moved to belonged to Mrs. McCauley’s parents and it was there that Rosa Parks learned to sew and quilt. Even though she went to school for a bit, even started her secondary education, she ended up dropping out of school to take care of her mother and grandmother.

So, it was that she grew up to be a housekeeper and a seamstress. She married Raymond Parks, a Montgomery barber, when she was 19 years old (in 1932) and he encouraged her to get her high school diploma. It wasn’t something that very many African-Americans had at the time, but Mr. Parks was very active in the advancement of the people. In fact, he was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and by 1943 she was too. Rosa Parks not only served as the NAACP secretary, she also worked with her husband on anti-rape campaigns and was a member of the League of Women Voters. She was also determined to register to vote – which she finally did, on her third attempt. Although she attended Communist Party meetings with her husband, she was never a member. She did, however, practice haha yoga, the physical practice of yoga (as early as the 1960s).

A job at Maxwell Air Force Base exposed her to the possibilities of integration and then she  started working for a liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The Durr’s were not only liberal leaning, they were also fairly well connected. Both the Durrs were Alabama born and bred, but ended up furthering their education outside of Alabama. Mr. Durr attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and then became a lawyer, whose income insulated the Durrs from some of the hardships others around them experienced during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Mrs. Durr was essentially raised by Black women (as many children in well-to-do Southern homes were at the time) and then attended Wellesley College, where she regularly ate her meals with women of different races. She would eventually befriend First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and become the sister-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Given their backgrounds, it is not surprising that the Durr’s encouraged (and even financially supported), Rosa Parks’s activism.

During the summer of 1955, just before the murder of Emmett Till, Mrs. Parks attended trainings at the Highlander Folk School (now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center). The training, led by Septima Clark (the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement), focused on civil disobedience, workers’ rights, and racial equity. The combination of the training, her previous life experience and activism, and the hot toddy of emotion bubbling up from the 1955 murders of Emmett Till and two Civil Rights activists (George W. Lee and Lamar “Ditney” Smith) proved to be a powerful force – a force, perhaps, that explains her hardened resolve on December 1, 1955. It was a force that definitely led to progress.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Samayama, comes from the root words meaning “holding together, tying up, binding.” It can also be translated as “integration.” In some traditions (e.g., religious law), it is defined as “self-restraint” or “self-control.” Patanjali used the term to describe the combined force of focus, concentration, and meditation – and he basically devoted a whole chapter of the Yoga Sūtras to the benefits of utilizing samyama. Interestingly, the chapter he devoted to the powers/abilities that come from applying samyama is called “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.”

As I have previously mentioned, there are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers. The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism) – and the “progressing” to which English translators refer is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

According to yoga sūtra 3.53, applying samyama to a moment and it’s sequence (meaning the preceding and succeeding moments) leads to higher knowledge. This higher knowledge gives one a higher level of discernment; knowledge and discernment that transcends categories and fields of reference. We can easily look at what happened after Rosa Parks refused to move, but; to truly understand the power of that single moment, we have to also consider the moments that preceded it.

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

In addition to some of what I’ve already referenced, it’s important to remember that December 1, 1955 wasn’t the first time that a Black person, let alone a Black woman, had defied the unjust laws and social conventions. It wasn’t the first time it had happened that year. Remember, Claudette Colvin’s refusal to move and subsequent arrest happened in the spring of 1955. Furthermore, it wasn’t even the first time that Rosa Parks had been in that situation… with that particular bus driver. In fact, Mrs. Parks and that particular driver (James F. Blake) had had multiple conflicts.

One incident that stands out (because it is often highlighted) was in 1943, when he told her that, after she paid her fair at the front, she had to re-enter at the back of the bus. This was a city ordinance, but some drivers didn’t enforce it. For whatever the reason, there was conflict and when she exited the bus, he drove away before she could re-enter. (Note: This would have been right around the time she started actively working with the NAACP.) While Rosa Parks reportedly decided not to ride with that driver again, the driver was (allegedly) in the habit of driving past her when she was at a stop. Bottom line, there was a lot of water under the bridge between 1943 and 1955. Some of that proverbial water included Mr. Blake’s ongoing conflict with at least one other Black woman, Mrs. Lucille Times.

Mrs. Times, who died last year, and her husband Charlie were active members of the NAACP, registered voters, and activists. According to various reports, Lucille Times and James F. Blake were involved in a road rage incident that led to a physical altercation and Lucille Times’s decision – during the summer of 1955 – to “disrupt” Mr. Blake’s route by offering African-Americans rides. She continued that practice all the way through the official end of the Montgomery bus boycotts in December of 1956.

Finally, there’s the issue of the seat. Rosa Parks sat down in the “Colored” section of the bus. Somewhere along the route, the bus driver decided to make room for more white passengers by telling Black passengers to move. Then, after some grumbling and resistance, he moved the sign so that anyone who didn’t move (i.e., Rosa Parks) would officially be breaking the law.

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

So, there was Rosa Parks: Tired after working all day and then shopping for Christmas presents. Tired of people in her community not being guaranteed the rights promised to them. Tired of people in her community being murdered when they worked to legally secure their rights. Tired.

And there was the bus driver, who called the police and filed a complaint.

I will resist assigning any emotional underpinnings to his decisions. I haven’t found any quotes from him that would humanize him and make him more than a stereotype. But, then again, I don’t need to do that. Just as we can put ourselves in the shoes of 15-year old Claudette Colvin or Lucille Times or Rosa Parks, we could put ourselves in his shoes. We can, if it is in our practice, apply samyama to his thoughts (as reflected by his words, deeds, and physical expressions) to know his state of mind, as described in yoga sūtra 3.19. Similarly, we could apply samyama to his heart to deepen that understanding (see yoga sūtras 3.20 and 3.35). Remember, however, that this is not where the practice begins. Additionally, we would only apply samyama in this way to gain a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds.

“I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” – I recommend Track 3 on YouTube or Track 1 on Spotify, but any track will work.]

A little something extra…

*

### “In this undiscovered moment / Lift your head up above the crowd / We could shake this world / If you would only show us how / Your life is now” JM ###

It’s Happening, Again… (the “missing” Wednesday post) February 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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2 comments

“Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, February 2nd. You can request an audio recording of this practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Variations of the following were previously posted in 2021.

“财神到 财神到
Caishen dao caishen dao [The god of wealth has come! The god of wealth has come!]

*
好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

*
财神话 财神话
Caishenhua caishenhua [Myth of money, myth of money]

*
揾钱依正路
wen qian yi zhenglu [if you follow the right path]”

*

– quoted from the song “Cai Shen Dao” [“The God of Wealth Has Come!” by Sam Hui, lyrics in Hanzi [Chinese characters], pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

February 2, 2022 was the second day of the Lunar New Year. and, in parts of China and the diaspora, it was the second day of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. This year is the year of the (water) Tiger.

In each region that celebrates the Lunar New Year, each day has a special significance and different stories and traditions related to that significance. Some people honor the god of land on the second day, while others celebrate the birthday of all dogs. Traditionally, the second day is a day when daughters who had married and moved away from home would return to visit their birth families – which meant their families would welcome the son-in-laws. So, in some places, today is a day dedicated to the son-in-laws. 

For some (particularly Cantonese people), the second day is known as “beginning of the year” and it marks the beginning of a new business year. As such, there are blessings and prayers for a prosperous new year. From 221 B. C. until 1912 A. D., it was common for beggars and the unemployed in China to spend today carrying around a picture of the God Of Wealth and shouting, “Cai Shen Dao! [The God of Wealth has come! in Mandarin]” In exchange for their pronouncement, they would receive “lucky money” from families and businesses.

In some parts of China, people celebrate the birthday of Che Kung on his “actual” birthday (the second), while others celebrate on the third day of the year. A military general of the Southern Song Dynasty, Che Kung is believed to have been capable of suppressing rebellions and plagues. Some even consider him “God of Protection.” Hong Kong and Guangdung Province are two of the places where people traditionally have a procession and visit a temple dedicated to Che Kung. Despite the pandemic, thousands of people visited the temple in Sha Tin last year; however, masks, temperature checks, and a health registration were required. This year, vaccinations were encouraged and people were required to use the “Leave Home Safe” app, which is a free digital contract tracing app launched by the Hong Kong government.

People who travel to the temple on the second and third days of the new year give thanks, light red candles and incense sticks, and present offerings. Some will spin a golden pinwheel outside of the temple to maintain good luck from the previous year or to change their fortune in the New Year. Some will even buy a personal pinwheel. There is also big ceremony around drawing fortune sticks, which people believe offers guidance for the coming year and can be interpreted by a fortune teller. Of course, this year (like last year), a lot of people are seeking guidance about the pandemic – and how to proceed when the same things keep happening over and over again.

*** SPOILER ALERT: This post references plot points from the movie and musical Groundhog Day. ***

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties cause it’s cooooold out there today.”

 

– Richard Henzel as “DJ #1” in the movie Groundhog Day

 

“‘I read it,’ says [Bill] Murray, ‘and I thought it was just extraordinary because at it’s core it really said something: It was an interpretation of the myth about how we all repeat our lives because we’re afraid of change. I thought it could just be the funniest thing ever.’”

 

– quoted from the February 7, 1993 article, Bill Murray and the Beast Filming “Groundhog Day” Turned Out To Be A Nightmare For The Actor. His Furry Co-star Had A Hankering For His Blood. by Ryan Murphy, For The Inquirer

 

A stage manager and a hardware store owner walk into a yoga studio. The hardware store owner asks, “What’s the difference between a rut, a groove, and a rake?” The yoga teacher says, “Perspective.”

OK, so, that’s not exactly how the conversation went, but it’s pretty close. For those of you who don’t work in theatre, hardware, construction, and/or architecture, a rake is the incline on an old fashioned stage that makes the back of the stage (or the end farthest from the audience) “upstage” and is the same type of incline that places the back of the audience up higher than the seats closest to the stage. It allows people to see the full range of action. Of course, “rut” and “groove” are both words used to describe a deep track in the earth (or a record album) that is also used to describe an ingrained habit – although the former has a negative connotation, while the latter is considered more desirable.

Ultimately though, all three words, describe something that requires a certain degree of effort to get from the bottom to the top. The thing is, if you are (habit-wise) in a groove, you may not have a desire or a reason to get out of the groove. If you are on a rake, you want to be downstage (because that is typically where the action is) and you want to make sure no one is “upstaging you.” Finally, if you are in a rut, you may find that getting out of it may take more energy than you are putting into things. You could be like Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the mountain for all eternity. Or, maybe, like Phil Connors, you just don’t know how to get out of the situation you’re in.

Phil: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”

Ralph: “That about sums it up for me.”

 

– Bill Murray as “Phil Connors” and Rick Overton as “Ralph” in the movie Groundhog Day

In the 1993 Harold Ramis movie Groundhog Day (as well as in the musical of the same name), Phil Connors is malcontent weather man who travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the annual Groundhog Day celebrations. He clearly would rather be anywhere but where he is; however, he’s a professional. He shows up on February 1st, along with Larry the cameraman (played by Chris Elliot in the movie) to do his job. He wakes up on February 2nd, does his duty and then goes to bed, looking forward to getting up in the morning and getting out of Dodge. The only problem, the one even Punxsutawney Phil couldn’t have predicted, is that when he wakes up the “next morning” it’s still February 2nd – Groundhog Day!

This happens again and again to Phil Connors. Much to his annoyance, no one else he encounters seems to notice the time loop. Not Larry the cameraman; not Rita (played by Andie McDowell in the movie); not Ralph (played by Rick Overton in the movie) – and definitely not the so-excited-to-see-him Ned Ryerson (played by Stephen Tobolowsky in the movie). Not only does no one else notice that Groundhog Day is happening again and again, most everyone else is excited: It is, after all, a big day for the little town.

“Well, it’s Groundhog Day… again.”

 

– Bill Murray as “Phil Connors” in the movie Groundhog Day

 

The annual observation of Groundhog Day is based on a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a badger (or a bear or a fox, depending on the region) saw its shadow on February 2nd, there would be four (now six) more weeks of winter. February 2nd was significant to the original observers, because it is Candlemas; which commemorates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and is observed by Catholics, as well as German Protestants, like the Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

The Pennsylvania Dutch, who were originally (and primarily) German immigrants to the Americas, had a lot of “superstitions” about weather – some of which could be found in Hostetter’s United States Almanac, for Merchants, Mechanics, Farmers, Planters, and General Family Use (published 1863–1909 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Hostetter & Smith). For instance, if the weather was nice for All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days (the two days after All Hallows’ Eve), then the weather would be good for the next six weeks. Similarly, there was an obvious tie between Christianity and the Old World (pagan) beliefs in the idea that the length of icicles between Christmas and New Year’s would translate into the depth of snow during winter.

The groundhog tradition is one of the few Pennsylvania Dutch beliefs that, somehow, jumped from their very sacred (and closed) communities into the secular world. Punxsutawney Phil (in western Pennsylvania) is arguably the most famous and has been predicting the weather since 1886. (Of course, despite what the organizers would have you believe, there have been several Phils over the years.) The official Groundhog Day ceremony, with all its pomp and circumstance, rituals, and proclamations has been an official ceremony since 1887. The movie, in 1993, increased tourism to the area, as the average number of attendees rose from 2,000 to 10,000. In 2019, the event was live streamed – which means the town was virtually prepared for the COVID-19 restrictions required in 2020.

In addition to Punxsutawney Phil, there’s Chattanooga Chuck in Tennessee; French Creek Freddie in West Virginia; Buckeye Chuck in Ohio and Staten Island Chuck (a.k.a Charles G. Hogg) in New Jersey – and Staten Island Chuck’s daughter Charlotte, Jr.; Essex Ed also in New Jersey; Jimmy the Groundhog in Wisconsin; Stormy Marmot in Colorado; General Beauregard Lee (known as Beau) in Gwinnett County, Georgia; and Pierre C. Shadeaux in Louisiana. Shubenacadie Sam is in Nova Scotia. In Canada, there’s Balzac Billy in Alberta; Fred la marmotte in Quebec; and Wiarton Willie in Ontario.

There’s also a larger-than-life “Essex Ed” in Essex, Connecticut.

Oh, and in Bee Cave, Texas (just outside of Austin), there’s an armadillo named Bee Cave Bob.

Over the years there’s been a lot of controversy around the groundhogs. One (allegedly) bit a New York mayor and, a few years later, a different New York mayor would (allegedly) drop a different groundhog. Then there was the time Warton Willie (in Ontario) predicted the weather even though he had died two days before Groundhog Day. (Sadly, this year, New Jersey’s Milltown Mel died just days before the big day.) Then there’s the fact that the groundhogs are notoriously wrong – although, perhaps not as much as one might think.

According to a 2021 CNN article by Laura Ly (with contributions from CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar), Punxsutawney Phil has reportedly seen his shadow 104 times, but not seen it only 20 times; and, statistically speaking, he’s been correct 50% of the time in the last 10 years – which makes him a little like that broken clock that has tells the correct time twice a day. On the flip side, a 2018 Time Magazine article by Chris Wilson and Lily Rothman referenced a Mathematical Association of America paper that tracked predictions from 1950 to 1990 and found Punxsutawney Phil was 70% accuracy. During that time, Staten Island Chuck had a better record. However, when the Time reporters looked specifically at the 2017 predictions of 16 groundhogs and actually tracked the weather for each region, Unadilla Bill (in Nebraska) was 83% accurate. The thing is, Unadilla Bill is not “real”… he’s a product of taxidermy!

Just for the record, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow in 2018 and 2019, but he did see it in 2021 and 2022; so, six more weeks of winter – unless you decide to bank on Unadilla Bill’s track record. In 2021, the stuffed groundhog did not “see” his shadow; thereby, predicting an early spring. That was Unadilla Bill’s last forecast, as he “retired.” However, he was replaced by Unadilla Billie, that rare female groundhog. In keeping with the family tradition, Unadilla Billie did not “see” her shadow this year.

 “It’s always Feb 2nd – there’s nothing I can do about it.”

 

– Bill Murray as “Phil Connors” in the movie Groundhog Day

 

In the movie, Phil Connors is like Sisyphus – in that he is stoically prepared to do what he has to do. But, very quickly, he becomes downright fatalistic and then straight-up defiant. He’s Scrooge and George Bailey all rolled-up into one. It’s sad. As he makes some efforts to change his behavior and his interactions with others in a (futile) attempt to break the time loop, we can definitely see evidence that the movie loosely fits into the rubric of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. The problem with the recalcitrant weatherman’s approach is that he continuously picks the absolute worse things to say and do – pretty much guaranteeing that the loop continues.

Some people have looked at the movie as a Christian allegory about purgatory, and that fits in with the background of the original observation (if only in the fact that the original observation came from a Christian community and had close ties to Candlemas). It also fits in with the fact that Danny Rubin, the original writer, was inspired by Lestat de Lioncourt, one of Anne Rice’s most famous vampires – and Anne Rice’s books are steeped in (and with) Catholic imagery, ritual, and tradition.

I tend, however, to lean towards those who view the movie as a Buddhist parable or koan about karma. Karma is a Sanskrit word (kamma in Pali) meaning work, effort, action, or deed. In the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies, it is every thought, every word, and every deed – and our karma, literally our efforts, determine our suffering as well as how often we will repeat a life that involves suffering. The repetition of behavior connects to the philosophical concept of samskāras (saņkhāras in Pali) – which are the mental grooves (or ruts) that create our behavior and, in Buddhism, our world (samsāra). All of this fits in with Bill Murray’s observation (about people fearing change) and the fact that both Danny Rubin, the original writer, and Harold Ramis, who directed and worked on the movie’s re-write, have more than a working knowledge of Buddhism. Furthermore, in Buddhism – just like in the movie – the end of the cycle of suffering (and/or reincarnation) comes from the way we open our hearts to others.

Which, of course, begs the question: how long does that take? In fact, almost everyone who has ever seen the movie wonders how long the time loop takes.

“Again,’ says [Danny] Rubin, ‘I fought for the bookcase for a long time. Ultimately, it became this weird political issue because if you asked the studio, “How long was the repetition?”, they’d say, “Two weeks.” But the point of the movie to me was that you had to feel you were enduring something that was going on for a long time. It’s not like a sitcom where the problem is solved in 22½ minutes. For me it had to be – I don’t know. A hundred years. A lifetime.’

*

[Harold] Ramis maintains that the original script had specified that Phil was stuck for 10,000 years because of the significance of that time-span in Buddhist teachings, but Rubin denies this.”

 

– quoted from Groundhog Day (BFI Modern Classics) by Ryan Gilbey (series editor, Rob White)

In a 2005 critical study of the movie, Ryan Gibley explored some of the theories, misconceptions, and assumptions about the time-loop continuum – as well as the way the understanding (and “official” explanations) of the timeline changed and evolved over time. In the original draft, Phil Connors used books (reading one page a day) to keep track of the days and, based on that concept, the loop would be 70 – 80 years. At one point, Harold Ramis said 10; but when a blogger broke down scenes and estimated 9, Mr. Ramis publicly stated it was 30 – 40 years.

Suffice to say, it takes a really long time: as long as it takes to break every habit that makes up your life and the way you live your life. For Phil Connors that means changing the way he interacts with himself as well as with others. It means he has to engage all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis “unique to being human” – in particular, those that overlap with Buddhism: the power to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the power to cultivate a good heart (and make friends); and the power of generosity.

The movie and, in particular, Phil’s evolution in the movie are a great lens through which to view our own lives. It can serve as a starting point for svādhyāyā (“self-study”), giving us the opportunity to look at how we respond (or habitually react) when we are faced with the same mistakes or the same issues. It brings our awareness to how things (and people) are connected and to how we’re changing (every time we inhale, every time we exhale) – even when it seems like things are staying the same. In noticing the difference a day makes/made – the difference that is us (or Phil, in the movie) – we are given the opportunity to consider how changing our perspective changes our behavior, and how that changes everything.

Finally, the movie makes us wonder how we would choose to spend the day if we knew this was the only day we would ever have. It begs the question: What would you do and with whom would you spend this day if it was your only day? And follows that with: Why are you waiting for your final day, your only day, to learn what you want to learn, do what you want to do, and spend time with the one(s) you love? Finally, the movie makes us wonder: What will it take for us to appreciate this day (or, this year)?

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

 

– Bill Murray as “Phil Connors” in the movie Groundhog Day

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02022021 It’s Groundhog Day, Again” or 02022021 Groundhog Day, Again”]

NOTE: Both versions of the playlist have been updated for 2022; however, the update does not affect the music played during the practice.

 

“S: I got flowers in the spring, I got you to wear my ring
C: And when I’m sad, you’re a clown
C: And if I get scared, you’re always around
C: So let them say your hair’s too long
S: Cause I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong

S: Then put your little hand in mine
S: There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb”

 

– quoted from the song “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher

 

IT’S ALMOST TIME! Are you ready for another “First Friday Night Special?” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will consider “the diff’rence a moment makes.” This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

### “THE DIFFERENCE IS YOU” ###

 

 

It’s Happening, Again… (just the music) February 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, New Year, One Hoop, Yoga.
Tags: , , ,
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“Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating! “Many blessings,” to those who are observing Candlemas!

Please join me today (Wednesday, February 2nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02022021 It’s Groundhog Day, Again” or 02022021 Groundhog Day, Again”]

NOTE: Both versions of the playlist have been updated for 2022; however, the update does not affect the music played during the practice.

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

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