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Take Another Look At Yourself (mostly the music and links) May 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Love is the connection and the connector.

“You have a gift for great silence Watson. It makes you invaluable as a companion.”

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– Sherlock Holmes

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

*

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

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 22nd) at 2:30 PM. You can 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 (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for ”05222021 Take A Look At Yourself”]

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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (b. 1859) and Dr. M. Scott Peck (b. 1936). Here’s a little excerpt from my 2021 post about this date: “When we focus-concentrate-meditate on someone’s body (and life), including our own, we start to see certain trends. First and foremost, is that our experiences build on top of one another. This is consistent with one of the underlying concepts within the Yoga Philosophy, as outline by Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, that we view each experience through the mental impressions (samskaras) of previous experiences. Another thing we may notice is that, as it states at the beginning of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, “Life is difficult.” However, the issue isn’t life… the issue is how we deal with our difficulties.”

Click here to read last year’s post.

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Lent, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svādyāya IV: Take A Look at Yourself (the “missing” Saturday post) May 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 22nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“And there’s a road, a winding road that never ends
Full of curves, lessons learned at every bend
Goin’s rough unlike the straight and narrow

 

It’s for those, those who go against the grain
Have no fear, dare to dream of a change
Live to march to the beat of a different drummer”

 

 

– quoted from the song “The Road Less Traveled” by George Strait

If you’ve followed along with the blog and/or the classes over the last month of Saturdays – or if you are just familiar with the Yoga Sūtras – you will have noticed that there’s a very definite thread gets pulled in the third section: Patanjali outlines a progression of powers or accomplishments that are achieved through the application of samyama (how he describes the combination of focus, concentration, and meditation). First, there is the ability to achieve a higher state of absorption (samadhi), which brings with it the ability to clearly see past and present, as well as how things change in form, time, and condition. Then, Patanjali explains the power that comes from applying samyama to the three types of changes (YS 3.16, knowing the future); on word, meaning, and knowledge (YS 3.17, knowing all languages); on your own mental impressions (YS 3.18, knowing past lives); and on another person’s body (YS 3.19-20, knowing the nature of another person’s mind, but not their thoughts). If you focus-concentrate-meditate on this progression, the next power or accomplishment is well…

“It’s Elementary”

 

– Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was born into a prosperous Irish-Catholic family on May, 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an artist and chronic alcoholic with some mental health issues; while his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was an educated woman who loved books and telling stories. The young couple (22 and 17, respectively, when they wed) didn’t have much money of their own, but Sir Conan Doyle’s wealthy uncles paid for him to go to a Jesuit boarding school (in England) at the age of nine. By all accounts, the kid was miserable (because of the bigotry and corporal punishment that he encountered) and only took pleasure from the letters he exchanged with his mother. His Jesuit education continued at Stoneyhurst College and then at Stella Matutina (in Austria) before he returned to Scotland to attend the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

In medical school, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met several aspiring writers who inspired him. He also met a professor who became the inspiration for his ultimate creation: Sherlock Holmes. Along with his trusty sidekick, Dr. John H. Watson, who serves as the first person narrator for almost all of the stories, Sherlock Holmes appeared in 56 short stories and four novels beginning with the 1887 publication of A Study in Scarlet (first published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual). While Holmes and Watson are, without a doubt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most well-known and celebrated characters, he sometimes had a bit of a love-hate relationship with them. He killed Holmes and his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in December 1893 (in The Final Problem), but then wrote a play about Homes a few years later. By 1901, readers were being treated to brand new Holmes-Watson stories, like The Hound of the Baskerville, which slid into the earlier canon.

Throughout his adulthood, Sir Conan Doyle aspired to be the hero of his own story. On at least three occasions, he used the persona of Sherlock Holmes to get Scotland Yard and the courts to correct injustices. After being denied the opportunity to enlist in the military during two wars, he volunteered his medical services. Throughout this time, however, he dealt with the tragic illness and ultimate death of his first wife, as well as the deaths (during World War I) of his eldest son, his two brothers-in-laws, and his two nephews. His personal tragedies caused him to suffer from depression and to also be fascinated with the paranormal, spiritualism, and non-European cultures. (He wrote several stories that directly reflected his fascination – although those stories tend to be rife with racist stereotypes and terminology – and at least one story around his father’s confinement to an asylum.)

Dr. Joseph Bell, the medical school professor who inspired Sir Conan Doyle, taught diagnosis through observation, logic, and deduction – the very tools Sherlock Holmes utilizes to solve cases that puzzle the police. Of course, to utilize those skills one has to focus-concentrate-meditate on the available information. In doing so, and with particular attention to the thread that’s reoccurred in the classes and blog this week, it becomes apparent that the next (logical) point of focus in the Yoga Sūtras is on one’s self.

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

 

 

– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”

 

“A Yogi standing in the midst of this room can apparently vanish. He does not really vanish, but he will not be seen by anyone. The form and the body are, as it were, separated. You must remember that this can only be done when the Yogi has attained to that power of concentration when form and the thing formed have been separated. Then he makes a Samyama on that, and the power to perceive forms is obstructed, because the power of perceiving forms comes from the junction of form and the thing formed.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.21 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Like many modern day medical students, I’m guessing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was taught to “think horses, not zebras” – unless, of course, you are in a place where there are a lot of zebras. And, while it’s true that many kids dream of having the power of invisibility (for a variety of reasons), we don’t typically think of invisibility as a commonly occurring “power.” So what, then, do we make of Patanjali’s assertion that one can make one’s self invisible?

First, I think it is important to remember Yoga Sūtras 2:19 – 22. In particular, remember that we can only see what our mind shows us (YS 2.20) and that it is possible to “unsee” something, i.e., to no longer see something through the veil of illusion (YS 2.22). This is a reminder that for most of us – and for most of our lives – we are not seeing what is right in front of our noses, including other people.

Being “overlooked” has happened to me on more than one occasion. I’ve been stepped on, stepped in front of, and looked around all because “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you.” Maybe it’s because I’m short, maybe because I’m a woman, maybe because I’m Black. Who knows. All I know for sure is that it happens to a lot of other people too and… well, let’s just say there are hoof beats.

I used an example in class that my sister said should have come with a trigger warning. So, let me give another example (that may still need a warning, because it’s not pretty – so, feel free to “overlook” the paragraph between the next two quotes).

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

 

 

– Sherlock Holmes

 

Over a decade ago, while on a corporate lunch break in downtown Houston, my co-worker and I walked passed a homeless person leaning up against a department store. I am referring to this person as “homeless” because their clothes were dirty and they looked as if they had been sleeping up against the store. Also, they smelled really bad. My friend and I were walking and talking and had no direct interaction with this third person – other than that we passed downwind of them. When we crossed the street, my friend made a comment about how someone really needed to “clean out that port-a-potty.” But, as I pointed out to her, there was no port-a-potty, just a “homeless man.” We had passed this person going to lunch and coming back from lunch, but she had never seen them.

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”

 

 

– quoted from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

 

As I’ve indicated over the last few blog posts and classes, we can look at a person’s life – including our own – through a lot of different lenses, including the lens of the physical-mental and subtle (energetic) body. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on someone’s body (and life), including our own, we start to see certain trends. First and foremost, is that our experiences build on top of one another. This is consistent with one of the underlying concepts within the Yoga Philosophy, as outline by Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, that we view each experience through the mental impressions (samskaras) of previous experiences. Another thing we may notice is that, as it states at the beginning of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, “Life is difficult.” However, the issue isn’t life… the issue is how we deal with our difficulties.

Born May 22, 1936 in New York City, M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist, co-founder of Foundation for Community Encouragement, and the author of The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie: Hope for Healing Human Evil, and The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. His parents, David Warner Peck (an attorney, judge, court reformer, and author) and Elizabeth (née Saville) were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who raised their children as Protestant – even though Judge Peck’s mother was Jewish (technically making Judge Peck Jewish even though he didn’t identify as such). For a little over 2 years (from age 13 – 15), Dr. Peck attended boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy – but, much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he was miserable. When he refused to go back to school, his parents sent him to a psychiatrist who recommended that he either go back to school or spend a month in a psychiatric hospital. Ultimately, he transferred to Friends Seminary (in New York) and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University and a Doctor or Medicine (MD) degree from Case Western Reserve University. He worked for the U. S. government and also served (as a psychiatrist) in the United States Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Dr. Peck based The Road Less Traveled (published in 1978) on his own personal efforts to overcome the challenges in his life and the efforts he observed in his clients. In the book, he used case studies and profiles to outline and explore four attributes people need in order to be fulfilled and healthy human beings: discipline, love, (a healthy understanding of) religion, and grace. Discipline – which he considered essential for emotional, spiritual, and psychological health – sounds very much like a combination of the yamas (external “restraints) and niyamas (“internal observations”), in that is requires delayed gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s actions, a dedication to truth, and “balancing” (which was how he described handling conflict through compromise).

The second and third sections of M. Scott Peck’s most well-known book are devoted to dispelling myths and misconceptions about love and religion. First and foremost, he explained that he did not mean “love” as romantic or sexual, nor did he consider it as an emotion or anything related to catharsis, dependency, and/or the idea of “falling in love.” Instead, he described love as an action – a very intentional and deliberate action connected to the spiritual growth of one’s self and those that one loves.  Similarly, his observations around religion were intended to dispel myths and misconceptions and also to explore the correlation between spiritual growth and mental health. To Dr. Peck, there was “no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth.”

“And so it is with spiritual growth as well as in professional life. For the call to grace is a promotion, a call to a position of higher responsibility and power. To be aware of grace, to personally experience its constant presence, to know one’s nearness to God, is to know and continually experience an inner tranquility [sic] and peace that few possess. On the other hand, this knowledge and awareness brings with it a responsibility. For to experience one’s closeness to God is also to experience the obligation to God, to be the agent of His power and love. The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required. It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent unto mankind.”

 

 

– quoted from “IV: GRACE, Resistance to Grace” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

All of these ideas coalesced into the final element: Grace. M. Scott Peck defined “grace” as a powerful force outside of human consciousness that nurtured human life and spiritual growth; was not understood by science (or scientific thinking); was commonplace among all humans; and originated outside of human will. He concluded that grace was the only explanation for the unconscious, serendipity, and incidents that could be described as miracles.

M. Scott Peck is recognized as one of the people responsible for the modern “self-help” industry and movement and, in particular, for combining modern psychiatry with ancient spirituality. In his subsequent books, including Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth, Dr. Peck built on his earlier themes and also outlined four stages of spiritual development in individuals and in communities (including the “chaos” stage). In People of the Lie, he specifically focused on further breaking down unhealthy/dysfunctional behavior that can be described as “evil.” In The Different Drum, he explored the building blocks of a true (healthy) community: inclusivity, commitment, and consensus. According to M. Scott Peck, having those three key ingredients, leads to (and results from) the following:

  • realism (seeing the big picture by getting multiple perspectives);
  • contemplation (everyone in the community is committed to self-reflection and self-examination);
  • a safe place for all (which cultivates vulnerability, healing, and expression);
  • “a laboratory for personal disarmament” (wherein people are able to develop peacemaking skills and compassion);
  • the wisdom and grace to resolve conflicts peacefully;
  • the opportunity for everyone to develop and utilize their leadership skills; and
  • a unifying spirit (of peace, love, wisdom, and power that may come from within the community and/or from a Higher Power).

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“You have a gift for great silence Watson. It makes you invaluable as a companion.”

 

 

– Sherlock Holmes

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

### LOVE & GRACE ###

 

STILL CLIMBIN’ – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 2018

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Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– from Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

 

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

– from Navy Seals

My early yoga teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” I sometimes repeat this statement to myself and to people who come to my class, because I find it’s true. We humans only have so many reactions and responses. Our reactions on the mat are pretty consistent with our reactions off the mat, whether we are dealing with things we enjoy, things we dislike, things that challenge us, things we do well, things we fear, and/or things we don’t understand. (Substitute the word “people” for the word “things” and you see how we end up with some of our current problems.)

We delay gratification or we rush in to quickly experience the things we enjoy. We procrastinate or we push through that which we do not enjoy. We appreciate what we have or we focus on what we don’t have.

When something blocks our progression, we stop and turn back – or, as Marcus Aurelius encouraged, we pause and figure out a way to keep going. When we fall down, we either pick ourselves up – rising above the challenge – or we fall down and stay down. We either, as Thomas Edison did when his warehouse caught fire, learn from past mistakes and enjoy the unexpected – even when it seems catastrophic – or we curl up in a fetal position and watch the world go by. We pick up the pieces and re-build (again, like Edison) or we sweep the debris under the rug and step over the bulge, pretending it’s not there.

We are capable of putting blame behind us and focusing on what is, but (more often than not) blame occupies our minds when something goes wrong. We blame ourselves, we blame others, and/or we blame God and the fates. We live in the past (which is no longer), the future (which is not yet), or we live the present to its fullest.

The details change, but the overall responses are the same: We fight, we flee, or we freeze/collapse. Note that in this case, fighting is not always arguing or coming to fisticuffs; fighting is engaging, which in life can sometimes bring us to a compromise. This all happens in the present moment and, if we experience trauma, we can experience it in the present even after the original situation is in the past.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In life, as in yoga, there are challenges. Some challenges are expected and we mindfully prepare for them. On the flip side, some challenges are expected, but we don’t prepare for them. Finally, there are those challenges we didn’t see coming. When life (or a yoga teacher) throws us a curve ball, we swing or we don’t. In this analogy, it’s not whether or not we hit the ball that matters. What matters is that we are prepared to swing.

This brings us back to Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Edison, and those Navy Seals.

Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, highlights successful people at their most resilient moments. One of the things that stood out to me when I read Holiday’s book, was that many of the people he referenced spent their whole lives preparing for what became a defining moment. It wasn’t that they anticipated the challenge; instead, they lived life to the fullest and it turned out the causes and conditions that caused them to “fall down” also gave them the tools to get back up.

Consider the Navy Seals. An elite combat unit, the Seals only accepts the best of the best. To determine who makes the cut, qualified applicants must successfully complete one of the hardest and toughest 10-day training programs in the world. Because there is no telling what a Navy Seal might encounter in real life, the training is a way to practice scenarios which test their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual endurance. They are taught to Survive, Evade, Resist, and Escape if confronted with capture. The skills tests become more challenging in and of themselves, but they also become more challenging because applicants are moving closer and closer to their personal edge. Each second, each minute, each hour, each day creates an opportunity for growth. Seals get better, so that the challenges of yesterday seem easier once mastered. Ultimately, though, basic training pushes Navy Seals to engage, escape, evade – or get the heck out of the way for someone who is willing to swing when the curve ball is thrown.

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

 

– from The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck

Life, for some, is like basic training in that it can be dangerous, full of pitfalls, and something that must be survived. But, for all of us, life is full of the causes and conditions that result in people to falling down and also full of the tools that help people get back up.

Yoga isn’t intended to be as hard (or as dangerous) as life or basic training. However, the yoga mat is a safe place to notice how you engage challenges, setbacks, and desires. It’s a safe place to explore different ways of being in the world. Every moment, every breath, every pose, every sequence prepares us for the next moment, the next breath, the next pose, and the next sequence. Sometimes we are very aware of how things are put together “in a special way.” Sometimes we are full engaged in the moment and are surprised when we meet a challenge with grace, wisdom, courage, and strength. Other times, we fall flat. Either way, the process starts all over again every time we inhale, every time we exhale.

MOTHER TO SON – by Langston Hughes

Very deliberately, move into Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the extension of the spine. Notice the softness of the belly. Notice the deep breath in and the deeper breath out. Allow your breath to move through the spine. Allow your soft belly to rise and fall with the breath. Allow your mind to follow the breath and the body’s reaction the breath. Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha).

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Find the place where your movements are strong, but not forced, and then curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Notice the length of the spine and how you support it.

Remember your can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core.

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

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Soften into yourself and into the stillness of the moment.

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

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana.) Double check to ensure you have maintained balance and alignment. Notice the length of your spine. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

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

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). If you have Hot Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) in your practice, feel free to add it by lifting the left arm up and reaching it towards the right.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, inhale to Cow Pose and exhale to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right).

After the second side of standing poses, move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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

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

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.)

Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose.

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind are still. Let the breath natural ebb and flow. Notice the strength of the body, all it is capable of doing. Give thanks. Notice the strength of the spirit, all it endures. Give thanks. Breathe peace in, breathe peace out. Give thanks.

In addition to being National Poetry Month and the month of when I ask you to Kiss My Asana, April is also Parkinson’s Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and the Month of the Military Child. The people whose stories are behind these awareness-building observations are some of the same people benefiting from the programs supported by Mind Body Solutions via your Kiss My Asana donation.

veterans-012

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

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

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

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