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The Power That Shines (a “renewed” post) April 26, 2022

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

The following was previously posted. Links and dates have been updated.

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

Please join me today (Tuesday, April 26th) 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 Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020″]

Tuesday’s Evening playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020 75+m”]

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

### OHR OR DAW ###

Winning the Lottery, with some Powerball® thoughts (a series of “missing” posts) March 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Purim, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 16th, which was when I talked about Purim, with a little note related to Thursday, March 17th and Saturday, March 19th! (But this is not the story you think it is.) You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.)

“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

*

– quoted from Journals (IV A 164), 1843 by Søren Kierkegaard

You know how there are some stories, like the Star Wars movies, that begin as one thing and then over time and generations become something else? That question can be answered as it relates to the story, but here I am specifically talking about the sequence.* When the original movie came out in May of 1977, it was just Star Wars. When the next movies came out – in May of 1980 and May of 1983 – they had their own titles. However, if someone referred to them numerically, they would be first, second, and third (or 1, 2, and 3). Fast forward over two decades from the originally released movie and there were prequels, which (while I am loath to admit they exist) changed the order of things. Fast forward another decade (going on two) and there were (pretty amazing) sequels to the originally released movies. The story continues… and I love that.

I love of stories and storytelling. I think it’s fascinating that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously work forwards and back. We don’t always think about it, but the way the Star Wars movies were released is actually how we meet and how most of the stories we read, hear, and watch work too. It’s very rare that we meet characters at the beginning of creation. A story usually begins in the middle or at the end. So, part of what I love about storytelling is how the storyteller (or the story) chooses to unfold the tale. In fact, part of the beauty of the story is watching it unfold.

One of my favorite stories – in part, because the way the story unfolds is part of the story – is the story people tell on Purim. It is the story in and around The Megillah or The Megillat Esther.

In case you are unfamiliar with the holiday and the story, Purim [פּוּרִים] is a Hebrew word meaning “lots” – as in “casting lots” or “lottery.” It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story told in the Megillah (“scroll”) of Esther, which is the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil plot of a man whose actions are good examples of someone who was narcissistic, power hungry, and also anti-Semitic. The “Book of Esther” is not only found in the Hebrew Bible it is also one of the five megillot (“scrolls”) that make up part of the Christian Old Testament. Some people think of it as a great story about the power of a woman – and while it is that, it is also something more; because the story has a lot of “hidden” elements.

The story is quite literally about things that “someone” decided to “hide and hide” [הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר].

“Another approach, found already in rabbinic literature, takes the absence of God as a positive statement made by the author. The Rabbis, and numerous other readers since, understood the literary absence of God to be merely a surface-level fact, and in fact to be a subtle argument for the hiddenness of God, rather than his absence. A Talmudic comment (in B. Hullin 139b) playfully asks, ‘What is the source for Esther in the Torah?’ The answer given is that Esther was foretold in Deuteronomy 31:18: ‘I will indeed hide (haster astir) my face on that day.’ In part this is a pun, linking the name Esther to the Hebrew phrase ‘I will indeed hide’ (haster astir), but in part it is a serious theological claim: where did the Torah foretell a story with no God?”

*

– quoted from “8. Diaspora revisions: rethinking Exodus and rethinking God – Entering the fray: Esther as a political book” in Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

People celebrate Purim by dressing up in costume – hiding one’s true identity – and having a party or feast. People may also have a parade and a pageant. The costuming and the party (even the parades and pageants) are all, symbolically, part of the story. To add yet another symbol from the story, the feasting includes hamantaschen, a yummy triangular shaped pastry that I always think of as Haman’s hat, but which literally means “Haman’s pockets.” In some Jewish communities they are referred to as “Haman’s ears.”

The story is symbolically reinforced in many different ways during the celebration of Purim, because the biggest part of the holiday is the story itself. In fact, listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther, in the evening (since the holiday starts at sunset) and in the morning, is one of four mitzvoh (“commandments”) related to Purim. The other three take place during the day and are sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal.

While I don’t read the actual text** to people during the practice, I do tell the story. And for years, I have used the music to help me tell the story – just like I do with all the other stories. Up until this year, however, my Purim playlist was a little… shall we say, problematic. Because there was something hidden in my playlist – and not in a good way.

“This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
And now she turns
This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing’s as it seems”

*

– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

Some of my playlists have always reflected the culture behind the story or theme of the day. For instance, my Saint Patrick’s Day playlist is full of Irish musicians and musicians with Irish heritage, just like my Cinco de Mayo playlist is full of musicians with Mexican heritage. As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve very deliberately made some playlists multi-cultural to highlight the fact that so many cultures celebrate things like light overcoming darkness. Then, years ago, a friend’s comment really made me consider why my playlists mostly featured men. Despite all that, I never really considered that there was something off about my Purim playlist.

And, that takes us back to why certain songs were popular, while other also very good songs were not as popular.

“It’s so not an accident that most of the kirtan and “yoga music artists” on our playlists are NOT from within the tradition. (It is called erasure and happens to people of color in our own traditions ALL THE TIME.)⁣⁣⁣”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga advocate, a teacher, a public speaker, and the author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. In her book, her articles, and her classes, she encourages students and teachers to (re)connect to yoga’s ancient roots. She strongly recommends that teachers consider why they do the things they do (and say the things they say) when teaching. She also suggests that teachers take a look at how some of the things we say and do are the result of colonization and cultural erasure. However, she does not simply point to how elements of our modern, Western-centric practice are problematic. She also offers tools and solutions. For instance, she specifically points to music and highlights the fact that those of us using kirtan – which is a form of bhakti or devotional yoga – are almost always using non-traditional musicians. Sometimes, even using musicians that mispronounce the Sanskrit words.

To be clear, Ms. Barkataki uses the words “cultural erasure,” but it’s a concept I’ve always known as whitewashing. And, above and beyond anything else, she encourages us all to be mindful about the choices we make. Being mindful meant that when I was getting ready for Purim this year, I realized that in most of the ways that counted, my culturally-specific playlist was specifically the wrong culture.

In my effort to pick songs that told the story, I neglected to pick Jewish musicians. Even worse, given the context of the story, my original playlist included several songs with Arabic lyrics and/or Arabic-related references that had nothing to do with Jewish heritage. To be clear about my own hubris, I knew this… I just leaped over the issue. In some ways, my mental gymnastics included the fact that those songs could be about a Jewish woman like Esther. They could very easily have been songs written by people who didn’t know their beautiful “Persian” queen was born Hadassah. Anything is possible.

However, the reality was that they were just popular songs that were also really good, worked with the practice, and could fit the story. They were songs that I knew, because I had heard them on the radio.

“Erasure is when the originators of a particular tradition are surpassed, replaced or ignored. Why? Because it makes it easier to colonize and exploit our cultural and spiritual wisdom and wealth.”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone, before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage about how you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

Streaming services and social media mean that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding, however, is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play you don’t win, but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released March 19, 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this year – because I thought it would distract from this past Saturday’s sūtra study – but normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album, which only included two original Bob Dylan songs, with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was actually recorded November 20th and 22nd of 1961, and only featured two original Dylan songs. The other eleven tracks were covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk, but they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. However, some reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. Because (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”

*

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

The playlist for Wednesday (March 16th) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

I plan to post the Bob Dylan playlist for Tuesday, May 24th.

*NOTE: Here’s a funny aside. In 2020, just as we started locking down for the pandemic, I blogged and posted a playlist about stories and music. That would have been Part I, except that it was for March 22nd – which means that if I ever get everything posted in sequential order it would be Part III (after the Purim or Saint Patrick’s Day post and the Bob Dylan post).

**NOTE: Since I don’t actually read the Purim text during the practice, I almost always leave out the part where Haman is begging for his life and the King misreads the situation. In some ways, it is an important part of the cause-and-effect of the narrative – and it definitely brings up another aspect of how our perceptions affect our stories – but it’s comes at the end so I often overlook it.

*

Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

### Are You Lucky or Are You Blessed? ###

Light in the Darkness (a Monday post practice post) December 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baha'i, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. 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.]

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

For many years, when it was time to set our personal intentions during the practice, I would reference something/someone related to the practice and/or something/someone related to current events. It didn’t matter if it was a local tragedy or something unfathomable on the other side of the planet; it made sense to me to offer a little kindness and compassion. Be it a man made or a natural disaster, it made sense to remember that no matter what I or the people around me were experiencing somewhere in there world there was someone who could benefit from our positive energy.

For a moment, we formed a cosmic “prayer circle” and many of you told me that that practice resonated with you. Some of you would even come up to me afterwards and say that you too had been thinking about the plight of someone that normally wouldn’t have crossed your mind. It wasn’t an excuse not to reach out a helping hand when we could. In fact, it was sometimes the opposite. It was a good reminder of hope and charity and, also, that we are all part of something more: a larger community than the one right in front of our noses.

But then the pandemic hit – and it didn’t make sense to offer our energy, condolences, thoughts, and prayers in the same way. It didn’t seem fair for me to highlight one person or one group of people when we were all directly affected. Sure, some people were still more affected than others. But who was I to say “look over here, look over there” when we were all suffering?

So, perhaps over the last 21 months the offering, the dedication, has felt a little more personal. Perhaps it was less of a reminder that we were all in this together, and more of a reminder that, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” Maybe you had to remind yourself to be more intentional about your energy. 

Either way, it was still an opportunity to extend a little bit of our hope, love, kindness, compassion, hope, and joy into the world. It was still a much needed moment… a moment to metaphorically stare into the light. Because Friedrich Nietzsche’s words are no less true when we flip them around. In fact, flipping them around highlights two parts of the yoga practice, as outlined by Patanjali: turning inward to study yourself and to focus on your own light.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

The following is an expanded version of a portion of a post related to the practice on December 13, 2020. Some class details and references have been updated.

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up was Chanukah, which starts at sunset each year on the 25th of Kislev. Last year (in 20210), the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlapped the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – and I noted that we were getting double the light. Of course, that might have implied that this year we would have less light.

But that’s not really how light works – and that’s not really how light celebrations work. If anything, this year’s celebration of Saint Lucy was an opportunity to highlight one person’s contribution during a challenging time, a dark period in history (if you will).

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

 

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

 

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. Prior to calendar reformation, it was celebrated on the shortest day of the year – meaning, the day surrounded by the most darkness.

The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. She is often depicted wearing a white robe or dress with a red sash, both the colors of which are symbols of her purity, piety, and her martyrdom. Being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

While I realize that posting two days in a row about the divine symbolism of numbers may lead to certain conclusions, let me be clear on two points. First, I like numbers and appreciate the science of equations (maybe as much or more than the average person), but I can’t really call myself a mathematician. Likewise, even though I often encounter numerical symbolism when I study religion and philosophy, I can’t say that I know very much about numerology or arithmomancy (also called arithmancy). All that said, when I keep hearing about certain things I perk up and pay attention. So, I’ve started getting curious about the number 9.

I was born on the 9th of a month, as were some of my favorite people; but I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with the number. It’s not 7; which has a lot of personal significance for me, is sometimes considered a symbol of humans, and is related to a lot of aspects of (and stories within) the Abrahamic religions as well as several energetic and/or spiritual systems.

It’s not eight, which is associated with infinity.

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

Sure, it’s the highest single digit natural, or cardinal, number. It also pops up a lot in relation to harshad (“joy bringer”) numbers like 18, 27, and 108. Of course, I remember that the holy month of Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. But I missed (or forgot) the fact that the Baháʼí Faith considers it a symbol of completion – so much so that it is incorporated into the faith’s name and sacred buildings. Similar reverence in relation to completion is found in Hinduism. In fact, four times a year there are periods of nine nights (and 10 days) that are devoted to Durga, the mother goddess, with each night dedicated to various manifestations of God as mother.

Sure, somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that the Buddha had nine virtues; that (in Christianity) there are nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit and nine “Choirs of Angels” (divided into three spheres of three); and that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed system. But I had forgotten, or not given much thought, to how the number nine pops up in prayer.

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that one of the prayers offered during some Jewish services actually comes with extra blessings on Rosh Hashanah – bringing the total blessings to nine. Neither had I contemplated the numerical significance of “the nine days” (Tisha HaYamim) of mourning preceding Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (the eleventh on the Hebrew calendar) and how that date marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 423 BCE and 70 CE, respectively). And, honestly, I didn’t know that other significant historical events and tragedies in Jewish history happened on that date – the ninth day of the eleventh month, which is eerily reflective of the tragedies and historical events associated with Schicksalstag (the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar).

There’s more… a lot more that I didn’t know. However, here’s a little more that I knew, but hadn’t really thought about: A novena is a nine-day (or nine-week) period of prayer within some Christian traditions.

The word “novena” is used to describe the period, the practice, and the prayer(s). It comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” and it is a period meant to parallel the time described in The Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14, NIV) when the twelve Apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” They did this, per Jesus’s instructions (and with a little guidance from some “angels”) in preparation of receiving gifts (or powers) from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as indicated above, the practice of praying (and even fasting) for nine days predates Christianity – some historians even track to the practice back to the Roman Empire (again, as it relates to mourning).

In a modern context, novenas are often used to request a Divine gift or as part of a larger ritual. They are often associated with Marian Feast Days – sometimes being recited in anticipation of a feast day and sometimes starting on the feast day. For example, some people started a novena on November 29th and completed it on December 8th. Others, started praying (a different novena, see below) on December 13th.

Western science has shown that there is power in prayer and meditation. Said power is also magnified when people gather together (even virtually) and/or engage in prayer and meditation at the same time. So, while you could pray a novena at any time (and it is believed that there is power in that practice), there is more power at certain times. That extra power comes from an exponential increase in energy going towards light (instead of darkness) when we all focus, concentrate, meditate together.

Kind of like when set our personal intentions and dedications towards the beginning of our āsana practice.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

 

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

 

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

 

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

– The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! I will once again offer two New Year’s Day practices on January 1st (2022). You can start the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. There will also be a reflective “First Friday Night Special” on January 7th. All times are Central Standard. Log-in details will be updated on the “Class Schedules” calendar

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

From Where Does Your Light Come? (the “missing” Sunday post) December 7, 2021

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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, December 5th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.)

“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

During the December “First Friday Night Special,” I mentioned that the light-related questions during this year’s Chanukah classes were prompts to get us thinking about our “field of possibilities” and then, on Saturday and Sunday, I revealed that the questions were partially inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s advice to the young office cadet and poet Franz Xaver Kappus. If you’ve followed along with the questions, it would be natural to expect that one of the questions would be, “Do you believe in miracles?” It’s an obvious connection when the connected to something like the Chanukah – which, according to the story is all about miracles.

There’s just one problem. Your answer, regardless of what it is, begs another question: “Why?” 

Why? Why? Why?

I could be like a three-year old, because all of your answers could lead to another question (albeit the same question), which all comes down to what you believe. The Chanukah story is full of a series of events that could be described or explained as miracles, serendipity, coincidences, and/or really good plot points. For those who believe in Abraham’s God, it doesn’t matter what you call the events, because “with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] For those who do not believe in God, well, anything is possible…but there’s probably a reasonable (and scientific) explanation. Either way, what you believe determines the probability of certain possibilities.

To be clear, this is not just about what you believe about miracles. This is also about what you believe about your light. Or, a better way to put it is that this is all about what you believe about yourself. Me asking you about the source of your light is really me asking about the source of your life. And what you believe matters, because what you believe bridges the gap between what you think about doing, achieving, and experience and what you actually do, achieve, and experience.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

 

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

 

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

 

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

There’s a moment that happens again and again in professional sports and sometimes in the performing arts. Sometimes it even happens when someone is walking across a stage after receiving their diploma. It’s a moment that happens when someone is doing their job – but it’s their dream job, one that many aspire but few achieve – and everybody’s watching. They’ve made mistakes, but they got up, brushed themselves off, and endeavored to win the game and/or take the audience’s breath away. Then they do! they succeed! And when they do, when they score – especially in a phenomenal way – or they receive a standing ovation, we witness a moment of faith. They’ll point a finger to the heavens or make some other gesture that signifies what they believe.

Whether it is a finger to the sky or prayer hands to the sky, it’s a moment that indicates an individual believes that the source of their life (and their light) is God. We may not witness that exact moment in other arenas, like when someone finishes a big project or lands a plum assignment. There may not be witnesses when a student aces a test or a parent gets their toddler to stop climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, but there may be a similar feeling. It’s that same surge of emotion that makes us do the happy dance (even if it’s just on the inside). It’s a combination of success and a feeling of gratitude. 

Of course, part of what I’m describing is a dopamine rush. It’s a feeling of greatness and it’s a heady sensation that we humans crave and chase. Here’s the thing, though: We can get that surge of feel-good brain chemicals without doing something at which we might fail. We can get it without taking any risk at all. In fact, to a certain degree, we can get if from watching other people take risks and win. We can get it from being part of a team… even if we’re the 12th man or 12th player.

So, why do some people take the risk? Why do some people do the things at which they might fail? Why do some people show up and shine (or show up and suck until they shine)? Why do some people give it all they’ve got, while others (just) watch?

It all comes back to what some one believes. Which brings us back to the Chanukah story.

Had some Jewish people not truly believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it’s possible that they would have started assimilating under Alexander the Great. Had Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that followed them not believed it’s probable that they would have become Hellenic Jews under King Antiochus. Had they not studied Torah or believed in the laws and commandments of God, it is possible that Matīṯyāhū would have broken the commandments and sacrificed to the idol – or maybe he would have just allowed the Hellenic Jew to do so in his stead.

Had the Maccabees not believed their history, their fate, and their destiny, perhaps they would have stayed in the wilderness and not taken on the mighty Greek army. Perhaps there would have been no battle cry. Maybe they would have fought and failed. Then, too, there’s always the possibility that they fought and won – despite the odds – and found that single vial of oil, but never considered using it because it wasn’t enough. Then, too, all these centuries later, if people didn’t believe we wouldn’t still be lighting the candles and telling an “impossible” story.

Take a moment, as we did on Sunday, and practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”). Put yourself in the shoes of the Maccabees. Consider how you might have felt and what you might have done given your current beliefs. How might the story be different simply because your beliefs might be different? Now, consider this week’s questions (see below) in that light. Consider how what is in your heart and mind determines your words, actions, and deeds.

“The Maccabees no doubt knew their options, yet decided to light the menorah in the most preferred way. This was done despite the fact that it entailed exhausting their entire supply of pure olive oil on the first day, leaving them with the probability of not being able to maintain the highest standard they so aspired to reach. But they decided to do their maximum with the resources they had, and let the Almighty take care of the rest.

 

There is a deep message here for us today. How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure, is failure by default. We can learn from the Maccabees that when there is a worthwhile goal to achieve, one should let go of immobilizing perfectionism, and instead capitalize on existing assets and do ones utmost under the circumstances.”

 

– quoted from the article “Give It All You’ve Got: The Maccabees taught us that immobilizing perfectionism leaves no room for God.” by Aliza Kramer (posted at Aish.com Dec 12, 2006)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Chanukah (Day 7-8) 2021”]

NOTE: All of the YouTube playlists (for Chanukah) contain extra videos after the practice music.

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

4. Friday: What’s at the edge of your light?

5. Saturday: How do you know brilliance? (this link will be updated)

6. Sunday: From where does your light come?

7. Monday: When do you feel free?

 

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, man, you’re down there.”

– “Tommy” (Kirk Acevedo) to “Vince” (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie Invincible

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th is International Volunteer Day. The 2021 theme was “Volunteer Now For Our Common Future. The Chanukah story is about people showing up and shining in a way that changed the future of their people. Remember: You too can make a difference!

### “Let me see [your] light / Give me something to live by” ~ Maccabeats  ###

 

When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. 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.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

*

– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###

Double the Light (the very late “missing” post) December 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[“Happy  Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!]


[This extremely delayed posting is from Sunday the 13th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.)]

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up is Chanukah, which started at sunset on Thursday (the 25th of Kislev). This year, the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlaps the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – so we get double the light.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“Chanukah” means “dedication” and the holiday is a commemoration of Maccabees restoring the temple in Jerusalem after centuries of religious persecution (and a battle that was in and of itself a miracle). Before the battle, however, the Maccabees spent about a year hiding in caves and studying Torah. They would have been very clear on the importance of lighting the candles on the menorah in order to establish the sanctity of the temple. After all, it is commanded in the Bible. The only problem was that the temple had been desecrated and almost every vial of olive oil previously sealed by the high priest had been contaminated. I say “almost every vial,” because (miraculously) there was one still sealed vial of oil. Not enough, they thought, to last all the days and nights (8 in total) required to make and to bless more oil – but just enough to show their faith and their intention, to show where (and how) they stood in the world.

When people celebrate Chanukah, they light 8 candles in honor of the 8 days and 8 nights during which there was, miraculously, light when people were expecting darkness. Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. However, being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

### 2x MORE LIGHT, 4x LESS DARKNESS ###

Just Leave The Light On May 20, 2020

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

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

 

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

 

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

 

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

 

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

 

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 20th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM, if you are interested being the light you want to see in the world. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

 

### OHR OR DAW ###