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Having A Say, redux (the “missing” post) November 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Hope, Life, Meditation, Men, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, November 11th. Some passages were previously posted. 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.

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“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Almost every January, I ask the question “What is a woman?” Then, at various times throughtout the year, I offer different lives and perspectives that could be considered as answers. But, whenever I address the issue, I recognize that the “controversial” question Simone de Beauvoir posed in 1949, is no less controversial today. In fact, it can seem more controversial today, because it is often used as a “gotcha” question asked by people who have vastly different intentions than Simone de Beauvoir. Remember, she was asking and addressing the question for philosophical insight. And, here I am doing the same.

I know, I know, I’m just asking for trouble here, but please consider a couple of things before moving forward. First, as I just mentioned, this is not the first time – in class or on the blog – that I’ve referenced what it means to be a woman. Second, I’m referencing it here in relation to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. Specifically, I’m referencing the meaning of the word “woman” – or “women,” “wimmin,” “womyn,” “womban,” “womon,” and “womxn” – in relation to Yoga Sūtra 3.17, which indicates that “By making samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are ordinarily confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living beings.” [NOTE: “one’s reaction to it” is sometimes translated as “knowledge of it.”]

I absolutely could use a less “controversial” word – as other teachers do. I’ve heard a teacher reference a pencil and another teacher (Vyasa, perhaps) used a cow. In class, I actually cited Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition, who used the example of a table in his commentary on the sūtras. Those are all great examples, simple examples; because, if you know English (assuming you are reading this text in it’s original language), the sight/sound of each of those words is associated with specific objects, which immediately come to mind. If you don’t know a word, it is meaningless to you. Nothing comes to mind or you think of something that feels off, not quite right. But, you don’t know the word, so you need more information.

On the flip side, you can know the word and still need more information, because your perception of what I mean may not be the same as mine. We may not have the same object(s) in mind. However, by using our supernormal power of words, we can come to an agreement about the qualities that make up the concept that exists in the world (i.e., the pencil-ness, cow-ness, and/or table-ness of the thing). In other words, we can go deeper into our understanding of what makes something what we perceive/understand it to be.

While it seems like people have been going deeper into our understanding of what it means to be a woman since the dawn of time (or, at the very least, since recorded history), there’s always the possibility — not to mention the fear — that someone will completely miss the point.

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow in our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep to oursleves along, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.

quoted from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention (and birthday celebration for Susan B. Anthony), February 18, 1890

If we just stick with modern (Western) history, the question of what it means to be a woman is a question that contains multitudes. For instance, when we talk about Miss Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, the question becomes about their vocations. In a conversation about Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Oliver, the question becomes about upbringing and sex(uality). For Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zitkála-Šá, as well as for Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Erdrich, Nikki Giovanni, and so many others, the question becomes about culture, race, and behavior (including sex and sexuality). Then the conversation turns to health and well-being, especially mental health, when we focus on Bertha Pappenheim (“Anna O”). We can easily pickup all of those threads if we are discussion Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, or Ntozake Shange, because their lives prove that the question of what it means to be a woman is always about all of those things – and also about rights and responsibilities. We can start our conversation about what the word means, to us and to others, at any one of those intersecting points. However, since Saturday was the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, let’s start with the issue of rights and responsibilities.

Born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist, abolitionist, and suffragist. While she was one of the most influential leaders of the women’s rights movement, she does not fit the stereotypical image of a “women’s liber” or a “man-hating feminist.” She was, for example, no Susan B. Anthony. However, one could argue that there would have been no Susan B. Anthony — as she is remembered today — without Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While their backgrounds and life choices were different, they were united in their quest for equal rights.

“If I were to draw up a set of rules for the guidance of reformers, such as Franklin and other celebrities tell us they did for their own use, I should put at the head of the list: Do all you can, no matter what, to get people to think on your reform, and then, if your reform is good, it will come about in due season.”

– quoted from a diary entry dated “Cleveland, August 20 [1888]” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (as published in Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letterz, Diary and Reminiscences, Edited by Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Volume Two])

Elizabeth Cady grew up in a wealthy family with a conservative lawyer for a father (Daniel Cady) and and a very progressive abolitionist mother (Margaret Livingston Cady). Some biographers say that the Cady family had servants, at least three of whom were African American. At least one of those “servants” (Peter Teabout) was actually enslaved and it was in his company that she and her sisters sometimes attended church. 

It seems that it was just her and her sisters that sat in the back pews of the church. While she was the seventh of eleven children, six of her siblings, including all of her brothers, died before reaching adulthood. Her last brother died when she was around ten and she responded to her parents’ grief by stating that she would live the lives her brothers would not get a chance to live. Her father’s response, that he wished she were a boy, was the first time she felt there was a difference between her sisters and her brothers. 

Despite the perceived difference between the siblings, Elizabeth Cady was well-educated — for a girl of her time — and received high marks and recognition in her advanced classes. She even convinced her father to send her to Troy Female Seminary, where she became actively interested in the abolitionist movement. It was through the seminary and the abolitionis movement that she and befriended Frederick Douglass. It was also the way she met her greatest collaborators in life: Henry Brewster Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

“This can already be seen in the different reception given a new citizen of the world. If the father or someone else asked what ‘it’ was after a successful birth, the answer might be either the satisfied report of a boy, or—with pronounced sympathy for the disappointment— ‘Nothing, a girl,’ or ‘Only a girl.’”

– Bertha Pappenheim (b. 02/27/1859) as quoted in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Koultun

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (b. 01/09/1908)

Elizabeth Cady and Henrey Brewster Stanton met at the home of her  first cousin, Gerrit Smith (son of her maternal aunt), who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and one of the “Secret Six,” who funded John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, which initiated the revolt that was a prelude to the Civil War. At the time that they met, Henry Brewster Stanton was an attorny, abolitionist, and social reformer, who would go on to become a journalist and politician. Some say his support of the suffragist movement was tangential, but no one can argue that it was instrumental. It was instrumental on many levels, including the fact that he unconditionally supported his wife.

When they married in 1840, the couple omitted the word “obey” from their vows — which was a common Quaker tradition, although neither of them were Quakers. Elizabeth Cady took her husband’s surname, but she was never known simply as “Mrs. Henry B. Stanton;” she was always, in some way, recognized as “Cady Stanton.” But the exclusion or inclusion of a single word, did not diminish the couples union. Nor did it diminish her role in the household.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she recognized that healthy women had similar desires as healthy men; believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships; and proclaimed a man’s “drunkeness” as grounds for divorce (or, at the very least, abstinance). She also belived that a woman should absolutely have dominion over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. 

Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. While Henry Brewster Stanton traveled ten months out of the year in the 1850’s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” However, her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive. Whenever the family moved, they set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and the women figured out the best way to work towards their goals: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies, which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.”

 

quoted from the The Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with Mary Ann M’Clintock

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was actively engaged in the fight for civil rights long before meeting Susan B. Anthony. Along with Lucretia Coffin Mott and Martha Coffin Wright, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention organized by women and was the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Frederick Douglass’s name on the Declaration of Sentiments was not an accident or random happenstance. He and Mrs. Cady Stanton met early in her crusade for universal suffrage and he was one of her staunch supporters during the Seneca Falls Convention. In fact, some historians note that it was his very vocal support that led to the acceptance of the Declaration. While his support for women’s suffrage did not wane, he, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony (with whom he would also eventually befriend) did temporarily break away from each other when the issue of suffrage was divided over race and gender. He also called out E. Cady Stanton for using racist terms about Black and Asian men, when it looked like they might get the vote before (white) women. 

That divide between the three friends is a great way to highlight the fact that the fight for voting rights has always marginalized already marginalized people. It has asked people to define themselves as one thing over the other. This, as many scholars have pointed out, is not something straight, white, Christian males in America have historically had to do. They can just be “men” and everything else is understood as a foregone conclusion.

Marginalized people, however, have had to “pick one” all the time. This was especially true in the 19th century, when the presence of Black women was desired by both sides of the suffrage movement. Yet, to deny one side of themselves meant that they could be excluded from voting; either because they were Black… or because they were a woman.

Susan B. Anthony forced this issue into the courts when she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, in 1872. She was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted during the very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial (United States v. Susan B. Anthony). The case hinged on the definition of a citizen (as it related to the 14th Amendment) and the definition of a woman. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

It’s unclear how, exactly, they determined that she was a woman on the date in question.

“U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Can I provide a definition? [Senator Blackburn confirms.] No. I can’t.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): You can’t?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): So, you believe the word ‘woman’ is so unclear and controversial that you can’t give me a definition?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Senator, in my work as a judge, what I do is, I address disputes. If there is a dispute about a definition, people make arguments and I look at the law and I decide….”

– quoted from the confirmation hearing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ketanji Brown Jackson (Tuesday, March 22, 2022)

Fast forward to the 21st century, where Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Janelle Monet sing lyrics that seem to be lifted directly from the Declaration of Sentiments or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s diary – and to that moment when then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was being interviewed to be the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. Fast forward to that moment, when two very different women faced the question about the definition (the meaning) of the word woman.

When I heard Senator Marsha Blackburn’s question, I heard it as so many people heard it: as that “gotcha” question some people like to ask these days. I also heard it, as so many others have heard it throughout history, as a pick-a-side question. The sides might be defined in different ways now, versus in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it still marginalizes people who are already marginalized. What I did not hear was a question asked with a sincere interest in the inquiry. What I did not hear was a question posed with an interest in how any of us decides on our answers.

Many people, Senator Blackburn included, have said that Supreme Court Justice Brown Jackson did not answer the question. Others have pointed out that she absolutely answered the question – she just didn’t answer the question with either/any of the answers they wanted to hear. It doesn’t help that many media outlets only reported a portion of her answer. In fact, most major outlets only quoted her as saying, “I’m not a biologist.” 

Which, I think we can all agree is true.

I also think, though, that the issue isn’t whether or not Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a biologist. And, despite the way the exchange was reported, the issue isn’t even whether or not being a biologist is relevant. The relevant part,in that case, was how a judge, or justice, defines things (i.e., words) as it relates to the law and specific contexts related to the law. As then-Judge Brown Jackson pointed out, the role of judges, or justices, is to look at the differing definitions (when there is a dispute),the arguments behind the definitions, and the law. In other words, they focus-concentrate-meditate on the word, people’s understandings of the word, and the related (or relevant) qualities (as they apply to the law).

Take a moment, to think apply the tool of samyama to the word “woman” (or any of the other aforementioned variations of the theme)*:

  • What, or who, comes to mind? 

  • What’s your “standard” for a woman? 

  • How many women do you know that don’t fit your exact standard? 

  • What are the overlapping qualities that apply to your “standard” and also to those outside of your standard?

  • How do you know you know if someone has those overlapping qualities?

*NOTE: This is a deliberately simple rubric, so that you can decide on attributes. If your only attribute is “sex/female,” you could skip the first two questions or you could layout a biological definition of female.

Yoga Sūtra 3.35: hṛdaye cittasaṃvit

– “By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the contents of the mind.”

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: YouTube features several extra videos that are not available on Spotify. Some are speeches worth hearing. Some are music videos worth seeing. To make up the difference, the Spotify playlist has its own Easter egg.

ERRATA: The original post linked to the wrong YouTube playlist. My apologies for the inconvenience.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas (b. 08/03/1902)

### LET’S GET LOUD ~JL ###

The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

Interior Movements (the “missing” Sunday post, with Monday notes) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 31st (with notes related to Monday, August 1st). You can request an audio recording 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.)

“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”

– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield

There are a lot of things that make practicing Yoga special. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary and unique things about the practice is that every time you step into your physical practice space, there is a deliberate and mindful intention to engage/move the mind-body in a way that also very deliberately and very intentionally engages/moves the spirit. Obviously, there are other times and other forms of exercises, even other activities, where we can go deeper inside of ourselves and really pay attention to how what’s moving inside of us (on many different levels) informs how we move through the world. You may even have a go-to activity that engages your mind-body-spirit even if is not recognized as exercise and/or as something spiritual. You may personally have a go-to something that puts you “in the flow” or “in the zone.” Maybe it’s something you deliberately, mindfully, and intentionally do when you need to clear your mind-body and really pay attention to your spirit. There are, after all, many ways that we can do that. However, in many cases that mind-body-spirit benefit is not the originally intention of the exercise; meaning your go-to thing is not a (recognized) spiritual exercise.

I recognize that not everyone recognizes Yoga as a spiritual exercise and, also, that it is not the only practice that could be considered a spiritual exercise. Semazen (Sufi whirling or turning), tanoura (the Egyptian version of Sufi whirling), and all other forms of traditional moving meditations could be considered spiritual exercises. The same could be said of modern practices like journey dancing and Gabrielle Roth’s “5Rhythms.” However, if you mention “the Spiritual Exercises” to a certain group of people in the world, none of the aforementioned come to mind. In fact, what comes to mind are not even physical exercises. Instead, what comes to mind for people within the Catholic community are the collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations codified by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day falls on July 31st.

“To understand fully the Spiritual Exercises, we should know something of the man who wrote them. In this life of St. Ignatius, told in his own words, we acquire an intimate knowledge of the author of the Exercises. We discern the Saint’s natural disposition, which was the foundation of his spiritual character. We learn of his conversion, his trials, the obstacles in his way, the heroism with which he accomplished his great mission.

This autobiography of St. Ignatius is the groundwork of all the great lives of him that have been written.”

– quoted from the “Editor’s Preface” (dated Easter, 1900) of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola on October 23, 1491, the future saint was the youngest of thirteen children born to Spanish nobles in the Basque region of Spain. Not long after he was born, his mother died and he became, on a certain level, an after thought. While his oldest brother died in the Italian Wars (also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars) and his second oldest brother inherited the family estate, the youngest of the brood was expected to go into the priesthood. Yet, he was raised with most of the same privileges and luxuries as his siblings and grew accustomed to the lifestyle. By the time he was a teenager, he was completely infatuated with all the trappings of romance, fame, fortune, and power that could come from military service.

By all accounts, young Íñigo was a bit of a dandy by the time he joined the military at seventeen. He cut a fine and stylish figure in (and out of) uniform; he loved to gamble, fence, duel, and dance; and he had a reputation as a womanizer with a very fragile ego. He also loved stories that reflected his life; stories of romance, chivalry, and military victories. In fact, some have said that he deliberately emulated the stories he read about people like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (“El Cid”), the Frankish military governor Roland, and the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps he even believed that people would one day tell stories about him the way they told stories about his heroes.

And… they kind of do. Except for two pertinent facts. First, the young noble seemed to embody the very worst aspects of masculinity and “nobility.” Second, the trajectory of his life changed almost exactly two months before he turned 30.

After over a decade of military service in which he was never seriously injured, Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s was struck by a ricocheting cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona (May 20, 1521). His right leg was crushed and it was feared that, at worse, he would lose the leg and, at best, he would lose his military career and never walk the same again. After several surgeries, during some of which his leg was re-broken and reset, his leg was saved. He returned to the family castle to recover and thought that he would spend his convalescence reading the romance adventures that he so dearly loved. Unfortunately, he was told that such novels were no longer available in the castle. He was given the Bible and the biographies of saints and, having nothing better to do, he devoured them. Just as was his habit while reading adventures of romance and chivalry, he started imagining himself in the positions of the disciples and the saints. This type of imagination is what he would later identify as “contemplation.”

“While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: ‘What if I should do what St. Francis did?’ ‘What if I should act like St. Dominic?’ He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: ‘St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.’ ‘St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.’ These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising [sic] austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.” 

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

When Patanjali codified the Yoga Philosophy, he outlined eight parts of the practice. The first two parts were ethical in nature and consisted of five external “restraints” or universal commandments (known as yamas) and five internal “observations” (known as niyamas). According to Yoga Sūtra 2.44, “the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice]” is the the benefit of practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”). Some translations refer to “angels” and still others reference “contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” Either way, the practice is basically what Ignatius was intuitively doing: paying attention to his thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, and/or even historical scenarios.

The more he did this kind of self-study, the more he started noticing something curious. He started noticing that the feelings he felt while reading and imagining the profane romantic adventures didn’t last as long as the feelings he experienced while reading and imagining the lives of the sacred. When he could walk again, the former soldier set off on a religious pilgrimage that eventually led him to a cave in Manresa (Catalonia). It was in that cave, which is now a chapel, that Saint Ignatius started spelling out his Spiritual Exercises, a four “week” practice of ritual examination and introspection.

After years of religious study, a series of visions, and another extended pilgrimage, Ignatius and six of his seminary friends took vows and committed themselves to religious service. In 1539, Saint Ignatius de Loyola and two of those friends – Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber – formed the Society of Jesus. Also known as the Jesuits, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, whereupon its leadership set off on missions to create educational institutions built on the foundation of discipline (specifically a “corpse-like” discipline), devotion (to the Pope and the Church), and trustful surrender. Interesting (to me), those same foundations can be found in the Yoga practices of tapas (“heat,” discipline, and austerity) and īśvarapraṇidhāna (“trustful surrender to the divine source”), which are the third and fifth niyamas.

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali referred to the last three niyamas (internal “observations”) as kriya yoga, which is literally “union in action.” Some people think of kriya yoga as a prescription or cleansing ritual. As I mention throughout the year, there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals (from different traditions) which fit within the rubric described by Patanjali. The Spiritual Exercises, published in 1548, contain one such example. It is a short booklet intended to be used by the teacher or guide who leads the spiritual retreat. Although the “Long Retreat” is broken down into four themes, which are traditionally experienced over 28-30 days, Saint Ignatius also included statements that allow people to experience a “retreat in daily life” if they are unable to leave their everyday life behind for a month. Additionally, the experience can be broken up over a couple of years. Whether one is Catholic or some other form of Christian, Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers the opportunity for reflection and introspection by way of prayer and meditation in the form of contemplation and discernment.

This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits.”

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

A portion of the following description was previously posted on February 6, 2021.

In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self. In other words, it requires svādhyāya (“self-study”). In the context of The Spiritual Exercises, the discernment is related to the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.

During the first “week” of The Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is instructed to reflect on “our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us.” This reflection focuses on concepts of personal sin, Divine love (which is unconditional) and Divine mercy with the intention of considering free will and how personal behavior can limit one’s ability to experience Divine love and mercy. To be clear, the idea here is not that such things will be taken away if you are bad or engage in bad behavior. Instead, the idea is that our thoughts, words, and deeds (i.e., our karma) may inhibit our ability to perceive the love and mercy being freely given. This period ends with a meditation on following in the (historical) foot steps of the Divine – which is quite literally the meaning of brahmacharya, Patanjali’s fourth yama (external “restraint”).

During the second “week,” retreatants begin to place themselves in the scenarios of the Christian scriptures as they relate to the beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and moving through his baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, and his raising Lazarus from the dead. The prayers and meditations center around the idea of how one’s life and life’s work can be a reflection of God and God’s love.

The third and fourth “weeks” continue the contemplation by first contemplating the the Last Supper, the passion (or “suffering”) of the Christ, Jesus’ death, and the significance of Jesus’ last week (during the third “week”) and then contemplating Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances/apparitions to the disciples (during the fourth “week”). The final section of the retreat is also an opportunity to contemplate how one moves forward with renewed faith, commitment, and fire.

Yes, again with the tapas, because Saint Ignatius continuously told the early Jesuits, “go, set the world on fire” – words that echoed Abbot Joseph’s instructions to Abbot Lot:

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

“Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

– “The Prayer of Generosity,” often attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 07/31/1556)

I habitually think about discernment in terms of the “interior movements of the heart” and, while it is something I regularly do on my mat, the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius is a day when I am reminded of the power of the practice. My awareness of this powerful practice is also enhanced by the fact that I start August by focusing on the lives of “impossible” people – that is to say, people who did things others said was impossible. This year, in particular, I find my heart (and mind) moved to contemplate the will and determination that gets things done, as well as the power of the resistance that keeps certain things from happening. Mixed in with this is the idea that our will and determination is strengthened when we are surrounded (and supported) by people who are focused on the same goals and desires; focused on achieving the same “impossible” goals and desires.

August 1st is the anniversary of the birth of an “impossible” woman and a man who wrote about achieving “impossible” things. It is curious to note that Miss Maria Mitchell (b. 1818) was raised in a household where her interests and endeavors were supported – despite the fact that she was born in a time and place where some believed her sex and gender should dictate/limit her vocation and occupation – and that the greatest works of Mr. Herman Melville (b. 1819) were created and published when he was in close proximity of (and in close communion with) his dear friend, and fellow writer, Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could put yourselves in their shoes; notice the interior movements of your own heart; and consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds can best reflect your possibilities.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s playlist  is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07292020 Breathing, Noting, Here & at the UN”]

NOTE: In hindsight, I realized that the playlist we used last week works really well with today’s practice. It is still available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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.)

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###

Giving It All You’ve Got… & Then Letting Go (mostly the music w/some links) August 1, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Music, Philosophy, Vairagya.
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“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

 

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 1st) 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 always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

 

Click here for a blog post related to Herman Melville and the power of words or click here for a little bit about Maria Mitchell and Herman Melville, both born today – exactly a year apart.

 

 

### Don’t Hook Yourself ###

A Brother’s Love August 2, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Writing, Yoga.
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“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Yesterday I referred to Maria Mitchell as an impossible woman. Back in 2016, thanks to Justin Timberlake quoting Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I started thinking about what it meant to be an impossible person and spent the first week in August highlighting impossible people. Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin is – by his own words – my second impossible person.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Mr. Baldwin’s life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of opinions. There were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country – despite the fact that the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

I have cancelled class today and tomorrow night, but encourage you to practice. Practice with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud.

In the past, I have used a variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist, which features Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and a whole lot of Bach. You are welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify. However, if you have time, I would encourage you to grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the aforementioned jazz.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

2022 Errata: This post has been updated to correctly credit the Adidas ad associated with Muhammad Ali and to clarify that all references to James Baldwin’s “father” and “stepfather” refer to David Baldwin. Additionally, some syntax has been revised and music links have been update.

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

Some Things are Universal August 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“There can be no doubt, that, in most cases, their judgment may be equal with the other sex; perhaps even on the subject of law, politics or religion, they may form good judgment, but t would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men, although their powers of mind may be equal to the task.”

 

– quoted from “II: Becoming an Advocate” in Observations on the Real Rights of Women , with Their Appropriate Duties, Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense  by Hannah Mather Crocker (published 1818)

 

Believe it or not, Hannah Crocker was advocating for women’s rights when the wrote the above, in 1818, and stated that “It is woman’s peculiar right to keep calm and serene under every circumstance in life, as it is undoubtedly her appropriate duty, to soothe and alleviate the anxious cares of men, and her friendly and sympathetic breast should be found the best solace for him, as she has an equal right to partake with him the cares, as well as the pleasures of life.” Taken out of context, and viewed with a modern mind, it is easy to think that Crocker would have disapproved of Maria Mitchell, who was born today in 1818 (on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts).

Miss Mitchell, as the king of Denmark would refer to her, was the first acknowledged female astronomer. Her Quaker parents believed in equal education for the 10 offspring, regardless of gender, and her father shared his love of astronomy with all of his children. Miss Mitchell, however, was the only one really interested in going deeper into the math and science of what they viewed as “a hymn of praise to God.” She was assisting her father by the age of 12; opened and taught at a school for girls by the age of 17; and starting working as the librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum in her twenties.   On October 1, 1848 she observed what she initially thought was a distant star, but quickly suspected was actually a comet. Further observation proved her correct and, after her father wrote to the Harvard Observatory, her conclusion was reported to the King of Denmark who awarded her a gold medal and named the newly sighted object “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Maria Mitchell would go on to be the first woman appointed to the American Association of the Advancement of Science (also in 1848), the first woman to earn an advanced degree (1853), the first woman appointed to the faculty of Vassar Female College (as their astronomy professor and head of their observatory, in 1865), and, therefore, the first woman in American history to earn a position as an astronomy professor. She is what I refer to this week as an impossible woman (more on that in a later post) and Hannah Crocker may or may not have approved.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

 

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell

Whether or not Hannah Crocker approved of Maria Mitchell’s life choices is kind of beside the point. What’s relevant here is the idea that all things being equal, there are still people who believe there should be different rules (and therefore different rules of moral conduct) for different people based on gender, race, or other external factors. A quick glance at religious and philosophical commandments and precepts, however, indicates that (in most cases) the big commandments and precepts are intended for all, they are universal.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Yoga Sūtra 2.31: jātideśakālasamayānavacchinnāh sārvabhaumā mahāvratam

 

– “[The five restraints] are not affected by class, race, ethnicity, place, time, and circumstance. They are universal and become a great vow.”

There are times when I am quite perplexed by the different ways people will twist things around so that the  rules and laws no longer apply to them. Hold off (for just a moment) on jumping to conclusions and let me be specific. Over the years, I have been involved in several discussions regarding the Buddhist precepts. There are five basic precepts or rules of training for lay Buddhist: non-harming (or non-killing), non-stealing, not engaging in illicit sex, a commitment to truth/honesty, and not imbibing in intoxicants. Notice how the first four overlap with the yamās from the yoga philosophy and how both philosophies overlap with the last five of the 10 Commandments. Also, just as Jewish practitioners adhere to more than 10 commandments (613 in total), there are additional precepts for people on retreat and people who are taking vows.

Regarding what might be viewed as discrepancies in practice, all the categories include non-harming/non-killing, but I have heard people very clearly argue that they are not violating the precept/commandment/yamā if they didn’t actually kill the animal that results in their burger. Here, now, I am not judging that argument except to say that it can be confusing (to me), because I think it all comes down to intent. And, speaking of intent, I have listed the third precept as “not engaging in illicit sex” versus “not engaging in adultery,” just as I refer to bramacharyā in the more literal sense so that (in both cases) the focus is on the cause of the action (i.e., intent), rather than on the resulting action.

Intention is important. Yes, you can unintentional harm someone or something. And, sometimes, that unintentional act can be tremendously more harmful than something you did intentional (knowing it would cause “a little” harm). Most legal systems back me up on this, hence the reason there are different penalties for manslaughter versus murder, and even within each of those categories there are various degrees with different punishments. Intention also comes into play when you look at why there are more commandments in Judaism and why there are more precepts if you are on retreat of taking vows as a monk or nun. Intention is also the key to why some would say, from the outside looking in, that Islām only has one rule: avoid what is harām (“forbidden”). That said, if we are going to be dedicated to the truth (i.e., not lie), we have to be honest with ourselves about why we want to practice – or not practice – some aspect of our particular belief system(s).

Ask yourself why you follow certain rules. Is your intention in following the rule(s) to be good? To be holy? To be saved? To be enlightened? To not be reincarnated? To not have people judge you harshly? To not get in trouble? To mitigate (or lessen) harm to yourself or another?

In the commentary for yoga sūtra 2:31, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and others point to the fact that the intention is always to start where you are, given your particular situation. These practices are intended to set up for success and so the expectation is that you (again) practice with dedication and devotion to the best of your ability. As stated in the sūtra, these restraints can be applied to every situation. They are universal. The last part of the sūtra is equally important, because by practicing where you are and as you are, on every plane of existence, these practices become habit. They become ingrained in your psyche. They become the great vow and you start to think, speak, and act in a way that is mindful of all living beings…without actually having to think about it.

But, of course, we start off thinking about it.

“Killing a human being is murder, but killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is a spiritual offense for a strict vegetarian, but not for a fisherman. Hunting in and around a shrine is an offense, but hunting in the forest is not. For a Hindu, eating meat on the fourteenth day of the moon is an offense, but eating meat on other days is not. In day-to-day life it is a grave offense for a soldier to shoot someone, but it is not an offense for a soldier to kill and enemy on the battlefield.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Speaking of “killing a fish,” today is also the anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. Born today in New York City in 1819, exactly a year to the day after Maria Mitchell, the author shared a love of the sea (and certain other experiences) with Nathanial Hawthorne. During Melville and Hawthorne’s brief friendship, they were both their most prolific and published what would become their most popular works, including Melville’s Moby-Dick and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Both wrote about people who obsessively purposed their goals (something that is encouraged in yoga), but their characters did not always temper their determination with devoted surrender and non-attachment (which is something that is also encouraged in yoga). Lest you think it was only Hawthorne who focused on commandments, read on.

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

Per my email, I have cancelled class today due to a family emergency. I still have tomorrow’s class on the schedule, but stay tuned here to see how that works out. If you were planning to practice today, please, practice with yoga sūtras 2.30-2.31 in mind. Since this week’s sūtra focus is a continuation of last week’s, you can use last week’s recording. If you are not on my email list, you can request the audio recording from last week via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Last week’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

As this is the anniversary of the 1-35 bridge collapse, please hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds today. So many people are suffering with current events, but let us not forget that some people are still grieving and healing from past events. To quote my dad, “Sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

###” CALL ME ISHMAEL, GOD LISTENS” ###