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Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

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

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

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.

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###

 

May the Fourth… May 4, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“The practices of yoga designed to harmonize the … forces in our body and mind.”

 

 – definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Padaa: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

“The way towards realisation through rigorous discipline.”

 

– definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika by B. K. S. Iyengar

Hatha Yoga refers to the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition. Although, in the West it is a term often used to describe a practice which does not fit into a specific style or tradition. In other words, rather than describing a class as “not-Ashtanga-vinyasa-Power-Sivananda-Tantra-Vini–Bikram-Hot-Tibetan-Nidra-Nada-Svaroopa-Yin…” it is easier to say, “This is Hatha Yoga.”

Some people, even teachers, mistakenly use the term as a synonym for “easy yoga.” However, easy is relative and trust me when I tell you that if you look at classical texts on the physical practice, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 14th century C.E.) and The Gheranda Samhita (circa 16th century C.E), you will find some poses that very few Westerners would refer to as easy! These classical texts echo earlier Tantric texts and may not be influenced by Vedanta (or “end of the Vedas”) philosophy. For this reason, some teachers will describe their classes as one of the aforementioned styles and/or traditions and also as Hatha. All in all though, this use of the term sometimes focuses more on what you’re not doing rather than on what you are doing.

Take a moment to consider what you are doing on the mat.

HA – Sun

ŢHA – Moon

HAŢHA – Force

YOGA – Union, yoking

If you look up to the heavens, we see the sun and the moon (as well as all the other heavenly bodies). Why don’t they collide? For that matter, why do all of the planets and their moons circle around the sun without colliding into each other? Basic science explains that there is a gravitational force that simultaneously connects (yokes) the elements of the solar system together and keeps these same elements from crashing into each other. Really, each heavenly body exerts a certain amount of force on the other bodies, while also being influenced by the force of others. For instance, the force of the Sun pulls the Earth into its orbit, while the rotation of the Earth and the force of the Sun keep the Earth’s Moon in place and the rotation of the Moon affects the waters of the Earth. There is a fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions. Yet, these forces are different, even opposites.

The sun, the solar energy, is considered active, male, right side, yang, energizing, hot, effort; and is associated with inhaling, daytime, pleasure, delight, the body, and analytical/critical thinking. The moon, the lunar energy, is considered passive, female, left side, yin, restorative, cool, relaxation; and is associated with exhaling, nighttime, pain, suffering, the mind, and creativity. The list goes on. However, the separate particulars are not the most important parts here.

“We cannot say that that the sun which is shining in the sky and the image which is on the ground are one but we cannot say these are two either. The wave in the lake and the water wavering are not one but not two either. The Lamp and the light of the Lamp are not one but not two either. The air which is flowing and the touch of the air are not one but not two either. Such a relationship is termed as non-dualism in Vedanta. The Brahma and the Universe are not one but not two either. The souls of two persons are not one but not distinct either. The creation and the creator are not one but not two either. According to Vedanta this happening is like the dance and the dancer.”

– from The Paradise Never Lost by Pramod Bharati

The first important part is to remember that these opposites co-exist; we need one to have and understand the other. The second important part is that these opposites co-exist inside of us and all around us. Finally, when put together, the two root words refer to a state of separation inherent in duality that must be overcome in order to achieve awareness of the underlying connectivity that is also inherent in duality. They are Martin Buber’s Ich-und-Du, and so to understand ourselves we have to understand and respect the connection. We also need to understand the fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions.

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is sometimes called “The Law of Inertia” and we experience it when we are stuck in a bad relationship or a job that no longer serves us, but we can’t seem to make a change. We experience it when we’re stuck on the couch, the futon, the La-Z-Boy recliner, or the floor and have no desire to go for a walk or a run or a bicycle ride, even though we know some movement will feel good and is good for us. We also experience it when we do something for 28, 30, 35, or 40 days and feel the momentum of repeated behavior settling us into a new habit.

On a personal level, we experience the second law, when we have a compelling reason to change our behavior or action – or a more compelling reason to maintain the status quo.

We experience that third law when we breathe (inhale and exhale), as well as when we eat/drink and then defecate/urinate. We also experience it when we focus on one element, one aspect of our selves to the exclusion of the other parts of ourselves and things get out of balance. When things get out of balance they start to fall apart and/or collapse into each other. We need the balance – the balance of opposites – just like everything else in the universe.  We need the Force.

“Great evil can only be fought by the strong. People need spiritual fuel as much as they need food, water, and air. Happiness, love, joy, hope — these are the emotions that give us the strength to do what we need to do.”

 

– from Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray   

 

Today, Monday, May the 4th, is a special day for teachers like me (short, funny looking, with enormous eyes or glasses). If you’re interested in a virtual yoga practice (in which the Force is strong) today (Monday, May the 4th) at 5:30 PM, please join me on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

While I know there are some who are thinking, “This is not the class I’m looking for” or “I have a bad feeling about this” – and others who will be disappointed because we won’t be practicing with the phenomenal soundtrack – I promise there will be wisdom. And, maybe, sound effects. Although today’s class is not a Kiss My Asana class, here’s a preview from last year’s class.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

 

### “Pass On What You Have Learned” ###