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For Those Who Missed It: Living “A (SAD) Wonderful Life” December 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday or otherwise, may have a favorite Christmas story or carol. These stories – which become such perennial favorites they are often turned into plays, ballets, musicals, and all manners of pageants – are full of not only the trappings and traditions of Christmas, but also the spirit. You may think the spirit of which I speak is the hope, the cheer, and the good tidings; but, one consistent element in these stories is grief, desolation, isolation, sadness – and yes, also SAD-ness.

The Greatest Gift was self-published by its author, Philip Van Doren Stern, in 1943 – exactly 100 years after Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. In fact, Stern (who was half Jewish) was partially inspired by the Dickens-classic. Although the story takes place at Christmastime and was initially sent out as Stern’s 1943 Christmas cards, the author intend the story to be universal. The following year the story was picked up by a two different magazines (including Good Housekeeping, which called it “The Man Who Was Never Born”) and a movie production company. By 1945, the original movie rights for The Greatest Gift had been sold to director and producer Frank Capra, who would change the title and tweak some of the details.

Current fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which premiered today in 1946, might be surprised to learn that the movie was not an instant success. The movie’s general release faced stiff competition from movies like Stairway to Heaven (released as A Matter of Life and Death in the UK) and Miracle on 34th Street – both of which shared elements of fatalism vs. free will, life vs. death, and hope vs. despair, as well as bumbling “angels” (in the former) and adorable children (in the latter). There was also drama behind the scenes and, ultimately, proceeds from the initial release barely covered the production cost. But, like A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured a protagonist who could have had SAD and who experienced a major shift because of spiritual intercession. Only, in the case of the movie, the spirit was actually an angel.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

In the movie, Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody (portrayed by Henry Travers) must convince 38-year old George Bailey (immortalized by Jimmy Stewart) that his life is “wonderful”… or, at least worth living. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Bailey has spent his life trying to help others, but a mistake – involving his good intentions and his own personal “Scrooge,” Mr. Potter (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who actually spent 20 years portraying “Scrooge”) – leads to criminal charges and the feeling that nothing he has ever done in his life makes a difference.

The truly ironic, and potentially tragic, part of George Bailey’s life is that he made a significant difference in his community. He saved more than one life and, on more than one occasion, gave up his savings to help others. He absolutely lived a life that was the embodiment of those last three siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human: the capacity to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the cultivation of a good heart (which is the ability to make friends); and generosity (the ability to give). Yet, in a moment of weakness, Bailey neglects to recognize his own power or potential. He has thoughts of self harm – one of the symptoms of SAD.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

“You see George; you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Real life is different from a novella by Dickens, a short story by Stern, or a movie by Capra; in part because there’s not a writer or director making sure the intervention happens. Also, not everything gets tied up at the end. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with SAD, it is important to take two big lessons from these fictional works: 1. You are not alone. 2. You can get help.

The ghosts in Dickens’s classic and the angel who gets his wings by helping out a good person are (literally) inspired symbols. They are the spirits or real people. (Sometimes they are even “strange” people, like in The Greatest Gift.) In real life, we are each other’s Christmas Past, Present, and Not Yet – just as we are each other’s guardian angels. We can show up for each other – and we must show up for each other. Real life is different in that sometimes the person that needs help has to ask for help (and/or the people around them have to notice what constitutes “a cry for help.”) In real life, happy endings don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.

“Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

– George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Please join me today (Monday, December 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 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.)

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner…
George Bailey: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

– quoted from It’s A Wonderful Life

### “Gotta love it… gotta live it… try to savor every moment” ~Anointed ###

For Those Who Missed It: “Bah Humbug!” & Other SAD Sayings December 19, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Movies, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted for the practice on December 19, 2020. Class details have been updated. 

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah

 

– “The fourth [prāņāyāma] goes beyond, or transcends, the internal and external objects.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

Patanjali spends a good portion of the Yoga Sūtras extolling the benefits of focusing on the breath and breathing in a way that balances (and calms) the mind-body. The benefits mentioned include physical vitality and clarity of mind. Another, connected, benefit is accessing the part of our mind-body that is “free of sorrow and [always] full of light.” Ultimately, he also points to the powers (siddhis) experienced by those who achieve clarity and luminosity. One such power is the ability to clear see (and understand) past, present, and future.

The ability to see (and understand) past, present, and future is the power of cause-and-effect. It is a power we all have; however it is a power often shrouded under the veil of avidyā (“ignorance”) and illusion. Such ignorance and illusion is part of our lived experience and is further enhanced by experiences that reinforce the ignorance and illusion. Patanjali very clearly indicates that everything in the perceivable world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom” (YS 2.18), but that we can only see (and understand) what our mind is ready to see and understand (YS 2.20).

It seems like a circle of confusion (or ignorance) out of which we cannot escape. Yet, if we take a breath, things can become a little clearer. We start to see how we are tied – shackled or fettered – to what we know, based on what was previously known.

“‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A year or two ago, if someone had said that people all over the world would be rushing around less and spending more time at home with their family (and occasionally mingling with a small bubble of close friends), most of us would have (unequivocally) thought it was a good thing. If someone had said people would be as focused – if not more focused – on how they could celebrate the holidays and observe traditions as opposed to working, I might have even applauded. After all, I have spent a lot of winters talking about the benefits of slowing down (like everything else in nature) instead of speeding up and have spent many a holiday emphasizing the importance of ritual and tradition.

Those hypothetical conversations, however, would have occurred in another time and place…. a time and place “before.” They would have occurred without the circumstances we face today – circumstances that actually make it easier to be a bit of a Scrooge and/or experience a little SADness. I say “and/or,” but I’m really not sure, when you think about it that there’s always a difference. After all, as much as we see Ebenezer Scrooge as a curmudgeonly miser, who is to say he didn’t have SAD?

“‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew.

‘Nephew!’ returned the uncle sternly, ‘keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’

‘Keep it!’ repeated Scrooge’s nephew. ‘But you don’t keep it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that affects over 3 million people in the United States each year. About 5% of adults with SAD experience it for 40% of the year and people with bipolar disorder may notice huge mood shifts based on the change in season. Symptoms can include lack of energy, moodiness, changes in eating habits, weight fluctuation, changes in sleeping habits, loss of interest in social engagement or work, difficulty concentrating, and thought of self harm. Most people associate SAD with the “winter blues” or the “winter blahs” – and it is definitely linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain that is related to shorter days and a lack of sunlight in the Fall/Winter. However, people can also experience SAD (sometimes referred to, in layman’s terms, as “Reverse SAD”) in the Spring/Summer.

An old friend of mine who lives with “Reverse SAD” (we’ll call her “Christmas Past”) said that one of the hardest parts for her is the lack of awareness – and that fact that people think you can “just get over it.” That last part is an all too common misconception based on the following facts:

(a) Everyone experiences a shift in their biological clock (or circadian rhythms) as the seasons change, and that shift affects our brains;

(b) A lot of people struggle during the holidays;

(c) For most, symptoms will change as the seasons change; and

(d) When we are experience general sadness we can still feel some level of joy or happiness, but depression can mute people’s overall experience of life.

Furthermore, while symptoms can pass, in the base case, the longer the brain spirals down – and is left chemically out of balance – the harder it is for the mind-body to shift back into balance. When you add in the fact that depression is often accompanied by thoughts of self harming, there is sometimes not enough time for “time” to be the healer.

Unless, of course, “time” is a metaphor.

“‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. ‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, the novella by Charles Dickens, features a grouchy old business man who is visited by ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come (often referred to in theatrical productions as “Christmas Future”). First published today in 1843, it was the fourth Christmas story the author had written and, like his others, it was influenced by what people were experience at the time and Dickens’s own experiences. First, as a child, Dickens had experienced a change of fortune and ended up, as an adult, having to work his way up from poverty. However, just before writing A Christmas Carol he had visited one of the Raggedy Schools (for destitute children) and was appalled at the conditions. He felt that people who were in the position to do something – not only to improve the children’s living and working conditions, but also their future prospects – should be encouraged to do what they could and that the holiday season was a good time for that encouragement. Finally, people were changing their engagement with the holiday. There were new additions to the celebrations (like the Christmas tree) and people were fluctuating between emphasizing the religious aspects of Christmas and the more secular traditions.

Dickens definitely portrays Scrooge as a bad guy who is redeemable; he just needs a push in the right direction. Various people, including Scrooge’s nephew try to push him into the holiday spirit, but he doesn’t feel it and doesn’t see the value in it. He needs more than a “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” to counteract his “Bah Humbug.” He needs something to change his engagement of spirit. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come facilitate this change by talking to him and showing him different perspectives of his own life.

“‘Let me leave it alone, then,’ said Scrooge. ‘Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!’

‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

One perspective is that, left to his own devices, Scrooge would have kept spiraling down. In the process of spiraling down (all the while thinking about the ways he could spiral his bank account up), Scrooge would have continued to make himself and the people around him miserable. Then there is the possibility that he could make the world around him a better place – and that, ultimately, it wouldn’t really cost him much. But, first, he had to be able to see the possibility.

Some people view A Christmas Carol as a secular holiday tale; others see it as Christian allegory. I see both sides of that coin, but also consider that there is a mental health message within the text. Even if Scrooge is a “scrooge,” he also exhibits all the characteristics of someone who is unhappy because his mind-body is out of balance. (When you think about it, it’s not surprising given how much he works, and how little work-life balance Dickens gives him!) All that said, anyone of us can be scrooge. So, it’s important to note that there is a lot we can do to help our mind-bodies find balance. It is equally important to know when we need some external intercession. SAD treatment can include light therapy, talk therapy, changes in diet and exercise, antidepressants, and/or a combination of the above.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12192020 SAD Carol”]

 

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.)

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

### “‘…as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’” ###

Cowboy, I Moustache You To Go… Over Here (the “missing” Sunday post) November 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, Movember 28th. There are mental health references, but nothing graphic. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Anyhow, Mr. Coolidge – I am going to tell you about the people over the radio. You can’t talk over the radio and use the same type of stuff that you do on the stage, because you haven’t got that kind of audience. Everybody listening in over the radio wouldn’t laugh like this. A radio audience – and I’m not saying this to flatter you, but everybody, you all wouldn’t have come in if you hadn’t had a sense of humor. There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in. They don’t have that over the radio. I am sure you all had to have a sense of humor; it is certain that sex appeal drew nobody in here, and I’m positive that nobody come in to whet their intellect. No, you come in here to get just a laugh, but over the radio you have people listening in there with no sense of humor at all. Anybody can tune in on that.

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage, Volume Four, September 1915 –  July 1928  by Will Rogers, edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson 

It may have been on his lecture tour, maybe even on April 16, 1928, that Will Rogers said, “There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in.” I think that statement could be applied to yoga – as can the rest of that discussion about having a sense of humor and about the difference between sharing space live and in-person versus sharing virtual or recorded space. There’s no denying that there’s a difference. And while it is may also true that people are not drawn in by the sex appeal or to “whet their intellect,” it doesn’t change the fact yoga can be sexy and intellectual, as well as funny – just like vaudeville.

Vaudeville, an upscale version of your garden variety variety show, was a 19th century French invention that experienced a great deal of popularity in North America beginning in the 1880’s. A large part of that popularity can be traced to the “Orpheum Circuit,” which was started when the German producer and American immigrant Gustav Walter built the first Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. With financial backing from another German-American, Morris Meyerfeld Jr (born November 17, 1855 as Moses Meyerfeld), the impresario opened a second and third Orpheum in a pre-existing theatres in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively. All three theatres opened to sold out houses and experienced great success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the duo could book entertainers to go from one house to the other and use the publicity in one city to push ticket sales in the other cities.

Their plan was to expand through the Midwest. However, Gustav Walter died unexpectedly (after suffering with appendicitis for four days) on May 9, 1898, just three months after the Kansas City theatre opened). Morris (née Moses) Meyerfeld became the circuit’s president and, in order to carry out the original plan, paired up with Martin Lehman. After opening five more theatres, the pair joined forces with the Western Circuit of Vaudeville Theaters (WCVT); hired Hungarian immigrant Martin Beck as a booking agent (the same booking agent that would give Harry Houdini his big break); and eventually created the Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) with leaders of the Eastern Vaudeville Circuit, like Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II. 

Eventually, the big circuits merged to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit which, after more mergers and acquisitions became Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), which included the movie studio RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (later known as RKO Pictures). But that’s jumping way ahead in the story. Not to mention the fact that by the time RKO Pictures formed in 1928, Will Rogers had already filmed almost 50 silent films produced by a Polish-American immigrant named Samuel Goldwyn (born August 27, 1882 as Szmuel Gelbfisz, and also known as Samuel Goldfish). So, let’s step back a minute…

According to The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, Volume Three, September 1908 – 1915, (by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair) the first Orpheum opened June 20, 1887 and Gustav Walter was booking vaudeville-only bills by 1897. Meaning that when Will Rogers was seven some of the seeds for his success had been planted and by the time he was 18 those seeds had taken root.

After working at his family’s ranch (Dog Iron Ranch), spending some time in Argentina and the Pampas, and working at a ranch in South Africa, “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” started doing his rope tricks in the circus. First he performed in South Africa with Texas Jack Wild West Circus and then he performed in Australia with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He was about twenty-five when he returned to the United States, roping and riding at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, rodeos, and the vaudeville circuits that were just starting to come together. He was twenty-five when his rope “tricks” saved the day at Madison Square Garden and caught the attention of William Hammerstein (see “Will Rogers” link above), who kept him consistently employed, performing on a New York rooftop, for years.

In many ways, however, that rooftop gig was a bit of a fluke and the success that followed was, again, in large part because of the infrastructure that had been established by the vaudeville producers. Those previously mentioned partnerships, collaborations, and organizations connected audiences that previously had been targeted by niche entertainers and created a circuit that relied on entertainers who could appeal to people in urban as well as rural areas. The circuit would eventually guarantee performers anywhere from 20 weeks to several years worth of performances – something that had previously been unheard of for entertainers like the cowboy philosopher or a certain “handcuff king.”

“Will Rogers, billed as the Oklahoma Cowboy, in a rope act is a feature at the Orpheum this week. He does wonders in rope spinning but you get so much interested in his ‘patter’ that you forget to watch the tricks, as he calls them. He is a monolinguist disguised in chaps, and one of the best ever….

*

PD. Printed in Kansas City Post and Journal, ca. 26 October 1914. Scrapbook 1914, CPpR”

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway: Volume Three, September 1908 –  August 1915  by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair

NOTE: The scrapbook cited above, containing a printed copy of the Kansas City Post and Journal, is part of the collection at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Pacific Palisades, California (CPpR).

Will Rogers signed a major Orpheum Circuit contract in December 1908, soon after he married Betty Blake (and only days after she saw him perform for the first time). The newlyweds spent the first four months of 1909 traveling the circuit together – something they would continue off and on throughout their marriage. By 1910, Will Rogers was so popular that he was being booked by all the major vaudeville producers and even mounted his own “Wild West” show. For many years, including in 1913 and 1914, he spent the end of summer through the beginning of winter on the Orpheum Circuit. In fact, in August 1914, he started in San Francisco (performing five days at the very first Orpheum theatre); then performed at six California Orpheum theatres plus a non “Orpheum” theatre in California and eight Orpheum theatres from Salt Lake City, Utah to Minneapolis (November 8-14) and Duluth (November 16-21). From November 22-28, he performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ten years later, on November 28, 1925, he would be performing in Washington, D. C. and visiting with President Calvin Coolidge.

While I normally reference “the Will Rogers phenomenon” (as it relates to prostate health) at the beginning of Movember, I decided to use that last little bit of trivia to bring awareness to the fact that stage migration also occurs in relation to mental health. Remember, “the Will Rogers phenomenon” is a situation where moving something from one category to another increases the average value of both categories. In medical stage migration this can occur when awareness, testing, and/or overall medical understanding changes diagnosis so that previously undetected illness is detected – which can increase the average life expectancy of people who are considered “healthy” as well as those who are considered “unhealthy.”

Note, the “Will Rogers” links above all go to the same post about prostate cancer diagnosis, but this situation also holds true for other health issues where early detection is the key to survival. It holds true for different kinds of cancer, and also applies to heart and lung issues, diabetes, and mental health issues.

We all know that the last few years have been rough – on every one – and the challenges in life include increased physical, mental, and emotional stress. If we consider these akin to the three-fold sorrows, then we (humans) have the power to eliminate this dis-ease. Eliminating our own suffering, however, requires awareness and communication. In the last few years there has been an increase in people reporting mental health issues and while that can be daunting, consider that every year people have mental health crisis that “no one saw coming,” in part because people didn’t share what they were experience and/or seek help. Some of the discrepancies between men and women’s health, including the fact that 4 in 5 people affected by suicide are men, may come down to socialization.  

It sucks that so many people are struggling, but – believe it or not – an increase in reporting is actually good news. The fact that people are sharing their experiences and seeking guidance, even treatment, is actually a good thing. It’s also the smart thing. 

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

*

– Will Rogers

Sunday’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Mov 4th & Will Rogers 2020”]

You don’t have to take my word for all this! Click here for the US Movember website page on mental health, featuring men sharing their own stories. Just click and scroll down.

“I realized, over time, that when I actually began to talk about what I was going through, it actually began to heal me.”

*

– Eric Bigger, quoted on the (US) Movember website

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

 

### ALEC ###

You Moustache The Secret to a Perfect Body (mostly the music) November 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Philosophy, Yoga.
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Outside of our “thread,” today is World Children’s Day, the commemoration of the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, today in 1959.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, Movember 20th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available  on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

 

 

### 🎶 ###

For Those Who Missed It: Caught In The Middle November 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Movies, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted on November 11, 2020. Class details and links have been updated.

“How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never.’”

– Martin Luther

Do you ever find yourself in a double bind, on or off the mat? My guess (and hope) is that if you find yourself in a double bind on the mat then it was deliberate, intentional, and mindful. Examples of double binds on the mat are Garudāsana (“Eagle’s Pose,” where the legs and arms are intertwined) and Gomukhāsana (“Cow Face Pose,” where the legs are crossed in front and the arms are bound in back). You make your way into those poses with awareness and intention – and, just as importantly, you can see your way out, mindfully and intentionally. What happens, however, when you find yourself in a double binds off the mat?

Anthropologically speaking, a double bind is “an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other.” First used in the mid-50’s by “The Bateson Project” anthropologists Gregory Bateson, Donald deAvila Jackson, Jay Haley, John H. Weakland, and Bill Fry, a double bind scenario often involves intentional manipulation and gas lighting on the part of a “respected” authority figure; is repeated behavior; and is done in such a way that the person being abused (or groomed) may not see or be able to articulate the inherent conflict. That last part is key, because it is not enough for there to be a contradiction; the definition of the term relies on how the communication and behavior are imposed and the “subject(s)” inability to define the exact nature of the indiscretion.

A classic example of a double bind is someone (possibly a parent or parent) saying that the love the subject, but then physically harming, verbally abusing, and/or withdrawing affection from the “subject(s).” Another example of a double bind might be found in organized religions that teach about unconditional love, but then continually enforce limits and conditions to that love. While it might be hard for a regular parishioner in a small church to see the dichotomy and contradiction, especially when it is taught as part of theology, reformers like Martin Luther constantly find themselves in the middle of the double bind.

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils – for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

– Martin Luther, in 1517, when told to recant his views  

Born today in 1483, Martin Luther was a German theologian responsible for beginning the Protestant Reformation in 16th Century Europe and for inspiring Lutherism. He wrote the “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in response to the excesses of Pope Leo X and the Catholic Church, which engaged in the practice of forgiving penance for sins in exchange for monetary donations. Referred to as “95 Theses,” Luther’s 1517 document caused people all over Europe to start questioning the actions of the pope and, eventually, led to the creation of the Lutheran Church. Luther’s main teachings were that the Bible is the central religious authority in Christianity and that faith – not deeds – leads to salvation.

Which, when you think about it can lead to a tricky Catch-22, whereby some people think they can do whatever they want to do – even when it contradicts the teachings in the Bible – as long as they have faith. Part of why I consider this a Catch-22 is because if one truly had faith, they would follow the teachings.

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

– Martin Luther

Like a double bind, a Catch-22 involves a foundation of contradiction. Of course, most people, when they think of Catch-22s, think about Joseph Heller’s novel, published today in 1961. The novel is set at the height of World War II (specifically 1942 – 1944), but continually references elements from the 1950’s – which, combined with the circular and overlapping of linear and non-linear narration, reinforced the idea that the novel was political commentary on current (as well as historical) events. The novel includes “heroes” who commit truly atrocious crimes against humanity and the only physical depiction of “the enemies” occurs when “they” are working with one of “us.” The title refers to a military exemption clause that Captain John Yossarian, a U. S. Army Air Forces B-52 bombardier, ultimate thinks may not actually exist, because he notices that people of authority use the clause in multiple situations. As absurd as it may sound, the power, he realizes, is in the belief.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed.
‘It’s the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.”

– quoted from Catch-22 (Chapter 5) by Joseph Heller

Please join me today (Wednesday, November 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

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.)

“‘The enemy,’ retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, ‘is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don’t you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live.’”

– quoted from Catch-22 (Chapter 12) by Joseph Heller

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.


### “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” (ML) ###

How Mou You Today? (no music, but there’s a link) November 8, 2021

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Please join me today (Monday, November 8th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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 last year’s post related on this date.

.

### No, really, how mou you today? ###

I Moustache You This Important Question, Again (the music w/a link) November 3, 2021

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Please join me today (Wednesday, Movember 3rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Movember 3rd 2020”]

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

Click here for last year’s post related to this practice.

### How Are You Today? ###

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

What Does It Mean to You? (a “missing” 2-for-1 post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is a 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, September 26th and for Monday, September 27th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

 

During Sukkot, people are commanded to be happy. But what does happiness even mean? Happiness is, after all, a really personal thing, a really personal experience. I can ask, “What do you need to be happy?” But it would be really ignorant to believe that if I surround myself with the things and people that “make you happy” that I will also be happy. In fact, that’s an example of several different types of avidyā (“ignorance”) and klişţa (dysfunctional/afflicted) tendencies that lead to suffering. Furthermore, if you’ve studied a little philosophy, especially a little Eastern philosophy, you know it’s a trick question; because you know that happiness is a state of mind. So, it is more important to know (a) what you value and appreciate and (b) what happiness means to you (at this moment and in any given moment).

As I’ve mentioned before, Hod, the fifth sefirot  or attribute of the divine on the Tree of Life, translates into English as “humility,” “gratitude,” “splendor,” and “glory.”  Thinking of all of those together gives us some insight into what it means to be thankful – in other words, pleased, relieved, and grateful. To be grateful is to feel and/or show an appreciation for a kindness or courtesy. Gratitude, then, is defined as the “quality of being thankful; [the] readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Finally, appreciation is the defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” Even though anyone can say “thank you,” for the smallest demonstration of kindness – and we absolutely must as it is a way of returning some of that kindness – it can sometimes feel like a throwaway line. A true expression of gratitude, however, includes a little detail to demonstrate “a full understanding” of why something or someone is valued.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

The Talmud says:

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Once we establish what we value and appreciate, we can look at happiness as the embodied expression of our enjoyment and appreciation. Then, too, we must recognize that “happiness” (whatever that means to you at this moment) is not one-size-fits-all. For some people, happiness is an ecstatic kind of joy. For others, it is “just not being miserable.” Then there is every experience in between – plus the fact that the way we experience happiness today may not be the way we experienced happiness yesterday or the way we will experience it tomorrow.

At the Happiness Studies Academy (HAS), where you can get a certificate in “Happiness Studies,” the experience that is happiness falls into the rubric of positive psychology, which is defined as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” In other words, scholars like HAS co-founder Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar are concerned with the interdisciplinary science of living a good life – whatever that means to you at this moment. As I mentioned on Saturday, October 25th, the anniversary of the creation and initial approval of the United States Bill of Rights (in 1789), the founding fathers had definite ideas about what was needed in order for the citizens of their new nation to experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Similarly, the Buddha expressed ideas about what a person needs to be happy and the HAS definition fits the Buddha’s teachings on the happiness of a householder. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, summarizes the overall Buddhist concept of happiness as “not suffering” or being free of suffering. Then there is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (an October baby), whose ultimate meaning is not exactly like Patanjali’s instructions in the Yoga Sūtras; and yet, sounds very similar to YS 2.46 (“sthirasukham āsanam”). In both cases, there is an emphasis on finding balance between effort and relaxation (i.e., power without resistance).

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome.”

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

One thing to remember, when applying Nietzsche’s words to our physical practice (or to society), is that there is resistance in too much power. Think about a power lifter who has very muscular arms and legs. They might have some flexibility in their spine and hips, but their most muscular parts tend to be their least flexible parts. So, while they might be able to move easily in one direction, they might find it really hard to move in a direction that is counter to the way they have trained their body. Furthermore, finding balance between effort and relaxation, finding that state where there is power without resistance, is not just physical; it requires mental and emotional effort as well. Happiness, after all, is a mind-body-spirit experience.

Science has shown that our propensity for happiness is based on a cocktail of genetics, personality, and attitude. That mixture of elements combined with our circumstances creates what was referred to by Drs. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell as a “hedonic treadmill” (or “hedonic adaptation”), whereby as our circumstances change our expectations (and desires) also change – creating a baseline for happiness. Accordingly, research in positive psychology shows that regardless of how extreme an event is (e.g., we win the lottery or experience a debilitating accident) people return to their happiness baseline (or “hedonic set point”) in a relatively short period of time. We just need recover time.

During that recovery time there are things that promote good mental, emotional, and physical health. In fact, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Six Tips for Happiness” encapsulate the best ways we can spend our time if we want to cultivate happiness, including: eating well, sleeping, staying hydrated, exercising, and the practices of acceptance and gratitude. Some of those things we may not always want to do, but we feel better when we do them. We also may or may not (automatically) feel grateful for what has happened to us, but not being grateful for something is definitely detrimental. Furthermore, science has shown that even thinking about something for which we could be grateful is beneficial.

The benefits of thinking, contemplating, and/or meditating on “positive” emotions are some of the reasons why Matthieu Ricard, (10/7/2020) considers happiness a skill. M. Ricard is a French Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as a translator for the 14th Dalai Lama and has been called “the happiest man in the world.” He is also one of the monks whose brain has been observed and studied to learn the clinical benefits of meditation. What researchers have learned about M. Ricard’s brain, however, is about more than just mindfulness. While hooked up to 256 electrodes, the brains of Matthieu Ricard and the other mediators indicated that even adult brains have some neuroplasticity and, therefore, can be changed. The research shows that we can not only change our brains; it shows that in doing so we can change our baseline for happiness.

M. Ricard equates changing one’s baseline for happiness to training for a marathon. It’s about pacing and using the appropriate techniques. In the documentary “A Joyful Mind,” Dr. Richard Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, states that brain scans indicate someone new to meditation can meditate 30 minutes a day over a 2-week period and see a change in brain activity. If you specifically want to change your baseline for happiness, one of the most effective “training techniques” is cultivating benevolent thoughts – like meditating on loving-kindness and compassion (which takes us right back to Tolstoy’s answer of “do that person good”). Another effective method for changing your happiness baseline is giving thanks.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

 

Last year, when World Mental Health Day (Oct 10th) fell during Sukkot, I mentioned that happiness could be considered an aspect of good mental health. I also mentioned that The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” I ultimately concluded that when we look at happiness through this mental health lens, “happy people,” just like people with good mental health, are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues and/or when unhappy. This is consistent with the Yoga Philosophy.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg made the same observation in 48 Ways to Wisdom in “Way #27: Happiness,” when he dispelled certain myths about happiness and contentment by pointing out that a happy person has the energy and inclination to do things like spontaneously go for a boat ride. The unhappy person, however, only seems to have the energy and inclination to stay stuck in a downward spiral. Here, again, it is important to remember that if we don’t have a recovery period – after experiencing something really good or something really tragic – any one of us can get stuck in that downward spiral.

Just as we can raise our baseline for happiness, circumstances can lower our baseline. In either case, there is a change in brain chemistry as well as in behavior. We may welcome the physiological changes that come from being a happier person. However, if our baseline is going down, we may find we need some help – possibly even some professional help – in order to get ourselves and our baseline back to a functioning level. Because, again, the key to happiness fits our mind, body, and spirit.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10102020 World Mental Health Day (also Sukkot 4)”]

 

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

“Give yourself permission to be human.

Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.

Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.

Simplify!

Remember the mind body connection.

Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

 

– quoted from the Harvard University’s Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

 

You can find portions of this post, in slightly different contexts, in the linked posts highlighted above.

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### Be Joyful! Whatever that means to you at this moment. ###

Living “A (SAD) Wonderful Life” (the Sunday post) December 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, December 20th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

“Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday or otherwise, may have a favorite Christmas story or carol. These stories – which become such perennial favorites they are often turned into plays, ballets, musicals, and all manners of pageants – are full of not only the trappings and traditions of Christmas, but also the spirit. You may think the spirit of which I speak is the hope, the cheer, and the good tidings; but, one consistent element in these stories is grief, desolation, isolation, sadness – and yes, also SAD-ness.

The Greatest Gift was self-published by its author, Philip Van Doren Stern, in 1943 – exactly 100 years after Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. In fact, Stern (who was half Jewish) was partially inspired by the Dickens-classic. Although the story takes place at Christmastime and was initially sent out as Stern’s 1943 Christmas cards, the author intend the story to be universal. The following year the story was picked up by a two different magazines (including Good Housekeeping, which called it “The Man Who Was Never Born”) and a movie production company. By 1945, the original movie rights for The Greatest Gift had been sold to director and producer Frank Capra, who would change the title and tweak some of the details.

Current fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which premiered today in 1946, might be surprised to learn that the movie was not an instant success. The movie’s general release faced stiff competition from movies like Stairway to Heaven (released as A Matter of Life and Death in the UK) and Miracle on 34th Street – both of which shared elements of fatalism vs. free will, life vs. death, and hope vs. despair, as well as bumbling “angels” (in the former) and adorable children (in the latter). There was also drama behind the scenes and, ultimately, proceeds from the initial release barely covered the production cost. But, like A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured a protagonist who could have had SAD and who experienced a major shift because of spiritual intercession. Only, in the case of the movie, the spirit was actually an angel.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

In the movie, Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody (portrayed by Henry Travers) must convince 38-year old George Bailey (immortalized by Jimmy Stewart) that his life is “wonderful”… or, at least worth living. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Bailey has spent his life trying to help others, but a mistake – involving his good intentions and his own personal “Scrooge,” Mr. Potter (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who actually spent 20 years portraying “Scrooge”) – leads to criminal charges and the feeling that nothing he has ever done in his life makes a difference.

The truly ironic, and potentially tragic, part of George Bailey’s life is that he made a significant difference in his community. He saved more than one life and, on more than one occasion, gave up his savings to help others. He absolutely lived a life that was the embodiment of those last three siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human: the capacity to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the cultivation of a good heart (which is the ability to make friends); and generosity (the ability to give). Yet, in a moment of weakness, Bailey neglects to recognize his own power or potential. He has thoughts of self harm – one of the symptoms of SAD.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

“You see George; you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Real life is different from a novella by Dickens, a short story by Stern, or a movie by Capra; in part because there’s not a writer or director making sure the intervention happens. Also, not everything gets tied up at the end. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with SAD, it is important to take two big lessons from these fictional works: 1. You are not alone. 2. You can get help.

The ghosts in Dickens’s classic and the angel who gets his wings by helping out a good person are (literally) inspired symbols. They are the spirits or real people. (Sometimes they are even “strange” people, like in The Greatest Gift.) In real life, we are each other’s Christmas Past, Present, and Not Yet – just as we are each other’s guardian angels. We can show up for each other – and we must show up for each other. Real life is different in that sometimes the person that needs help has to ask for help (and/or the people around them have to notice what constitutes “a cry for help.”) In real life, happy endings don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.

“Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

– George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner…
George Bailey: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

– quoted from It’s A Wonderful Life


### “Gotta love it… gotta live it… try to savor every moment” ~Anointed ###