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Remember Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Baha'i, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Riḍván, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

This is A 3-in-1 “missing” post (with a coda) for Wednesday, April 20th. It features information on overlapping sacred traditions and also on an anti-bullying non-profit and is a bit of a “renewed” post (since it contains some previously posted material). You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, feel free to comment or email me.

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.)

“[Bridge: P!nkKhalid & Both]
Hope floats away
If you could spend a day in my shoes
Your mind would change
If you knew what I’ve gone through
We want the same (Yeah, we do)
Maybe then you’d understand
How it hurts to be human, oh”

*

– quoted from the song “Hurts 2B Human” by P!nk, featuring Khalid

A lot of this week was devoted to the subject of suffering, on and off the mat. Sure, we all have friends that were suffering this week – and then there’s all the general suffering in the world. Because there is, and has always been, a lot of suffering in the world; there is, and has always been, a desire for the end of suffering. There is, and has always been, people actively seeking an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many paths, practices, and methods that – on some level – promise an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many really great books, poems, movies, plays, and songs about suffering and how people deal with suffering.

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

One of the things I find interesting about humans and suffering is how often we tie our salvation to something more than ourselves and our own agency. What’s particularly interesting to me is that when we look at religious traditions (and philosophical traditions that are sometimes culturally religious), the teachings very specifically connect the end of suffering to our own agency and something more than ourselves… something divine, or Divine.

“[Chorus]
What if you were told that today
Was the last day of your life
Did you live it right?
Love is a gift you give away
And it reignites
Don’t wait, don’t let it pass you by
(don’t let it pass you by)”

*

– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

Over the course of this week, all the Abrahamic religious traditions – and at least one tradition with ties to the Abrahamic religions – have been engaging in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Jewish communities have been celebrating Passover and, as of Sunday, some are also Counting the Omer. Western Christian communities (including Roman Catholics) observed Easter on Sunday and then, for some, Easter marked the beginning of the Octave of Easter (or Eastertide). On the flip side, this week marked the Holy Week or Great Week for people within Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. This month (in 2022) is also the holy month of Ramadān in Islām. Finally, Thursday marked the beginning of Riḍván in the Bahá’í community.

Since several of these holy observations started on Saturday, I’m going to point out that Hanuman Jayanti (or Hanuman Jannotsav) – which is celebrated in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora – also has a connection to suffering and the end of suffering. Oh, and then there’s Earth Day – which is not a religious holiday, per se, but is still connected to suffering on this planet, a desire to end that suffering, and the realization that the path to that freedom from suffering must come from a global community acting together… which would be divine.

Because everyone uses different calendars, this conflux doesn’t happen every year. Yes, there is usually an overlap between Passover and at least one Holy Week; however, this year is different. This year, these sacred times overlapped tragic anniversaries related to April 19th and 20th. This year, there’s more suffering and more awareness of the different ways we could/can/might end suffering – in ourselves and in the world around us.

There’s just one problem. Actually, there are several problems.

One, we don’t always pay attention to the right part of the stories. You know, the part where we have to practice what we preach, act in ways that are congruent to our beliefs, and – like Hanuman (or Nahshon) – take giant leaps (or wade in the water) in order to help and/or save others. Two, we sometimes forget that we are community; that while it may hurt 2b human, we have each other and we (can) have each other’s backs. We forget how breaking bread with someone (whether it be on Spy Wednesday or Easter Wednesday) can reveal the true nature of things. Finally, we all too often lash out at others when we are suffering.

Sometimes we lash out like Pharaoh – and our hardened hearts result in everyone being plagued with more and more suffering. Other times we are like Judas – and we lash out in ways that seem small, inconsequential, and petty; but have magnificent consequences. Then there are those times when our personal suffering is like that of Jesus’s followers who, once their suffering is alleviated by a striking realization, go on to share the good so that others may also find relief from their suffering.

All the stories told during this week’s holy observations and celebrations are reminders that we are in community – even when we are not in a religious community. While there are bullies and bad guys in these stories, there are also reminders that any one of us can make a good (meaningful) difference. We can be Moses or Aaron or Miriam or Nahshon. We can be any of the disciples or Marys or Martha or Joanna. We can be like Hanuman. We can be like Baháʼu’lláh, in that we bring communities together even as we are being separated.

Finally, we can be like Rachel Joy Scott whose legacy is a challenge. It’s not a religious challenge, it’s an existential challenge. It’s a challenge that could not only change your life, it could change the lives of those around you.

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020. However, I have revised and expanded some sections related to Moses and Passover.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

*

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”), was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. In fact, one way to look at Shemot / Exodus 2, is that Moses left the luxury of the palace specifically to witness the suffering of his first family, his tribe, his community of birth. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten; and he was 80 when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Theoretically, he was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people and he was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He went on to describe how afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he described exactly what he meant by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gave examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggested (YS 1.33) is offering loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali also offered physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation. Those physical techniques are the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, outlining the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It may also help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.’”

*

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / The Book of Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. Some traditions even credit him as the author of The Book of Job, the events of which took place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. The Book of Job is the story of a man who endured great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there was a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering was alleviated and the way in which he endured the suffering is rewarded.

Job clung to his faith and believed that G-d was always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in a previous post, was told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel” (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translated G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this choice works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. (Remember, not everyone celebrated that first Passover and not everyone left Egypt when they had the chance.) Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – includes a correlation between free will and suffering, a connection between our actions and the end of our suffering.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

*

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

*

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2021. 

WARNING: This post specifically references a horrific and tragic event from 1999. You can skip most of these references by jumping from the first highlighted quote to the second highlighted quote.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. According to Webster’s Dictionary, compassion means a feeling of sympathy for another person’s misfortune. My definition is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Back in 2018, as one of my Kiss My Asana yogathon offerings, I referenced a lot – well, some – of the people who tragically lost their lives throughout history on April 19th and 20th. One of the people I mentioned was Rachel Joy Scott – the first person shot at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In some ways, it is hard to believe that 22 23 years have passed since that mass shooting. Remember mass shooting that some people thought would change everything? It’s equally hard to believe that there are adults – people who can serve in the armed forces, legally vote, and in some cases legally drink alcohol in the United States – who were not even born when 2 high school seniors killed 12 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives. It’s mind-boggling to me that (based on recent events in early 2021 and data compiled by The New Yorker and Trace in 2019) there have had been over 200 mass shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999. (As of April 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in schools since this week in 1999.) Those shootings have affected thousands upon thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is astounding that what was (at the time) the fifth deadliest shooting in the United States (after World War II) “is now not even in the top ten.”

I’m not going to spend my time here (or in class) talking about my opinion about gun control and/or the 2nd Amendment. Nor am I going to spend a lot of time stating the obvious fact that, as the statistics and the lives lost clearly attest, we have a problem – because, let’s be honest, we have a lot of problems right now. What I am going to focus on today is Rachel’s Challenge. Not the program (although I will mention that) so much as the idea(l).

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Somewhere on her person, perhaps in her backpack, 17-year old Rachel Joy Scott had a notebook. It was one of several notebooks that turned up after Rachel’s death. Some of the notebooks were full of thoughts, poetry, and art she was just sharing with herself. Some of the notebooks, however, were a form of communication between her and her “big brother” Mark Pettit. They would each write in the notebooks and then swap them during small groups at church.

The notebooks became a way for Rachel’s family to tell her story and also a way to spread her message about the importance of compassion. They, along with the stories that other people shared about their encounters with Rachel, led her family to start Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit that creates “programs that promote a positive climate in K-12 schools.” They also have comprehensive programs for colleges and businesses.

On the foundation’s website, the Rachel’s Challenge mission is stated as “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.” They also indicate that when the program is fully implemented, “partner schools achieve statistically significant gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate; along with reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.”

“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”

*

– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

I did not know Rachel Joy Scott or Cassie Bernall (17), Steven Curnow (14), Corey DePooter (17), Kelly Fleming (16), Matthew Kechter (16), Daniel Mauser (15), Daniel Rohrbough (15), Isaiah Shoels (18), John Tomlin (16), Lauren Townsend (18), Kyle Velasquez (16), William “Dave” Sanders (47), nor (to my knowledge) do I know anyone else that was at Littleton, Colorado, today in 1999. I did not know the two seniors that wrecked so much havoc (and whose names I am choosing not to post, even though their families also suffered greatly.) I am not affiliated with the foundation Rachel’s family started and neither have I gone through their program. However, I believe in the message and I believe in the idea(l).

I have seen the chain reaction that starts with compassion and kindness – just as I have seen the chain reaction that begins with a lack of empathy and a lack of equanimity. In that essay she wrote in period 5, Rachel talked about first, second, and third impressions and how they don’t always give you a full picture of someone. She wrote, “Did you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from, did they experience love, did they experience hurt, did you look into their soul and not just at their appearance?” We are, right here and right now, experiencing the chain reactions that occur when we don’t really see each other and when we don’t recognize the fact that we are all connected. We are – right here and right now – about to set off a new chain reaction.

Quick, ask yourself: What is motivating you and what do you expect to come out of your actions?

“One of the big things we’re focused on is how you see yourself. Each and every one of us in this room has a great capacity to do great things.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking to a small group of students during a Rachel’s Challenge event

*

“I challenge students to choose positive influences. Rachel wanted to make a positive difference. So, she surrounded herself with the right influences that helped her be a powerful, positive person.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

*

𝄌

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

*

There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

In the past, when I’ve talked about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve used a fairly non-religious playlist. This year, however, the overlapping holidays inspired me to remix the playlist for these holy times. I wanted music that would reflect the different traditions and the different stories, while also reflecting Rachel Joy Scott’s ethics and codes of life. I also wanted something that was inspiring and hopeful, like the young woman herself.

As I was remixing, I came across “Godbone” by (one of my favorite composers) Bear McCreary. In the the television series See and in games like “King of Dragon Pass,” “godbone” is a term used for metal and/or concrete. I’m not 100% positive about the etymology of the term, but it reminded me of the Lunar New Year story about the Kitchen God and how the fireplace poker came into existence. It also made me think about Krishna’s explanation of tapas – which can be defined as heat, discipline and austerity, as well as the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity.

Whenever I reference tapas, which is one of the niyamas (“internal observations” in the Yoga Philosophy), I mention that it can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. It can also be applied religiously. In fact, fasting during the holy month of Ramadān, giving something up for Lent, and giving up leavened bread during Passover are some of the examples I use throughout the year. Those same traditions also incorporate the the final two internal observations – svādhyāya (“self-study”) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (“surrendering to [a higher power]”) – which combine with tapas to form kriya yoga (“yoga in action,” or an ongoing process moving towards union with Divine). (YS 2.1) These sacred rituals are all about refining the (c)ore of who we are.

“And he shall sit refining and purifying silver, and he shall purify the children of Levi. And he shall purge them as gold and as silver, and they shall be offering up an offering to the Lord with righteousness.”

*

– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

Back in 2010, Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote an article about bitter herbs, suffering (in Passover and in life), and a group of women who were inspired to go deeper into the Biblical idea that the Jewish people’s suffering in Egypt was “the ‘kur habarzel ― the iron crucible[.]’” She wrote about how these women went to see a silversmith at work and how, through their observations and questions, they gained a better understanding of the process of suffering and how to deal with suffering. Like Rachel’s challenge, Sara Rigler’s insight gives us a better understanding of how we can graceful engage our own suffering: Always look for the image of the Divine in ourselves and always look for that same reflection in others.

“As the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire, he explained that he needed to hold the silver where the flame was hottest in order to burn away all the impurities. The woman, remembering the Biblical verse, asked if he had to sit there the whole time the silver was being refined. The silversmith responded that not only did he have to sit and hold the silver the entire time, but he had to keep a careful eye on it, because if the silver was left in the flame a moment too long, it would be destroyed.

‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ the woman asked.

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I see my image in it.'”

*

– quoted from the aish.com article “Why Celebrate with Bitter Herbs? – Yes, God took us out of Egypt, but He put us there in the first place!” by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04202022 Rachel’s Challenge, Holy Remix”]

“She was a real girl, who had real struggles, and – just was in the pursuit to, you know, pretty much just show compassion and love to anybody who needed it. You know: Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever class – any of that stuff. I mean, it did not matter to Rachel…. She saw my heart.”

*

– Mark Pettit, talking about the movie I’m Not Ashamed, a 2016 film based on their journals

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).

*

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

*

### AMEN, SELAH ###

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

### AMEN, SELAH ###

So Much That Is Holy On April 8th April 8, 2020

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“And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see – the answer
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” sung by Joan Baez, lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

Every year, I say that May 1st is one of the hardest working days of the year, because so many people use that day to celebrate so many things. That being said, this year, April 8th may be the most revered day of the year as it coincides with several religious or philosophical observations: Spy Wednesday in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, the beginning of Passover (at sunset) in the Jewish tradition, Hanuman Jayanti in some Hindu traditions, and the Buddha’s birthday in some culturally Buddhist traditions (specifically in parts of Japan). These observations don’t always stack up like this since different traditions and cultures base their holy days on different calendars. This year; however, the super pink moon shines over the world in a way that is uniquely auspicious.

I am always up for a good auspicious story, one that is simultaneously inspiring and enlightening, and a reason to practice the splits. The question is: How do we honor so much in the short amount of time that is a 60-minute class? That’s an especially tricky challenge when some of these are not even remotely connected on paper. The answer, of course, is to find the common denominator.

When considering different people’s experiences with the divine – or even what is best in mankind – we start with what is universal to the human experience: doubt and fear, passion/suffering, faith, and change. Everything changes and, in moments of great suffering – in moments when we doubt and fear ourselves and those around us – it is important to have faith in the fact that things will change. That faith can, sometimes, bring hope – and the power of hope is another common denominator. But, let’s step back for a moment and consider doubt and fear plus passion/suffering.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ and when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The Buddha (whose birthday is celebrated in May by some traditions) said that he taught only two things: suffering and the end of suffering. In fact, the Four Noble Truths outline exactly that. “I have heard” two parables the Buddha used to differentiate between (physical) pain and (mental) suffering. Both parables also point to the ways in which we can alleviate our own suffering.

In one parable, a man is shot with a poisoned arrow. As the poison enters the man’s bloodstream, he is surrounded by people who can and want to help him, to save his life. The problem is that the man wants to know why he was shot. In fact, before the arrow is removed he wants to know why he was shot, by whom he was shot, and all the minutia about the archer and their life. While the information is being gathered, the poison is moving through the man’s body; the man is dying. In fact, the man will die before he has the answers to all his questions.

In another parable, a man is shot by an arrow (no poison this time) and then, in the very next breath, the man is shot by a second arrow. The Buddha explains that the first arrow is physical pain, and we can’t always escape or avoid that. The second arrow, however, is the mental suffering (or pain) that is caused when “the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught.” How we respond to moments of pain and suffering determines how much more pain and suffering we will endure.

“How many ears must one person have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

When we look the observations that are happening around the world today (Wednesday, April 8th) from the perspective of the human experience (instead of looking at them from the perspective of cultural or historical differences), we find they are more alike than different. In these stories there are two recognized teachers of wisdom (Jesus and the Buddha) and two heroes who lack confidence in their own ability to shine and help to save others (Hanuman and Moses). All four experience great suffering. All four have great faith (although, arguable in the Buddha’s case, not in G-d, whatever that means to you at this moment). All four are known for their devoted service to their community. All four are the unlikely heroes in stories about freedom from suffering. All four are sources of great inspiration.

Finally, all four offer very practical lessons related to what we are all experiencing right now. If you’re interested in the stories, the lessons, and a little bit of the splits, join me for one of the following Wednesday yoga practices on Zoom:

4:30 PM – The Nokomis Yoga class is a 60-minute, open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

7:15 PM – The Flourish class is a 60-minute “Slow Flow,” with the same elements found in the open-level vinyasa practice. This class requires registration, but all are welcome.

The playlist for Wednesday is available on YouTube and Spotify.

As Zoom has changed some security protocols, please use the link on the “Class Schedules” calendar if you encounter any access problems. During this quarantine experience, you can make a donation through Common Ground Meditation Center, which operates on dana/generosity, or you can purchase a package on my Squarespace. Either option can be applied to any class. If you are worried about finances, do not add this to your worry list – I got you, just come to the virtual practice.

Speaking of our virtual practice, Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is coming online at the end of this month. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

You can totally do that!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 8th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 8th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 8th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 8th Practice

 

“And what is declared by me? ‘This is stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. And why are they declared by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That’s why they are declared by me.

“So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

 

Happy, happy birthday, to three amazing women – two of whom I know (and you know who you are) and one of whom is Barbara Kingsolver, today’s featured poet!

 

### LOKAH SAMASTHAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ###