jump to navigation

FTWMI*: What Does It Mean to You? October 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot and getting ready for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

*As some of you know, I haven’t been posting my normally verbose content because I’ve been working up to some big projects (which are all come together in the next 2 weeks). Since I haven’t posted much during this Sukkot – and since today is the anniversary of the birth of Noah Webster (b. 1758) and Oscar Wilde (b. 1854), here’s a revised post with links to some of my other Sukkot-related content.

For Those Who Missed It: This was originally posted in September 2021. You can request an audio recording of the related practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“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 September 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, 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 Leo 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”

In 2020, 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 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 16th) 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.

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

“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 dial 988 (in the US) or 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, you can also click here to contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

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.]

 

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

Thinking About “Love” (Monday’s post-practice post) February 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Spring Festival! Happy Lantern Festival” to those who are celebrating.

This post-practice post for Monday, February 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

And, [L]ove – True [L]ove – will follow you forever.”

*

– “The Impressive Clergyman” (Peter Cook) in the movie The Princess Bride by William Goldman

No one can be surprised that “words” are one of my favorite supernormal powers. In fact, śabda (or shabda), ranks as one of my top six siddhis or “powers.Yet, there’s also no denying that words are not only one of our super powers, they are also a form of kryptonite – especially when we’re dealing with English. The English language seems to have as many rules as exceptions and as many homonyms that are homographs as homophones. And if the homonyms that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings (homophones) and the homonyms that are spelled the same but have different meanings and/or pronunciation (homographs) aren’t confusing enough there are words that just have different meanings to different people – or different meanings based on the context. The word “love” is a prime example of a word that can mean different things to different people and at different times.

If you mention love on February 14th, a lot of people in the West will automatically think of “romantic love” – which is kind of ironic since Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic saint’s feast day and that saint may or may not have had anything to do with romantic love. The fact that the African American abolitionist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass celebrated his birthday on this date is, loosely, connected to it being Saint Valentine’s Day. However, the fact this year’s date overlaps the fourteenth day of the Lunar New Year – when some people that are preparing for the Lantern Festival are also getting ready for some romance – is purely coincidental… or, maybe it’s synchronicity.

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than erosAgape is more than philiaAgape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

*

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

In the song “Gravity,” Jamie Woon sings of loving “a girl who loves synchronicity” and who “confided that love, it is an energy.” We humans (in general) have a tendency to block and/or limit that energy instead of “passing it on,” as the girl in the song does. And, we often use words to limit that energy. Some languages have different words for different kinds of love. Ancient Greek, for example, has érōs for sensual or passionate “love” or “desire;” storgḗ instinctual “love,” “affection,” or familial love (which can also extend to friends and pets); philía, which can be translated as “friendship” or brotherly love and was considered by some to be the “highest form of love;” and agápē, which is also described as unconditional love and “the highest form of love.”

Early Christians co-opted the Greek agápē and added to it their own understanding of the Hebrew chesed, which is sometimes translated into modern English as loving-kindness; stems from the root word (chasad) meaning “eager and ardent desire;” and includes a sense of “zeal” (especially as related to God). However, even in the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament), chesed has been translated (in different places) as “mercy,” “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “kindly” “merciful,” “favour,” “good,” “goodliness,” “pity,” and even “steadfast love.” There’s also a couple of places where it is used with a negative connotation. Judaism (and, particularly Jewish mysticism) also have words like devekut (which might be described as an emotional state and/or an action that cultivates a state related to “cleaving” or clinging to the Divine). Additionally, there is an understanding of a fear/awe of God (that also migrated into Christianity).

In English, we have a tendency to just use the same word for multiple things. Sometimes we add qualifiers like “brotherly” or “romantic;” but, sometimes we just use “love” – which, again, comes with different meanings and associations. On Monday night, when I asked people for a word or phrase that they associate with love, I got some really phenomenal answers: acceptance and compassion, bravery (specifically as it relates to social change), trust, all the people that [one] cares about, and giving. To this list, I added earnest.

The “Valentine’s Day” portion of the following is partially excerpted from a 2021 post about Being Red,” which includes a story about red and the Lunar New Year.

“EARNEST, adjective

  1. Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain; having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

They are never more earnest to disturb us, than when they see us most earnest in this duty.

  1. Ardent; warm; eager; zealous; animated; importunate; as earnest in love; earnest in prayer.

  2. Intent; fixed.

On that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes were fixed.

  1. Serious; important; that is, really intent or engaged; whence the phrase, in earnest To be in earnest is to be really urging or stretching towards an object; intent on a pursuit. Hence, from fixed attention, comes the sense of seriousness in the pursuit, as opposed to trifling or jest. Are you in earnest or in jest?”

*

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People premiered on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London. It is a love story (or love stories) of sorts, but it is also a comedy of errors and a social satire full of love, love triangles, double entendres, double lives, mistaken identities, the dichotomy of public versus private life in Victorian society, and so many trivialities that one can hardly be blamed for questioning that about which one should be serious… or earnest. Like his other plays, Earnest was well received and marked a professional high point in Wilde’s life. However, it also marked a personal low point: Wilde’s trial, conviction, and imprisonment for homosexuality – which was illegal in Victorian England. Earnest would be the last play written by Oscar Wilde and, some would argue, his most popular.

While English speakers around the world might not come up with the same definition of “earnest” that was known in Victorian England, I would expect there would be some consensus around it meaning “serious” and “true.” On the flip side, the color red means something different to everyone. Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines it as “a simple or primary color, but of several different shades or hues, as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, orange red etc.” – but even that doesn’t begin to address the fact that, on any given Sunday, the color signifies different things to different people all over the world. I say, “on any given Sunday,” but just consider last year’s Sunday the 14th[see link above], when red was associated with Valentine’s Day, The Lunar New Year celebrations (in some countries), and even the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with red hearts, cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dates, and romantic love – a very commercial endeavor – but it didn’t start out that way. The day actually started as (and to some still is) the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, in the Western Christian tradition. There are actually two Christian martyrs remembered as Saint Valentine, but the most well-known is the 3rd-century Roman saint (who is honored on July 6th and 30th in the Eastern Christian tradition). According to the legends, Valentine was imprisoned for practicing Christianity during a time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Before and during his incarceration, Saint Valentine had several conversations with the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Throughout these discussions, the emperor tried to convert the priest to the Roman pagan religion (ostensibly to save the priest’s life) and the priest tried to convert the emperor to Catholicism (theoretically to save the emperor’s soul, and the souls of all that followed him and his decrees).

Around this same time, Valentine had multiple interactions and conversations with the daughter of his jailer. Julia, the daughter, was blind and one of the last acts Valentine reportedly committed (before he was executed) was to heal Julie’s sight. After he was martyred (around 269 A. D.), Julia and her household converted to Catholicism in honor of Valentine. His feast day was established in 496 A.D. and around the 18th century, many additional details of the story started cropping up. One such detail was that Valentine married Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry (possibly because it would divide their focus and loyalty). Another detail was that he left Julia a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.”

“For this was on Seynt Velentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,”

*

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,”

*

– quoted from the poem “The Parliament of Fowls” by Geoffrey Chaucer, translation by A. S. Klein  

As to why red became associated with Valentine’s Day, there are lots of theories and they all come back to those embellishments (some of which are attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer), which focused on Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers – and love was associated with the heart, which people associate with red. Additionally, a red stain is traditionally viewed in the Western world as the sign that a woman came to her marital bed as a virgin (and so there’s some very suggestive, subliminal messaging going on).

But, let’s go back to the idea of the heart being red. Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, use green to symbolize the heart chakra (i.e., the energetic or spiritual heart), but of course, these systems also recognize that the physical heart is red when exposed to the air – or it’s being depicted by an artist, which is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted as red.

Speaking of the energetic or spiritual heart: Swami Rama of the Himalayan tradition taught that we all have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left; an emotional heart, which for most of us is on the left; and that energetic or spiritual heart of the middle. That “heart center” includes the arms (also fingers and hands) and connects the hearts within us and also connects our hearts with all the hearts around us. Chinese Medicine and their sister sciences of movement, including Yin Yoga, also map the vital energy of the heart through the arms.

Going back to Jewish mysticism: In the Kabbalah, the sefira (or Divine “attribute”) of chesed is related to the right arm. It is balanced by gevurah (“strength”), which is the left arm, and tiferet (“balance”), which is the upper torso and includes the physical heart. These energetic paradigms really reinforce Robert Pirsig’s statement that “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“Indeed, some have called me a traitor…. Two things are necessary to make a traitor.  One is he shall have a country. [Laughter and applause] I believe if I had a country, I should be a patriot. I think I have all the feelings necessary — all the moral material, to say nothing about the intellectual. But when I remember that the blood of four sisters and one brother, is making fat the soil of Maryland and Virginia,—when I remember that an aged grandmother who has reared twelve children for the Southern market, and these one after another as they arrived at the most interesting age, were torn from her bosom,—when I remember that when she became too much racked for toil, she was turned out by a professed Christian master to grope her way in the darkness of old age, literally to die with none to help her, and the institutions of this country sanctioning and sanctifying this crime, I have no words of eulogy, I have no patriotism.[…]

*

No, I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard, on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightening scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.”

*

– quoted from the 1847 speech “If I Had a Country, I Should Be a Patriot” by Frederick Douglass 

Frederick Douglass was born somewhere in Eastern Maryland in 1817 or 1818. If you’re wondering why I can name the exact time and place that Oscar Wilde’s play premiered a few years later (not to mention the exact time and place of that illustrious playwright’s birth), but cannot the time and place of one of the greatest speakers and writers of the 19th Century, it’s because Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. So, there is no heritage birth site you can visit (Covid not withstanding) as you can visit 21 Westland Row (the home of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in Dublin). You could visit Cedar Hill, the Washington, D. C. house that Mr. Douglass bought about forty years after he escaped from slavery. But, the historical marker related to his birth is at least four miles from where it is assumed he was born.

By all accounts, he was born on the Holme (or Holmes) Hill Farm and most likely in the cabin of his grandmother, Betsey Bailey – which is basically where he lived for the first part of his life. His mother, on the other hand, lived twelve miles away and died when he was about seven years old. Some of his vague memories, as he recounted in his third autobiography, included his mother calling him her “Little Valentine.” Ergo, he celebrated his birthday on February 14th.

Most of what we know about the abolitionist, statesman, and activist, comes from his speeches and his writings, including three autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American SlaveMy Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. In some ways, each book is an expansion of the previous books, with the third being the most detailed about his escape and activism*. As he explained his the final book, he left certain details and facts out of the first two books in order to protect himself, the people who helped him escape, and some of the people associated with him.

Since slavery was still active in the United States when his first book was published on May 1, 1845, Mr. Douglass also relocated to England and Ireland for two years in order to ensure he would not be recaptured. While he was in Europe, his supporters paid ($710.96) for his emancipation. That’s about $26,300.66 in today’s economy, that went to his former owner.

“This is American slavery; no marriage—no education—the light of the gospel shut out from the dark mind of the bondman—and he forbidden by law to learn to read. If a mother shall teach her children to read, the law in Louisiana proclaims that she may be hanged by the neck. If the father attempt to give his son a knowledge of letters, he may be punished by the whip in one instance, and in another be killed, at the discretion of the court. Three millions of people shut out from the light of knowledge! It is easy for you to conceive the evil that must result from such a state of things.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC  RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

According to his first autobiography, the wife of his second owner, Mrs. Sophia Auld, started teaching a young Frederick Douglass the alphabet. When the lessons were discovered and forbidden, he overheard Mrs. Auld’s husband telling her that an educated slave would be unfit for slavery. This motivated Mr. Douglass to teach himself to read and write. The more he learned, the more he was motivated to be free. He was further motivated to escape when he fell in love with a free Black woman named Anna Murray, who was also a member of the Underground Railroad.

The success of his autobiographies changed the way some people – specifically, white abolitionists – viewed him and treated him. It expanded his audience and also uplifted his platform. While some pro-slavery advocates still saw him as a puppet and a parrot, abolitionists realized that he was actually an intellectual capable of giving very vivid (and compelling) first-hand accounts of the atrocities of slavery. Critics persisted in doubting him, but again and again, he dismantled their doubts and defamation. Furthermore, as he advocated for the civil rights of Africans in America, their descendants, and for all women, he lived a life that had been previously denied him.

“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one-sixth of the population of democratic America is denied its privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?—what must be the condition of that people? I need not lift up the veil by giving you any experience of my own. Every one that can put two ideas together, must see the most fearful results from such a state of things as I have just mentioned.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC – RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray married on September 15, 1838 – just twelve days after his escape from slavery. For a while, they lived under an assumed surname. Frederick Douglass made a living as a public speaker, writer, and publisher. He traveled the world, served as a diplomat, and also served as an Army recruiter. Throughout his lifetime, he influenced people like Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. He was the first African American to be nominated for vice president (in 1872); the first African American person to receive a vote for president during a a major parties roll call (in 1888); and, if we want to get technical, one of the first person to publicly protest Civil War era statues. (He specifically objected to the way former slaves were depicted.)

Frederick Douglass started the first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, whose motto was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” He was also the only Black person to (officially) attend the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the only Black signer of the Declaration of Sentiments.

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass had five children. Rosetta Douglass worked on her father’s newspapers and eventually became a teacher, an activist, and an founding member of the National Association for Colored Women. Lewis Henry Douglass worked as a typesetter at The North Star and The Douglass’ Weekly before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Frederick Douglass Jr. was also an abolitionist and journalist and who, along with his father, recruited for the Union Army during the Civil War. (Lewis and the two Fredericks would also co-edit The New Era.) Charles Redmond Douglass was also a publisher, is remembered as the first African American to enlist in the Union Army in New York, and was one of the first African Americans to serve as a clerk in  the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau). He also worked for the United States Treasury and served as a diplomat (as did his father). The fifth Douglass child, Annie, died as an adolescent.

Anna Murray-Douglass died in 1882 and, in 1884, Frederick Douglass married a white abolitionist and radical feminist who was two years his junior. Helen Pitts Douglass co-edited The Alpha and eventually worked as her husbands secretary. After her husband’s death in 1895, the second Mrs. Douglass purchased Cedar Hill from the Douglass children (because her husbands bequest to her was not upheld) and worked to establish the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. After her death in 1903, the properties reduced mortgage was paid off by the National Association of Colored Women and is currently managed by the National Park Service.

“Believing that one of the best means of emancipating the slaves of the south is to improve and elevate the character of the free colored people of the north, I shall labor in the future, as I have labored in the past, to promote the moral, social, religious, and intellectual elevation of the free colored people; never forgetting my own humble origin, nor refusing, while Heaven lends me ability, to use my voice, my pen, or my vote, to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER XXV. VARIOUS INCIDENTS. NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE—UNEXPECTED OPPOSITION—THE OBJECTIONS TO IT—THEIR PLAUSIBILITY ADMITTED—MOTIVES FOR COMING TO ROCHESTER—DISCIPLE OF MR. GARRISON—CHANGE OF OPINION—CAUSES LEADING TO IT—THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHANGE—PREJUDICE AGAINST COLOR—AMUSING CONDESCENSION—”JIM CROW CARS”—COLLISIONS WITH CONDUCTORS AND BRAKEMEN—TRAINS ORDERED NOT TO STOP AT LYNN—AMUSING DOMESTIC SCENE—SEPARATE TABLES FOR MASTER AND MAN—PREJUDICE UNNATURAL—ILLUSTRATIONS—THE AUTHOR IN HIGH COMPANY—ELEVATION OF THE FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR—PLEDGE FOR THE FUTURE.” of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

*

“But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER V.” of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

*NOTE: The full title of the third autobiography of Frederick Douglass is Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including His Connection with the Anti-slavery Movement; His Labors in Great Britain as Well as in His Own Country; His Experience in the Conduct of an Influential Newspaper; His Connection with the Underground Railroad; His Relations with John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry Raid; His Recruiting the 54th and 55th Mass. Colored Regiments; His Interviews with Presidents Lincoln and Johnson; His Appointment by Gen. Grant to Accompany the Santo Domingo Commission–
Also to a Seat in the Council of the District of Columbia; His Appointment as United States Marshal by President R. B. Hayes; Also His Appointment to Be Recorder of Deeds in Washington by President J. A. Garfield; with Many Other Interesting and Important Events of His Most Eventful Life; With an Introduction by Mr. George L. Ruffin, of Boston.

Showing the Love (part of my Nine Days series)

Curious about why I referenced romantic love related to the Lantern Festival or why women’s suffrage will keep coming up this week? Check out the video above and stay tuned for tomorrow’s practice.

*

### “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.” ~ OW ###

Being Red (the “missing” posts) February 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Lent, Love, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Taoism, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy (Lunar) New Year! Happy Carnival! Many blessings to those preparing for Lent.

[This is the post for Sunday, February 14th, with information relevant to the practice that was cancelled on Monday, February 15th. 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.

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

 

“EARNEST, adjective

  1. Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain; having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

They are never more earnest to disturb us, than when they see us most earnest in this duty.

  1. Ardent; warm; eager; zealous; animated; importunate; as earnest in love; earnest in prayer.

  2. Intent; fixed.

On that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes were fixed.

  1. Serious; important; that is, really intent or engaged; whence the phrase, in earnest To be in earnest is to be really urging or stretching towards an object; intent on a pursuit. Hence, from fixed attention, comes the sense of seriousness in the pursuit, as opposed to trifling or jest. Are you in earnest or in jest?”

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People premiered on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London. It is a love story (or love stories) of sorts, but it is also a comedy of errors and a social satire full of love, love triangles, double entendres, double lives, mistaken identities, the dichotomy of public versus private life in Victorian society, and so many trivialities that one can hardly be blamed for questioning that about which one should be serious… or earnest. Like his other plays, Earnest was well received and marked a professional high point in Wilde’s life. However, it also marked a personal low point: Wilde’s trial, conviction, and imprisonment for homosexuality – which was illegal in Victorian England. Earnest would be the last play written by Oscar Wilde and, some would argue, his most popular.

While English speakers around the world might not come up with the same definition of “earnest” that was known in Victorian England, I would expect there would be some consensus around it meaning “serious” and “true.” On the flip side, the color red means something different to everyone. Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines it as “a simple or primary color, but of several different shades or hues, as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, orange red etc.” – but even that doesn’t begin to address the fact that, on any given Sunday, the color signifies different things to different people all over the world. I say, “on any given Sunday,” but let’s just look at this year’s Sunday the 14th, when red is associated with Valentine’s Day, The Lunar New Year celebrations (in some countries), and even the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with red hearts, cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dates, and romantic love – a very commercial endeavor – but it didn’t start out that way. The day actually started as (and to some still is) the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, in the Western Christian tradition. There are actually two Christian martyrs remembered as Saint Valentine, but the most well-known is the 3rd-century Roman saint (who is honored on July 6th and 30th in the Eastern Christian tradition). According to the legends, Valentine was imprisoned for practicing Christianity during a time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Before and during his incarceration, Saint Valentine had several conversations with the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Throughout these discussions, the emperor tried to convert the priest to the Roman pagan religion (ostensibly to save the priest’s life) and the priest tried to convert the emperor to Catholicism (theoretically to save the emperor’s soul, and the souls of all that followed him and his decrees).

Around this same time, Valentine had multiple interactions and conversations with the daughter of his jailer. (During class, I mistakenly referred to her as the emperor’s daughter, but she was actually the daughter if Asterius.) Julia, the daughter, was blind and one of the last acts Valentine reportedly committed (before he was executed) was to heal Julie’s sight. After he was martyred (around 269 A. D.), Julia and her household converted to Catholicism in honor of Valentine. His feast day was established in 496 A.D. and around the 18th century, many additional details of the story started cropping up. One such detail was that Valentine married Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry (possibly because it would divide their focus and loyalty). Another detail was that he left Julia a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.”

“For this was on Seynt Velentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,”

 

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Parliament of Fowls” by Geoffrey Chaucer, translation by A. S. Klein  

 

As to why red became associated with Valentine’s Day, there are lots of theories and they all come back to those embellishments (some of which are attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer), which focused on Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers – and love was associated with the heart, which people associate with red. Additionally, a red stain is traditionally viewed in the Western world as the sign that a woman came to her marital bed as a virgin (and so there’s some very suggestive, subliminal messaging going on).

But, let’s go back to the idea of the heart being red. Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, use green to symbolize the heart chakra (i.e., the energetic or spiritual heart), but of course, these systems also recognize that the physical heart is red when exposed to the air – or it’s being depicted by an artist, which is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted as red. And that sacred heart is one of the things motivating Christians who are preparing for Lent.

“Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.”

 

The Gospel According to St. Luke (18:31, NIV)

For some Western Christians, Valentine’s Day this year is a “Regular” or “Ordinary” day – meaning it is outside specifically designated periods of liturgy. For some the day is specifically referenced as Quinquagesima, as it is 50 days before Easter (including the Sundays, which are excluded when counting the 40 Days of Lent); and for others the day is Shrove Sunday (which, in some traditions is also Transfiguration Sunday). Keep in mind that these are all “moveable feasts,” meaning their dates on the secular calendar change depending on the date of Easter each year. Also keep in mind that the Western and Eastern Churches have different calendars. So, these last days of Shrovetide (which includes Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday) will be observed next week by some in the Eastern Christian traditions.

But, regardless of when they start getting ready, many Christians around the world are preparing for the Lenten season, a period of fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter. Shrove comes from the word “shrive,” meaning “to absolve” and for Christians who are focused on “shriving,” Shrovetide is a period of self-examination, repentance, and amendments of sins. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the last Sunday before Lent (which this year will be February 21st March 14th on the Eastern calendar) is known as “Forgiveness Sunday,” which includes “Forgiveness Vespers.” By emphasizing forgiveness of sins and transgressions, as well as fasting, as a foundation for beginning the Great Lent, people believe that they will be better able to focus on the spiritual aspects of life with a pure heart.

“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”

 

The Gospel According to St. Luke (9:29 – 31, NIV)

 

Valentine’s Day 2021 also coincides with the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year. This year we are moving from the Year of the (Metal) Rat to the Year of the (Metal) Ox and the third day, according to some Chinese creation mythology is the birthday of all boars. Some people will also visit the temple of the God of Wealth and some people associate this day with the “marriage of mice.” In addition to providing treats as a “dowry” for the mice, some people will go to bed early to ensure the mice have a peaceful ceremony and will not pester them (the humans) during the rest of the year.

Another reason people may go to bed early on the third night of the Lunar New Year is that, in certain parts of China, this third day is the “Day of the Red Dog” or “Red Mouth” Day and there is a greater danger of conflict on this day. People may also stay home and avoid anyone outside of their primary family circle in order not to say the wrong thing in anger – as a Chinese word for “red dog” is also a description for the “God of Blazing Wrath.” Some people also associate the tendency to say the wrong thing on the third day with the demon (or monster) Nian.

The Hanzi (Chinese character) for Nian also means “year” or “new year.” According to the legends, the monster Nian would come out of the sea or the mountain once a year looking for crops, animals, or villagers to eat. All the villagers would hide at this time of year, but one time an elderly gentleman was outside during the time Nian came to visit the village. One version of the story says that the man was a Taoist monk (Hongjun Lozu) who, like Br’er Rabbit, was a bit of a trickster. He some how convinced the monster that he would taste better if he could take off his outer clothing. In the version I tell in class, there is a big chase and the monster rips the man’s outerwear with his sharp teeth and claws. Either way, when the gentleman’s bright red undergarments are revealed Nian freaks out, because he is afraid of the color red (and loud noises). Therefore, it became auspicious to start the New Year (or even a marriage) wearing red; placing red throughout the village or town; and making a lot of noise.

“恭禧发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai [Congratulations and Prosperity!]
Gong Hey Fat Choy [Congratulations and Prosperity!]

 

– A common New Year’s greeting in Hanzi [Chinese characters], Mandarin and Cantonese pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

 

### “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.” ~ OW ###