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Why So Much Focus On Light? (mostly the music w/a link) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!

“To a casual reader, this sutra seems to tell us only that a mind free of worry and grief and infused with inner light automatically flows peacefully inward. But in the Sri Vidya tradition, this sutra is considered the core of the entire text.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.36 from The Secret of the Yoga Sūtra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 30th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 2) 2020”]

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

Click here for yesterday’s post related to this practice (with embedded links related to last year’s practices).

“One of the great mysteries of life is life itself.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.36 from The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

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### “viśokā vā jyotişmatī” (YS 1.36) ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (the Tuesday post w/an extra Wednesday link & some Thursday notes) November 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Food, Gratitude, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Give thanks!

This is the post for Tuesday, November 23rd. There is a link at the end for a post related to November 24th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 *

– Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1), KJV

For many people in the United States, this week is supposed to be about gratitude and if you were educated in (or around) the USA, you know at least one story about how the fourth Thursday of November came to be all about gratitude. There’s just one problem… Well, ok, there’s a lot of problems; however, today I just want to mention the fact that the story most of us were taught about the Pilgrims and the “Indians” was only part of the story: the part about gratitude. But, for a very long time we weren’t taught the part about greed.

Now, I know, I’m about to lose some of you – or maybe I’ve already lost you. But, if you stick with me for a moment, you might actually thank me.

Some wise person once said, “History is written by the victors.” We can spend a lot of time contemplating the many weird ways that manifests when it comes to the history of the USA in general, but it’s pretty clear cut when it comes to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were the victors and, as many would not have survived 1621 without the aide of the First Nations people, they told a story of peaceful people fleeing religious persecution and then being saved by the kindness of strangers. It’s a “pretty” story –  a story for kids –  so it usually (and understandably) leaves out how very dire the situation was for the Pilgrims. However, that version also leaves out some pertinent facts about the identities of the people involved. Finally, it leaves out the fact that a day of thanksgiving is very common in a lot of cultures – especially religious cultures – and that other English settlers had already established an annual day of Thanksgiving in the “New World” long before the Pilgrims arrived.

Let’s start with that bit about “other English settlers.”

In 1619 – almost a year before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World – thirty-eight settlers sailed on the Margaret to what we now call Virginia. They traveled to an area of eight thousand established as Berkeley Hundred. The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) issued the land grant and directed the settlers to establish a “yearly and perpetually kept” day of Thanksgiving as soon as they arrived. Which they did… a little over two years before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving. When the Powhatan people forced the remaining Berkeley Hundred settlers to move to the Jamestown (in March 1622), the settlers continued the tradition of giving thanks in/on a new land.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

 *

– Tehillim – Psalms (100:1-5), KJV

Speaking of “Pilgrims,” let’s get into that bit about identity.

Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and arrived at “Plymouth Rock” on the Mayflower. So far as I know, that’s mostly true. What many of us were not taught, however, is that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pilgrims” with a capital P. They were puritans, specifically “Brownists” or “Separatist Puritans” (not to be confused with capital P “Puritans”), who initially fled to Holland in the early 1600’s. This is an important note, because the settlers lived in Holland –  and established a relatively stable community in Holland – for over a decade before they decided to travel to the New World. People had different reasons for wanting to leave Holland. In fact, some of those reasons are the same reasons people today decide to immigrate to the USA. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, however, they were not straight off the boat from England. Curiously, one of their reasons for leaving Holland was that the religious community was aging and the younger generation had started assimilating. In other words, the children of the adults who had fled religious persecution were more Dutch than English. 

One hundred, two people reportedly traveled from Holland to the New World on the Mayflower in the summer of 1620. About half of those people came from Leiden, Holland, but only about 27% of that original number were adult members of the separatist church. Two people died during the 65+ days journey and two people were born – one at sea and one at the shoreline. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two that died were not part of the congregation. Although one, probably both, of the two that were born were part of the congregation, their numbers wouldn’t have been included as “adults.” So, let’s say, against all odds, all 28 members of the Church survived the journey and participated in the thanksgiving prayer when landed was sighted on November 9, 1620. Either way, by the following month almost everyone was sick and good number (about half) would die during the first winter. 

So, think about this for a moment: Heading into the planting season, the less than 50 people remaining were weakened and unprepared for the upcoming winter. Truth be told, they were unprepared from the start. According to one of those on board the Mayflower, they “borrowed” corn and beans from the existing homes they found when they first came on shore. I say “borrowed” because their intention was to pay for the seeds they intended to plant – seeds they would not have had had they not stolen borrowed them. In other words, without those seeds it is unlikely they would have had anything to eat during the winter of 1621. We can say that they were ill and desperate. We can say that they had the best of intentions. But…

The settlers first direct contact with the people from whom the most likely stole was understandably not good – although that’s not usually part of the story. What is part of the story and what is probably true is that despite having some bad encounters, there were some First Nations leaders who were willing to help the settlers.

But then there’s the whole issue of who those First Nations people were. There were hundreds of tribes in the so-called New World when settlers arrived in the 1600’s. These First Nations included a variety of groups associated with the Wampanoa (or Wôpanâak), including the Nauset, Patuxet, and Pauquunaukit (or Pokanoket) – all of whom had encountered English settlers before the Pilgrims arrived and did not necessarily have favorable history with those settlers. Past experiences had taught the First Nations people that encounters with the English would result in loss, either through theft, violence, or illness. In fact, the Pilgrims settled on land that had previously belonged to people (the Patuxet) who died from an epidemic.

In the theory, the lone survivor of the infectious disease that wiped out the Patuxet was Tisquantum, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain; taken to England in the early 1600’s; and then returned to his village in 1619 (after being “anglicized” and possibly baptized) – only to find his village decimated. Probably for a variety of reasons, he helped the Pilgrims survive. However, there is some discrepancy about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Some accounts say that the First Nations people were not initially/officially invited, but were welcomed once they arrived. Other accounts suggest the table was always blended.

Why are there different accounts? Because they were told by different people.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

*

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Click here for more about the author Zitkála-Šá.

*

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

At the end of Tuesday’s practices, I asked if people would rather be grateful or greedy. It’s a question for those of us living in a material world, but I also think it’s a great question because of the times in which we are living. It is so easy to view things we want as things we need and, in the process, lose sight of the things we have. We might even lose the opportunity to “get what we need,” because we are so focused on the things we want (and remember “we can’t always get what we want”). Sometimes, we’re so busy waiting for something to happen that we forget about what is happening, right here and right now.

During the 2015 Sukkot retreat, some of us started saying, “Don’t be greedy, be grateful.” First, it was a much needed reminder because the food was so amazing! Later, for me, it became a great little mantra when I found myself wanting more of something – whether that was more of my favorite treat, more yoga with a certain teacher, and/or more time with a special person in my life. Moving the focus from desire to appreciation changed my behavior around those specific elements, and also changed the way I interacted with all the other aspects of myself and my life. Turns out, that’s part of the practice. 

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali classifies attachment rooted in pleasure (which we refer to as attachment) and attachment rooted in pain (which we refer to as aversion) as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that are rooted in avidyā (“ignorance”) and lead to suffering. Part of that suffering comes from the fact that things and people change in ways that are not consistent with our desires and expectations. Another part of that suffering comes from the fact that we can spend so much time and energy focused on obtaining and achieving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want that our judgement becomes cloudy. We find ourselves, like the religious colonizers, acting in ways that are in direct opposition of our beliefs. In fact, we can get so greedy – so covetous, if you will – that we forget that laws that govern us. 

Religions (like all of the Abrahamic faiths) and philosophies (like Yoga and Buddhism) have laws, rules, and/or precepts related to stealing. We can look at these as guidelines that keep order within a society, but if we dig deeper we start to notice that they also keep order within an individual. For example, the Yoga Philosophy begins with an ethical component comprised of five yamas (“external restraints” or universal commandments) and five niyamas (internal “observations”). All ten are interconnected, but there is a direct connection between the third yama and the second niyama. The third yama is asteya (“non-stealing”) and the second niyama is santosha (“contentment”). We can easily see how being satisfied, even happy, with what we have curbs the urge to desire what belongs to someone else. It turns out, however, that accepting what we have with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude can also lead to happiness.

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Modern research has shown again, and again, that giving thanks – or even trying to come up with something for which you are grateful – changes your brain chemistry and, over time, can elevate your baseline for happiness. Practicing gratitude is a game changer and an attitude changer. So, while there are certain times in the year that we’ve designated as a day of thanks, the truth is that we can benefit from practicing gratitude every day.

The 16th century rabbi Moshe ben Machir (or Moshe ben Yehudah haMachiri) is the author of Seder haYom, first published in 1598/1599. The title literally means Today’s Order and gives a detailed outline of how an observant Jew should move through the days of their life. The day starts with a prayer, a prayer of thanks. This prayer (“Modeh Ani” / “Modah Ani”) is very interesting on several different levels. First, it is described as the very first thing one does. Can you imagine saying, “Thank you” before doing anything else? Even before washing one’s hands or brushing one’s teeth, even before checking one’s phone (in a modern context).

Think for a moment about that old adage about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. That implies that there is a right or correct side of the bed. It’s all about how you start your day.

Now, imagine what happens if you start your day with gratitude.

Second interesting thing: This is not a generic thank you. It is specifically a thank you, to G-d, for keeping one’s soul safe and then returning it to one’s body. Here’s two more things to keep in mind. First, most Jewish prayers are said after one washes their hands. So this prayer is different in that it doesn’t use the name of G-d. Second, just like with a lot of sacred languages, Hebrew uses the same word(s) for spirit/soul as for breath. Hebrew is different from some other languages, however, in that it has specific words for spirit/soul/breath in the body (inhale) versus outside of the body (exhale). So this prayer is about being grateful for being given this day and this breath. It is an acknowledgement that this day, this present moment, is not promised. It is a gift. It is a gift, in the religious context, of faith – given with the belief that one will do something with the time they have been given.

Outside, of a religious context, starting the day by saying, “Thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe…” is a reminder that this day and this breath are valuable and worthy of appreciation. That specific phrasing is courtesy of Jess, a person in the UK who uploads guided meditations on YouTube. I really appreciate their vocal tone and accent and find that, even after a few weeks of using the recording, the best parts of the practice have taken root. And, just like other things that take root, more gratitude blossoms from there. 

Try it. Even without the recording below. I bet if you say the first two, you’ll start to think of other things – even people – for which you are grateful. I feel pretty comfortable in betting you that if you consistently appreciate the things and people you have in your life, you will gain new appreciation of your life.

“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”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

Here’s Jess, bringing the gratitude…

 

Just a reminder that there was no class on Wednesday, November 24th, but I sent out substitute recordings related to this date-specific practice. I will also send out substitute recordings for Saturday. Classes will “re-zoom” on Sunday, November 28th.

 

### Thank You (for being you)! ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (mostly the music w/*UPDATED* link) November 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Gratitude, Health, Music, Wisdom.
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“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 23rd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

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

Click here for the blog post related to this practice (with links and notes related to November 24 and Thanksgiving).

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

.

### Thank You! ###

The Power and Responsibility of Cultivating a Good Heart (the Wednesday post) November 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, November 17th. 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.]

“You can read about [other] countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

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“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

Some of the word’s and sentiments from Sunday’s class have really resonated with me this week. What has stuck the most are Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s lessons on friendship and, in particular, friendship that transcends the trivialities we often cycle as adults. Obviously, being an extrovert and (presumably) a parrot, I’m big on friendships and being in community – all of which I have found especially priceless throughout my lifetime of moving around and during the pandemic – and this is not the first time I’ve focused on friendship. Still, this week’s focus keeps coming back to friendship because Indian philosophies identify it is one of the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) unique to being human.

As you may recall, the philosophy of yoga is one of six major Indian philosophies or darśana in Sanskrit, which means “point of view” or “ways to see.” One of the other six philosophies is Sankhya (or Sāṁkhya), which is the one most closely related to Yoga. Sankhya is the oldest Indian philosophy and focuses on the way in which one thinks/reasons and understands purusha (“pure consciousness”) and prakriti (unmanifested, primordial “matter”), and how everything and everyone manifests/exists as a result of these two elements combining with the forces of three “energies” (gunas) inherent in matter.

Yoga and Sankhya are so closely related that certain philosophical question arise at all times: (Once you are aware of yourself, doing whatever you are doing) are you practicing yoga or sankhya? And is there a non-subjective way to measure, qualify, or quantify the degree to which you are doing one versus the other? For that matter, is there a non-subjective way to measure the interior movements of the heart and how practicing can shake us to our core?

In an 1881 British translation of Ishvara Krishna’s Sāṁkhya Kārikā, one of the earliest surviving texts from this foundational philosophy, eight “perfections (or means of acquiring perfection)” are translated as  “the proper use of reasoning, word or oral instruction, study or reading, the suppression of the three kinds of pain, acquisition of friends and liberality.” Similar to commentary for Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it is noted that these achievements can also be “checks” as well as obstructions or hinderances – meaning that the ability to engage these “powers” is a sign of good and balanced vitality, but focusing only on achieving these goals can also become an obstacle to overall enlightenment and/or an end to all suffering. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, of the Himalayan Institute, combines the middle siddhis; refers to them as “the powers and privileges unique to humans;” and explains them as follows:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., “’knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge’”);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

We can debate whether or not humans are the only beings on the planet capable of these abilities, but I think our time is better spent considering the immense power of this siddhis… and the great responsibility that comes with these great powers.

“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

As I mention on his birthday, the 14th Dalai Lama was selected as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet at 2 years old;  publicly presented at 4 years old; and assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5. On November 17, 1950, at the age of 15, he assumed his full political duties. Think about all that power and responsibility… in the hands, head, and heart of a 15 year old! Then add in the fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had invaded Tibet at the end of 1949, just a few months before His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 15th birthday. And, sure, he hadn’t reached his majority – so there was a regent, his guardian Ngawang Sungrab Thutob, acting as the head of the Tibetan Government – but the Dalai Lama still carried the weight of the nation’s future.

Four years later, in November of 1954 the Dalai Lama was several months into a visit to China, during which he engaged in peace talks with Chairman Mao (Zedong) and other Chinese officials. Two years later, in November of 1956, the 21-year old holding the highest spiritual title in Tibetan Buddhism was visiting India in preparation for the Buddha’s 2,500th birthday celebration. He was forced to flee his homeland at the age of 23, but still continued to serve as the leader of his people. He still taught the lessons of the Buddha: that there is suffering and there is a way to end suffering.

As a refugee, the 14th Dalai Lama saw a need an opportunity to speak to the world. After several years traveling and teaching throughout, he made his first visit to the West. From September to November of 1973, he spoke in Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Austria. In those moments abroad, he spoke on things that would become a reoccurring theme in his teachings to the world, reoccurring themes in his gifts to the world: the purpose of life and matters of the heart.

“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.”

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

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“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. The great changes that are taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we believe (or don’t believe) I think we could all benefit from walking a mile (or more) in someone else’s shoes. Long before modern scientists started researching and recommending various forms of role playing to cultivate empathy and cope with trauma, ancient philosophies like Yoga and religions like Roman Catholicism prescribed self-study and contemplation, respectively. Both svādhyāya, the fourth internal “observation” in Yoga, and contemplation in Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, are practices that involve putting one’s self in the situations of historical and spiritually significant figures. The thing is, these figures were just people in their own times. We can consider them extraordinary people and we can say that they lived in extraordinary times. And they really did. But, also, they and their times were just extra ordinary – no more and no less extraordinary than our times will appear to people decades and eons in the future.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; when we consider their experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds; and when we consider all the things that lead them to think, say, and do the things they think, say, and do, we are doing the same work a method actor (or dancer) does to get into a role. Konstantin Stanislavski developed the physically grounded rehearsal process officially known as “The Method of Physical Action” and most commonly known as “The Method” or Method Acting. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the method and many of those misconceptions stem from disagreements between Lee Strasberg (who was born Israel Lee Strassberg on November 17, 1901) and Stella Adler.  

Mr. Strasberg is remembered as the “father of method acting in America;” Ms. Adler has been called “the mother of modern acting;” and those misconceptions… they’re what happens when people get divorced and think that their former partner is the worst parent on the planet.

For example, some people think the method is all about a performer becoming so indistinguishable from their character that if their character is a jerk then they are a jerk to everyone around them – which is false (and super obnoxious, not to mention abusive). Some people don’t really understand the concept of “affective memory,” which is basically taping into the embodied experience one associates with a memory (that, it is recommended, is 7 or more years in the past) in order to deliver an authentic performance. People that misunderstand (and/or disapprove) of “affective memory” think it is all about trauma – which is false (and is a misunderstanding that can be dangerous).  As David Lee Strasberg has explained, “[The Method is about] behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” It’s about deep-rooted self-awareness and using that self-awareness to harness the embodied power of past experiences. It’s about sensation.

I often say, “sensation, that’s the information,” and emphasize that sensation is the way the mind-body-spirit communicates. In reality, sensation is the ultimate information. And the way we feel actually allows us to communicate with ourselves and with other people – even people who speak languages that are foreign to us. Sensation, the way something makes us feel, is the reason we respond to music, art, and dance. It’s part of the reason we get caught up in sports, as well as movies, plays, and TV shows in languages we don’t speak or read. It’s also why we respond to a smile.

What if all that it took to save our lives
Together was to rise up

What if I had your heart
What if you wore my scars
How would we break down (Break down)
What if I were you

What if I told your lies
What if you cried with my eyes
Could anyone keep us down
What if you were me
What if I were you

.

– quoted from the song What If” by Five for Fighting

What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we belong to each other. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we all deserve love and freedom from suffering. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we’re all only human. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught to do the best we can and that others are going to do the best they can. Can you imagine? 

You may call me a dreamer, but can you imagine if we all showed up like children on their best days? That doesn’t mean that we don’t have bad days or that we don’t disagree or that we won’t be misunderstood. Neither does it mean that we suddenly, magically, all become the same on the outside. What it does mean is that life is better when we come together. What it does mean is that we are at our best when we recognize our (individual and collective) strengths and weakness and use that awareness to create balance and stability. It means we meet each day and we meet each other in a friendly way. We say, “Let’s play, let’s learn, let’s grow – together.”

I didn’t just make those things up. Those are all lessons that are in the world. They are all lessons I have been taught by people like Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Rag’n’Bone Man, my dharma buddy Stacy, John Lennon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nina Simone, Michael Franti, Patanjali, the “Dolly Lama,” and the 14th Dalai Lama (just to name a few).

Can you imagine if we were all taught such things?

“One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there to simply make you more clever, make you more ingenious. Sometimes it even seems as if those who are not highly educated, those who are less sophisticated in terms of their educational training, are more innocent and more honest. Even though our society does not emphasize this, the most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama quoted from “Chapter 3 – Training the Mind for Happiness” in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: There’s a message on the YouTube playlist that is not available on Spotify, so I substituted a prayer. You can find the message here.

“So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart – a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Dylan B. Raines left a lovely comment related to the Dalai Lama on the music post for this practice. You can find out what Dylan’s contemplating by clicking here.

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

.

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

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– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

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NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on Wednesday, November 24th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

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### Suhrit-prapti ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. 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.]

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Knowing & Unknowing, a prequel & a reboot October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

– James Baldwin (as quoted from the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck)

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened by Pope John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, the council entailed four working sessions – the first of which started today, October 13th – and spanned a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correcting those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

 

– Dr. Thomas Schelling, economist

 

Portions of the above were previously posted on October 11, 2020. The following was previously posted on October 13, 2020.

“It feels like I should have something momentous to say now that I’ve hit this landmark birthday. There is only this—I feel I’m in the middle of it all. Family, grandkids, work, marriage, good friends, joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing. Hmmm…come to think of it, that is pretty remarkable!”

 

 

– my dear friend DB on turning 60 (in an email dated 10/14/2013)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but in many ways my life has taken turns I never saw coming. Even beyond the events of 2020, things are very different than I imagined. When we look back, when we see cause and effect – and even the now obvious beginnings of “unforeseen consequences” that absolutely could have seen coming if we had taken the time to pay more attention – it’s only human nature to think, “If I’d only known….” But, let’s be honest, coming where you come from, being surrounded by the people who surround you, and being who you are would you really have done things differently if you had known what was unknown?

Before you answer that question, consider that every moment of lives is spent a liminal moment between “knowing and unknowing,” “the seen and unseen.” Are you, in this moment considering the unknown and unseen forces at work around you and within you? Are you, at this moment, even comfortable considering the unknown (let alone the fact that there are things you know that you might need to “un-know”)?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

 

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

When Paul the Apostle and Timothy, who would become the first Christian bishop of Ephesus, wrote the  second letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Saint Paul was focused on the church’s internal struggles, division, and quarrels. He intended to use his own personal experiences with external persecution and internal strife to reassure the congregants that was an authority on Jesus and his teachings and, furthermore, that “all this is for your benefit.” He instructed them to “not lose heart,” because their faith would be rewarded in a way that overwhelmed any current troubles. Similarly, Patanjali indicates (in the Yoga Sūtras) that the end results of our efforts (karma) are stored in affliction/pain “that is experienced in seen and unseen lives” (YS 2.12), but that ultimately everything that happens in the objective/perceived world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom.” (YS 2.18)

Again and again, the instruction is to trust that things are happening for the good if you are following the path. In the latter case, the path is the philosophy of Yoga, as opposed to Christianity; but, similar guidance is found in sacred text around the world. So the question becomes, how do we balance what we believe (our faith, especially in something unseen) with our reason, logic, and what we can clearly see (i.e., perceive with our senses)? Additionally, how do we “keep the faith” when everything seems to be going wrong?

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop considering the needs of others – and that’s the very minute we are divided. The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop learning, adapting, and growing. In other words, it’s the minute we stop truly living (and the minute we stop living a life that serves the greater good). If, however, we can take Joyner’s suggestion and apply it to our daily interactions (even with ourselves) we have the possibility of living in a way that supports the greater good.

Will Joyner’s words from 2006 present us with a challenge, one we can accept on a daily basis. It’s the challenge to turn inward and to move through life with a certain level of humility. Humility is crucial because, as my friend DB so eloquently pointed out, we are not alone in this thing called life. And, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “… either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together….” To learn to live together we have to figure out a way to balance our wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. We need to figure out a way to connect between our areas of “knowing and unknowing.”

I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary. It is also self-sustaining, because the more we practice/live with discernment and the wisdom of the heart, the more we want to listen to the heart. One way to start is to consider the yamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for others and the niyamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for your own self. Such a practice creates a feedback loop that can serve the greater good.

“The practice of contentment begins with a conscious decision not to fixate on the fruit of our actions. It requires a deep conviction that when we perform our actions, the forces governing the law of cause and effect will ensure they bear fruit. When our actions do not appear to best fruit, we remind ourselves that unknown factors are far more powerful than known factors. When our actions bear desirable fruit, we acknowledge the higher reality that arranges unforeseen factors in our favor. When the fruit is undesirable, we accept it while acknowledging the benevolence of divine will. Thus we remain unperturbed by both the desirable and undesirable consequences of our actions.” 

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.42 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10132020 Knowing & Unknowing, prequel”]

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

 

Have your voted for the Carry app?

 

### WHAT DO YOU KNOW? ###

It’s the Little Things, again (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing the Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 14th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.”

– quoted from “Preparing for Rosh Hashana: The secret to an inspiring new year” by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Just as you can’t jump up off the coach and run a marathon, without some training, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon once pointed out that the desire for a deep spiritual connection requires some preparation. The means he mentioned included introspection, meditation, and prayer – all methods also mentioned in other traditions, including in Indian philosophies like yoga. A lot of people, however, aren’t familiar with all 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy; they just know about the two limbs that form the postural practice: āsana and prāņāyāma. But, just practicing those two little things can take you deeper into the overall practice and help cultivate big connections.

In many ways, hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is all about little things and about bringing awareness to the little things. The way we sit or stand determines how we breathe; the way we breathe in different positions determines how we feel. When we bring our awareness to how we feel we can go deeper into the pose as well as into ourselves. It all starts with little things. Little things, like how we place our hands or engage our core, can make the difference between going deeper into a pose and deeper into ourselves versus getting injured. Although, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from getting injured; but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday’s story was all about how using the practice to notice little things, can give us insight into why we think the way we think and do (and say) the things we do (and say) – on and off the mat. For instance, next time you’re on the mat, give yourself the opportunity to notice these “little things” – one at a time and then all together:

  1. Make sure your legs are in a position that’s comfortable for low back and arms in a position that’s comfortable for neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out.
  3. Notice the “L” of your hands, especially when you have weight in your hands and arms. (In grade school you might have learned that one “L” on your forehead means loser, but if you put two “L”s together you have a shot at a goal; if you tip the ends out, you have a “W” – which means winner.)
  4. For a vinyāsa practice, match the movement to the breath. For all practices, notice the natural internal movement that happens as you breathe.
  5. Press your shoulders down and squeeze the tips of your shoulder blades together. Notice how the engagement in the back body affects the front of the body.
  6. Engage the inside (starting at your feet and engage your core by squeezing into your midline).
  7. Focus on something that’s not moving so that your mind-body stays present. Remember, where your eyes go, your mind goes; where your mind goes, your body goes – especially in a balancing pose.
  8. SMILE!
  9. Notice what happens when you put it all together.
  10. Change your perspective and look at things in a slightly different way. (If you are working on a peak and/or advanced pose, practice a pose that looks and feels similar and, therefore, may require similar engagement.)
  11. Don’t panic! Be present and trust your practice in this moment.

Tuesday’s practice also featured this personal story from Rabbi Yaakov Salomon. It’s a story about little things and is a great reminder that while we may not always notice the little things until they become the big things, the little things matter. In fact, every little thing we feel, think, say, and do is the possibility of a big thing we’re in the habit of feeling, thinking, saying, or doing.

The following was originally posted on September 14, 2020. The playlist links have been added.

“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. Such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered samskaras in the yoga philosophy. While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know, is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including those deeply embedded habits known as samskaras.

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###

Seeing Those Who’ve Reached Their Aim (mostly the music) August 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Yoga.
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“Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout;”

 

 

– quoted from the poem “Casey at the Bat” (lines 49 – 51) by Ernest Thayer (b. 8/14/1863)

 

 

“Self-study enables us to see and live in the company of bright beings – rishis and siddhas – who are inherently imbued with brilliance. Here “brilliance” refers to the transforming power of their intrinsic luminosity. In the presence of this radiance, we not only see these luminous beings but we also being to sense and eventually experience our own inherent radiance. Each time we come in touch with these bright beings, our consciousness is elevated to a new height. Their presence fills our consciousness with ever-greater purity, thus destroying the veil that hides our buddhi sattva, the essence of our inner intelligence. We comprehend reality as it is.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.44 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 14th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

 

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sidd Finch #21 4/1/2020”]

 

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.)

REMINDER: Tomorrow’s ZOOM practice is cancelled. If you are on Sunday’s mailing list, you will receive a previously recorded practice.

 

### 🎶 ###

Needing to Move, a little or a lot (the Tuesday post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Some days or weeks when you are practicing, the mind will be calm and easily concentrated, and you will find yourself progressing fast. All of a sudden the progress will stop one day, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. Persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.30 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It happens to all of us, at one time or another: We hit a wall, an obstacle. In Yoga Sūtra 1.30, Patanjali names nine obstacles to the practice – which are really nine obstacles to anything: disease, mental inertia (or laziness), doubt, lack of enthusiasm (sometimes translated as carelessness, lethargy or sloth, clinging to sense cravings, false understanding, an inability to reach the goal of concentration, and an inability to maintain the goal. These nine obstacles coincide with four physical-mental experiences. Naming these obstacles (and the arising experiences), when we experience them, can be helpful in helping us (as Marcus Aurelius instructed himself) find the way forward.

However, there is a tendency, for some of us, to really dig into WHY we hit the wall. We want to know the “why” so that we can avoid it in the future – and there is merit in that. Such inquiry can benefit us, can directly and indirectly benefit those around us, and can also benefit people we have never met and will never meet. However, sometimes, all that digging into what was can itself become an obstacle. Sometimes, all that inquiry can keep us from moving forward.

Before I move forward with this line of thinking, let me point out that we can sometimes get stuck because of our perceptions about moving forward. Moving forward looks different to different people and/or in different circumstances. For example, I just heard about a junior Olympian who, for a variety of reasons, had to take a break from training. Moving forward for her looks like getting back to training. On the flip side, if you (or someone you know) were stuck in a toxic, maybe even physical and/or mentally abusive relationship, moving forward looks like staying out of that relationship. It also means staying away from similarly toxic relationships – because, otherwise, you’re stuck in the same pattern and not moving forward at all. Even if the people in these scenarios are getting unstuck at the same time, the way they move forward is going to look different.

So, clearly, to move forward we have to move. Right? Well…. Yes, and no.

Even before we get to the no; let’s talk about the yes. The human mind-body is designed to “flow” or move. Not only is the basic construction of the mind-body conducive to moving, one of its primary systems, the lymphatic system, functions through movement. The lymphatic system is part of the cardiovascular (or circulatory) and immune systems, and is also connected to the digestive system. It plays a crucial part in our overall health and requires muscular movement (contraction and release) in order to function.

Movement serves as the pump that moves lymphatic fluid through the lymph nodes strategically located throughout the body. The lymphatic fluid brings in the cells that kill abnormal cells and foreign substances (which cause disease); can re-circulate protein cells; washes away dead cells and debris; and carries that (liquid) waste to the kidneys so that it can be flushed out of the body. The lymphatic system also helps the body to absorb (nutritional) fat and removes excess liquid from the body, in order to prevent inflammation that can lead to disease. The very act of breathing facilitates the movement of the lymph. But, it moves it in a limited fashion; which means that, when someone is unable to move their muscles on their own, having externally provided manipulation/stimulation can be helpful (and that can occur in a lot of different ways).

So, yes, the human mind-body needs to move. The question is, on any given day, how much movement do you need? And how do you know what kind of movement you need? My friend and fellow yoga teacher Sandra Razieli once said that sometimes she starts moving and if she feels better she keeps going. On the flip side, if the movement she’s doing doesn’t make her feel better, even a little bit, she changes what she’s doing. (I identify Sandra as a “fellow yoga teacher,” but honestly she’s a movement facilitator and has a knowledge base of kinesiology and neurophysiology that exceeds a basic knowledge of āsana.) Sandra’s guideline is consistent with a similar one from Wade Imre Morissette, a Canadian yoga teacher and musician, who once said that if you finish your yoga practice and you don’t feel a little better than something went wrong.

“The nine obstacles described in the previous sutra rob the body of vitality, strength, stamina, and agility, and the mind of clarity and peace. The absence of these obstacles is the ground for joy. Their presence is the ground for pain, which in turn leads to four other debilitating conditions: mental agitation, unsteadiness in the limbs, disturbed inhalation, and disturbed exhalation.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

It makes sense that people who are, for the most part, in “the business of movement” would tell people to move. And, sometimes, you might come to a practice and be amazed that the teacher “magically” knows the kind of movement you needed to feel better. You might even be amazed when, a day or so later, you attend class with another instructor and they are “magically” leading a practice with similar elements. Of course, part of your amazement comes from (1) not considering that we all have mind-bodies that are subjected to similar external factors; (2) while there are a lot of different ways to access certain parts of the body, people in a similar region (who were trained in a similar style/tradition) are going to be most familiar with the same methods; and (3) certain things are needed in order to safe and mindfully access certain parts of the mind-body. People “in the business of movement” are also going to tell you that it’s important to be still, to not move – that’s why we have Śavāsana!

If you look at anything in nature, including your own mind-body, you will find evidence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is how nature finds balance, by moving between extreme states of imbalance. Things ebb and flow; we inhale and exhale; muscles contract (eccentrically and concentrically) and then release. Just like a motorized vehicle, we have an accelerator and a brake in the form of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight/flight/freeze response, is related to action. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with our ability to rest/digest/create, is the opposite reaction. They go hand-in-hand. We need one in order to have the other. And, sometimes, we find that we are not fully engaging in one because we are not fully engaging in the other. We are out of balance. We are stuck.

Again, when we are stuck, we have to figure out what is going to move us. Maybe it’s a really vigorous vinyasa practice or a ViniYoga practice (where there’s movement, but it’s not inherently “super sweaty. ”Maybe it’s a more static “Power Yoga” vinyasa practice. That said, what we need might be a Yin Yoga practice, a Restorative Yoga practice, or something in between those aforementioned practices (like an Iyengar Yoga practice). Or maybe what we need is to dance or walk, play catch with the kids, and/or do some somersaults – and it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. We may not always know what we need, but we know when we need something to move us forward.

“That man [my father], sitting on his plastic mat in 1970, was lonely. His search had brought him to a place he didn’t quite grasp, one that lacked the reassurance of a clearly traveled path in front of him. I have my own version of that loneliness. I, too, am searching for something transformative. While I do have a yoga teacher, we have never lived in the same city. While I do practice where yoga is more widely accepted, I do so from within a paralyzed body. I do not know where the work is going, or even what is possible. But, while the work may be solitary, the impetus comes from loving the world, from wanting to join it. I wonder if he knew this, too.”

 

– quoted from “Part Three: Yoga, Bodies, and Baby Boys – 12. Taking My Legs Wide” of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Which, brings me back to yoga – or, really, any group activity (even on Zoom) – where you can tap into the collective momentum of the community. Taking a class on Zoom, YouTube, or any other virtual platform is not the same as taking a class in person. However, it can have similar advantages: there’s (still) a sense of community; someone else keeping track of time; someone keeping you accountable; and someone offering suggestions and (sometimes) “magically” knowing what you need. What happens, however, when you show up and the movement being suggested isn’t what you need?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that “This is your practice.” is not just something that we say. We say it because it’s true. Second, there are a lot of different ways to get into (and out of a pose); different ways to practice a pose/sequence; and most importantly, there’s more than one way to access a certain part of your mind-body. If your instructor/teacher doesn’t offer you options, ask for them! Finally, one of the advantages to a virtual practice, is that if you find that the movement isn’t exactly what you need in that moment, you can turn off your camera (if you’re live) and just take advantage of the other benefits to practicing in a community – and you can do so without the stigma or confusion that can sometimes occur when you do your own thing in a public setting.

“Self-nurturance is a key to taking care of the body. Resting when we need to rest, eating well, exercising, and giving the body pleasure all help to keep the first chakra happy. Massages, hot baths, good food, and pleasant exercise are all ways of nurturing ourselves and healing the mind/body split that results from the mind over matter paradigm. We cannot be integrated and whole if the two polarities are pitted against each other. Instead, through the body, we can have an experience of mind within matter.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2, Chakra One: Earth – The Body” of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 29th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

 

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

 

Last year’s post on this date came at the practice from a slightly different perspective!

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

 

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

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

 

 
 

### You’ve Got To Move It, Move It! ###

 

Mo Betta Asana November 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“According to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together. He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind. This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice.”

– A. G. Mohan

A couple of my early yoga teachers (and my substitute Gaelic teacher) really got me thinking about what we’re “practicing” in any given moment. To break down several different encounters, let me just boil the ideas down to this: If you have anger issues and someone tells you to hit a pillow, you are practicing violence. You may argue that hitting the pillow is better than hitting a wall (which might result in damage to you and/or the wall) and that hitting a pillow or a wall is preferable to hitting a person. But, the bottom line is that you are still channeling your anger towards a violent, potentially harmful act. So, according to this premise, there is really nothing, in any given moment, that prevents you from accidentally or intentionally hitting someone – because you are preparing yourself for the moment.

In some ways, this is the whole idea behind self defense classes. You want to practice and integrate, integrate and practice, until your reaction to a dangerous situation is automatic and almost instinctual. Keep in mind, in self defense classes, you are taught defense: how to escape, evade, and defend yourself. The offense actions you are taught during a self defense class are related to awareness; because, ultimately, you are not practicing how to engage, pick a fight, and beat someone up – you are practicing and integrating how to stay safe: which is also what you’re practicing in yoga.

Yoga Sūtra 2.48: tato dvandvānabhighātāh

– “From that (perfected posture) comes lack of injury (or suffering) caused by the pairs of opposites.”

Vinyāsa is a Sanskrit word that means “to place in a special way.” It is a technique that has also become a style in yoga. But, one of the tricky things about practicing the style is that many people don’t understand the underlying theory or concept that is the technique. They think vinyāsa is what happens when they move from “high to low plank, Up’dog, Downward Facing Dog” – and that, is, in fact, one example of a vinyāsa. The reason why it is an example, however, is two-fold. First, you are linking your movement with your breath. Second, instead of moving randomly, you are moving in a way that mimics your body’s natural reaction to the breath: extending (and rising up) on the inhale, flexing (and getting closer to the earth) on the exhale.

Sometimes, like with the inclined series described above, it’s really easy to see the special way things are placed. In other examples, however, it can get a little trickier. What does “one breath, one motion” really mean? What do you do when you’re standing still, i.e., holding a pose? What do you do when some movements are big and some small? Where is my focus when different parts of my body are doing different things? What if it doesn’t make sense for my body to move like that? Can I take an extra breath?

Let’s start with the last two questions and work backwards. Yes, yes, take an extra breath if you need it, but be mindful of why you need it. Do you need an extra breath because you’re not actually breathing fully and deeply or is it because the move is too big? Bringing awareness to how you are breathing brings your awareness to the important parts of your practice. Once you focus on those important parts, you start mastering those parts. Part of that mastery is knowing when something is not an appropriate move or not an appropriate move for your body.

“Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– Sri T. Krishnamacharya

The physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of style or tradition) is sometimes described as a practice of the spine and one of the foundations of vinyāsa is the idea that the spine naturally reacts to the breath in a very specific way (see above) unless something gets in the way. So, first and foremost, consider how each transition is reflected in the movement of the spine and hips. Next, consider how the movement is reflected in the movement of your big joints. Once you get an understanding of how the body moves, you bring more awareness to what is appropriate (in general and for you specifically).

Note: there are times, when you may find that a sequence moves around a joint you weren’t expecting. For instance, there are some lunging sequences where the front knee bends on the exhale and extends on the inhale – which brings focus to stretching the back of the front leg. Other times, the same sequence of poses is performed with the front knee bending on the inhale and flexing on the exhale – which brings more awareness to the spine and the hips. Keep in mind, the same parts are being affected, but in a slightly different way – and that way can make all the difference.

When you are matching the movement to the breath, with an awareness of how the body moves, then you start to mindfully and intentionally engage the muscles and the joints so that you are following the pace of the breath. This means that while an inhale from a forward fold to Mountain Pose will take the same amount of time as an inhale from forward fold to a “Half Lift,” you have to change the way you move your body by slowing down or speeding up the movement (while keeping the breath long and fine and deep). Similarly, when you are holding a pose, there is an opportunity notice how you are creating space (with the inhale) and engaging space (with the exhale). Early in your practice you may actually “do” things while holding a pose. Once you’ve mastered a pose, you may find that your awareness is drawn to what happens as you relax into the pose; letting gravity and your breath take you deeper.

Yoga Sūtra 2.46: sthirasukham āsanam

– “Cultivate a steady [or stable], easy [comfortable or joyful] seat [or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.47: prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām

– “[The way to perfect the seat or pose] is by relaxing [or loosening] effort and by merging with the infinite.”

Ashtanga Yoga was one of the first vinyāsa practices introduced to the Western world and it’s where most people get the idea “one breath, one motion.” The Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced sequences feature vigorous continuous movement which can be incredibly therapeutic or incredibly dangerous – depending on how you practice. The sequences were set with an awareness of vinyāsa krama (which is a step-by-step progression towards a goal) and, therefore, even when one practices a “short form” your body is prepared for each subsequent pose until you reach the end. Each sequence is often taught in the West as a whole, but traditionally each sequence was taught piecemeal – meaning a teacher would give a student the beginning and the end of the sequence and only introduce new elements once the original elements were mastered.

Practicing Ashtanga in the traditional way can create an opportunity for great strength and flexibility. However, if enough attention isn’t paid to alignment and an individual’s needs, it becomes a recipe for injury. Additionally, if you study alignment and study the Ashtanga sequences, you start to understand that no matter how vigorous and challenging the sequence gets, the body really isn’t making big moves. This is why Seane Corn advises that if you are going to practice any kind of vinyāsa you should also practice an alignment-based style of yoga, like Iyengar. Combining the awareness of alignment with the awareness of breath also allows you to actually practice āsana, as opposed to just posing.

“Stability and comfort go hand in hand, allowing us to remain relaxed during the peak moments of the posture.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.47 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, November 21st) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’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.)

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for 07112020 An Introduction”]

“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn


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