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RE: Being Centered & Grounded June 22, 2020

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“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Like many people, I often paraphrase Galileo’s quote about helping a man find something. Sometimes I use the word discover, but that’s mere semantics. What most people do when they paraphrase is to change the end and, in saying “find for himself,” what we do is change the meaning. Galileo’s statement dovetails with the information in the Yoga Sutras in that turns us inward. Specifically, Patanjali indicates that all the information we need to know the truth comes through our senses and all the mental and emotional acuity we need to analyze the information is already inside of us. The problem, which Patanjali also points out, that we can only see what is staring us right in the face if our brain shows us what’s right in front of our face. Think about it this way: Some people were able to see an incredible “ring of fire” eclipse last night; others can hold their finger up to the sky and blot out the sun. Consider your perspective, but also consider what is important to you.

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

 

– Anonymous

Today in 1633, the Holy Office in Rome forced Galileo Galilei to recant his views that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the Universe. The fact that the Earth and other plants revolved around the Sun was not new information, nor was it the first time Galileo found himself in hot water with the Catholic Church. Nicolaus Copernicus formulated and published the idea back in 1543, and it was a widely held belief throughout Galileo’s life – just not in the Church. To get around threats of heresy, Galileo wrote his Dialogue on the Ebb and Flow of the Sea as a conversation between two philosophers and a layman, named Simplicio. One philosopher presents Copernicus’s ideas, one philosopher starts off neutral, and the layman offers the Church-held beliefs of Ptolemy and Aristotle. Forced by the Inquisition to change the title to Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo still insisted that Simplicio (as in “the simple minded”) was not a caricature of Pope Urban VIII. He also denied that he himself believed Copernican theory and instead defended the treatise as simply a discussion. The idea that he was only presenting historical theories worked when Galileo was accused of heresy in 1616. In 1633, however, the Church decided that the issue was not even up for discussion.

“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”

 

– The Holy Office, Rome, June 22, 1633

Now, with a few notable exceptions, most people reading this will shake their heads at the idea that anyone believed such “nonsense.” They may think it was travesty of justice that Galileo was forced to recant his beliefs, never teach heresy, recite the Seven Penitential Psalms once a week for three years, and spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Some people may even be shocked to learn that it took the Church over 300 years to clear Galileo’s name. Yet, if we pause for a moment, we may see that while it may be awful, it’s not that hard to believe. Remember, we can only see what our brains show us.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in Angels in the Workplace: Stories and Inspirations for Creating a New World of Work by Melissa Giovagnoli

 

Every one of us has a center – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically. Every one of us believes something is solid and true – even if we what we believe in is the impermanence of all things. We view everything we experience through the lens of our belief. This, more often than not, causes us to cling tightly to our beliefs. We cling tightly even when there is something inside of us that quietly whispers, or loudly shouts, that that to which we cling is wrong. We hold on to what is familiar, even if it no longer serves us, but we also hold on to that thing that we believe centers and grounds us. Sometimes we cling so tightly that we are unable to see we are off-center and completely ungrounded. Because, what we miss in holding on is that we have essentially told our mind/intellect, “This is the part that’s important; don’t bother me with anything else.”

Remember, the public knew the truth back in 1633 – and all throughout the over 300 years it took for Galileo’s name to be cleared of the heresy charges. But, no one wanted to face up to the authority of the Church. No one else wanted to become the target of the establishment. Furthermore, some people were simply comforted by the idea that they are were the center of the universe. Yes, I said it, there is comfort and safety in ignorance… but only if you are already safe and comfortable.

Yoga Sutra 2.24: tasya heturavidyā

 

– “The cause of that [union, alliance, or relationship] is ignorance.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.25: tadabhāvāt samyogābhāvo hānam taddŗśeh kaivalyam

 

– “Due to that lack or absence [of ignorance], the union or relationship [between our power to see and what is seen] ceases, and this leads to freedom known as absolute freedom, liberation, or enlightenment.”

 

If you are interested in exploring within yourself, please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 22nd) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

“As long as our mind is contaminated by likes and dislikes, fear and doubt, we are bound to experience pain. Getting rid of this contaminated mind (chitta nivritti) is the ultimate pain reliever. We acquired a contaminated mind by embracing avidya. As soon as we renounce avidya, mental contaminants evaporate.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.25 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

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LIFT YOUR LIGHT, LET YOUR POWER SHINE! June 17, 2020

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FRIEND [Old English, with Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German words “to love,” also related to “free”] 1. One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.

 

“FRIEND’SHIP, noun frend’ship. 1. An attachment to a person, proceeding from intimate acquaintance, and a reciprocation of kind offices, or from a favorable opinion of the amiable and respectable qualities of his mind. friendship differs from benevolence, which is good will to mankind in general, and from that love which springs from animal appetite. True friendship is a noble and virtuous attachment, springing from a pure source, a respect for worth or amiable qualities. False friendship may subsist between bad men, as between thieves and pirates. This is a temporary attachment springing from interest, and may change in a moment to enmity and rancor.”

– partially excerpted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828

 

“Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? “

 

– President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address (March 4, 1861)

 

Let’s talk about cultivating friendships and tokens of friendship. For the last few days, I have focused on the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) we all have and, in particular, those powers or abilities which are considered by Indian philosophy to be “unique to humans.” You can read what I’ve already posted here, here, and here. Now, however, I’m going to hone in a little more on how we use those “supernormal” powers and how we express or manifest those powers.

Whenever I talk about the symbolic and energetic aspects of the chakra system, I tie each chakra to the preceding chakras in order to highlight the connection between biography and biology. Hence, when I talk about making relationships “outside of our first family, tribe, or community of birth,” I mention that how and/or if we make friends with people we (and the world) perceive as being different from us is partially determined by where we come from – our first family. (Remember, as always, that just as we are genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we are energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet.)

“Sacred Truth: Honor one another. Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” by Caroline Myss

Geography, general proximity, definitely plays a part. Even with the internet “bringing” people closer together – and despite the pandemic enforced social distancing – our strongest bonds tend to be with people in close physical proximity with us. We meet people in the middle of their stories, and we get to know them backwards and forwards (literally and metaphorically) by spending time together. The more time we spend with someone the more vulnerable we are together and the more we know each other’s hearts. The stronger the bond, the tighter it holds when friends are not physically together.

Another thing that plays a part in cultivating friendships is a common thread. We may share a common ideology, based on a correct or incorrect understanding of the world – an understanding that we started learning as a child (see first family). More often than not, however, the common thread is something we like or dislike. Whether it is a shared love of tortillas, yoga, movies, music, books, sports in general, and/or a specific sport, musician, or author, people form bonds around an attachment that is rooted in pleasure. Conversely, we can also form really strong bonds around something we don’t like, an aversion or attachment rooted in pain. And, yes, if you are following along, I’m using the same descriptions that are used to explain two of the three afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. But, before we get to that, there’s another way we bond: We bond over a shared experience.

“All people who died on that day, to me, it is like they did not die in vain. As people we managed to take out good things from bad things, to live by today, to shape ourselves and our country.”

 

– Antoinette Sithole talking about the Soweto student Uprising (06/17/1976) and the unknown “gentleman” (Mbuyisa Makhubo) and woman who helped her after her 12-year old brother Hector Pieterson was killed

 

“Mbuyisa is or was my son. But he is not a hero. In my culture, picking up Hector is not an act of heroism. It was his job as a brother. If he left him on the ground and somebody saw him jumping over Hector, he would never be able to live there.”

 

– quote from Mbuyisa Makhubo’s mother Ma’makhubu explaining why her son picked up a stranger during the Soweto student Uprising (06/17/1976)

 

Sometimes we bond over a beautiful experience. However, more often than not, really strong relationships form over a shared experience involving a very tragic or traumatic experience. Think of people that came together, and stayed together, after 9/11 or any number of mass shootings. Yesterday, at the end of class, I mentioned that it was “Youth Day” in Soweto, South Africa, a commemoration of the anti-apartheid student uprising that occurred on June 16, 1976. It was a horrible day that brought people together – just as so many horrible events are bringing people in the United States, and around the world, together today. And that’s the other thing: people can become friends because they went through similar experiences – like a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or a war – even when they didn’t go through the experiences together.

If you look back, you will note that all of the ways I mentioned about friendship involve at least one of the five afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns; thought patterns that create suffering – and all of those afflicted thought patterns are born out of ignorance. That is not to say that friendship is ignorant. In fact, it is easy to argue that friendship, community, and belonging are wise. There is a definite reason why the Buddha described sangha (“community”) as one of the three jewels. But, when we look at how we become friends with someone it is almost always based on the outside. How we stay friends, however, is based on the inside.

Granted, sometimes we stay friends with someone, because of that final afflicted thought pattern: fear of loss or death. We can all look in our circle of friends and find people we have known for some extended period of time. We may even still spend time with them. However, if we’re being honest, we don’t spend a lot of time with these people. We don’t call them – or even have a strong desire – to call them when we are struggling. They are not our go-to people in troubling times. If they reach out to us, we may wrap up the conversation quickly. These are the people that make us think, “Wait, why am I still friends with this person?” These are the people you have recently “unfriended” if you are on social media. Be honest: You’re still “friends” with some people simply because you’ve known them since preschool, grade school, high school, college, or your first job. While seem interacting with some friends may leave you feeling lighter and brighter, interactions with this latter group of friends leaves you feeling a little dull, disempowered.

“Because of these powers we are able to comprehend the invisible forces of nature and harness them to improve the quality of life. With the decline of our inner luminosity, we lose these powers to a significant degree.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 (as it relates to “dana”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

I have mentioned this week, that the first three “powers unique to humans” are mental abilities that are directly related to the final three. These final three are the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (which requires being able to identify the cause of these sorrows), the ability to cultivate “a good heart; finding friends,” and dana (“generosity” or the ability to give). I have described the last three as “heart powers,” but really and truly all six are heart powers – as they are related to discernment, the interior movements of the heart. When we look at our friendships though this lens, we can definitely see the power of our hearts. We can also see times when, and the ways in which, we are disempowered by ignorance. Society will definitely allow, even condone, a rural Republican, white man in law enforcement (who grills over 50 types of burgers on the side) to not be friends with a liberal black, vegetarian woman from a big city in the South. But, thanks in part to geography, a friendship formed – and I, for one, am richer and more powerful for it. What initially connects people is on the outside, and that may also be what inevitable separates people. What keeps people connected, however, is on the inside.

“There are many of selfish people in this world. People who think first of themselves. Don’t be like them. Don’t give in to the tyranny of your ego and self. Don’t be hateful, don’t be racist, don’t be ignorant or foolish. Learn to appreciate diversity by actually experiencing it and not just talking about it or watching it on TV or in a movie. Talk to and build a relationship with someone that the world would fully let you get away with not interacting with, simply because it’s the right thing to do and you understand that it will benefit you. It’s harder to stereotype when you actually learn someone’s name.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

 

What is on the inside is something that can only be felt. It doesn’t always have an external reference point. Yes, we can see an expression of love, a token of friendship, and understand it from our own experiences. However, when we see a parent and a child hugging, or even two children hugging, we don’t exactly know what they are feeling. We can only know how we have felt in similar circumstances. We can use those first three “powers unique to humans” (“intuitive knowledge,” words/meanings, and the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend”) in order to have an emotional, embodied experience. So, we feel the love. And, when we feel the love, we may eliminate some sorrow of our own; cultivate friendship; and/or “have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others.”

“Our power of discernment and intuitive wisdom enables us to distinguish good thoughts and feelings from bad ones, and cultivate the good ones further to enrich the virtues of our heart. The same capacity enables us to see beyond the boundaries of our little world and share our goodness with others. This capacity also motivates us to pass our achievements on to future generations.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 (as it relates to “finding friends”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Today in 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. It was a token of friendship from France and the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. Bartholdi wanted to commemorate the anniversary of the American Revolution and also acknowledge its connection to the French Revolution. He felt kinship between the nations because of how each populace had overthrown royal sovereignty and oppression. He wanted also to honor the concepts of liberty, freedom, and equality smashing the chains of slavery. Initially inspired by the image of an Arab peasant woman and his own mother, he called the statue “Liberty Enlightening the World” and felt the words and symbols of the statue would do just that – enlighten the world.

The 450,000-pound copper-colored statue arrived in 350 individual pieces shipped in over 200 cases. This included the iron scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel, who would later create the Eiffel Tower. Lady Liberty would be reassembled and dedicated the following year; but, there was a moment where this symbol of freedom and democracy seemed destined to collect dust like a puzzle someone decided not to put together. The project ran out of money. Who knows what would have happened if not for the general populace in both countries. The statue cost France an estimated $250,000 (about $5.5 million today). The United States was responsible for funding and building the pedestal, another $##. Fundraising efforts on both sides of the Atlantic included auctions, a lottery, and boxing matches. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer started a drive that attracted over 120,000 contributors. Remember, this was long before the internet and social media. Some people could only donate a dollar, but most donated less than that.

Emma Lazarus, an author and Jewish activist, wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883 and auctioned it off during one of the fundraising efforts featuring original art and manuscripts. Lines from the poem would eventually be inscribed on the pedestal, but Lazarus initial declined the opportunity to participate in the auction. She said she couldn’t write a poem about a statue. In fact, what she eventually wrote was a gift of empathetic friendship for Jewish refugees. Part of her philanthropic efforts in the world included helping refugees who had fled anti-Semetic pogroms in Europe and Lazarus saw the refugees living in conditions that were outside of her privileged experience. Lazurus used her first three powers to supercharge her final three powers and, in doing so, she empowered the heart encased in Bartholdi’s statue and generations of hearts who have since read her words.

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

 

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 17th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice where we will empower the extensions of our hearts. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlist starts with instrumental music. If your Spotify is on shuffle, you will want your music volume low at the beginning of the practice.)

 

 

 

### MO’ METTĀ, LESS BLUES ###

Abe Lincoln’s House June 16, 2020

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“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’”

The Gospel According to Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

 

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed –

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

“Have we no tendency to the latter condition?”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Ask any historian, biographer, or movie maker (not to mention some serious Civil War re-enactors) and they can easily identify a handful of defining moments in the life of President Abraham Lincoln. These moments that highlight the evolution of Lincoln’s life as a public figure also outline the shape of the United States – then and now. I say “then and now,” because when you read or listen to the words of Abraham Lincoln you find they still resonate and hold true. It doesn’t matter if you consider his “House Divided” Speech (in Springfield, Illinois, today in 1858), which launched his unsuccessful bid to unseat the Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas; his Union Cooper Speech (in New York City, February 27, 1860), which solidified his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate – and some say contributed to him winning the race; the very short, yet incredibly memorable and poignant  Gettysburg Address (on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863); or his Second Inaugural Address (in Washington, D. C., March 4, 1865). Pick one, it doesn’t matter which one, and you will find that his words regarding the issue of slavery in the United States and its territories are still relevant. You need not even change the words. Although, one must note that he was referencing Biblical text and “current events,” the details of which did not always need elaboration in the 1860’s, but which may be unfamiliar to some modern-folks.

“At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that quarrel the latter [Senator Douglas] declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

Just as I am astounded when I feel the relevance of 19th century speeches and essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I am flabbergasted by the similarities in Lincoln’s America and our modern day America – specifically as it relates to what divides us. The difference, however, is that what I feel whenever I look at Emerson’s work is awe and fascination. What I feel when I look at Lincoln’s work, today, is sick to my stomach.… Because, for all intents and purposes, Lincoln is talking about me…and most of my family.

“The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. The working points of that machinery are: Firstly, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of that provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that – ‘The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.’

Secondly, that ‘subject to the Constitution of the United States,’ neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory. This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

As I post this, I have not decided exactly how I will approach today’s class. Part of me feels that I cannot approach it in the same abstract, philosophical and symbolic way I have approached previous classes on Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech or the Gettysburg address. Part of me feels we all need more than a historical reminder. Part of me feels we need to activate something powerful.

That feeling of wanting to activate something powerful was part of the inspiration for yesterday’s blog and Common Ground Meditation Center class. I focused on the siddhis or “powers” described in the yoga and sāmkhya philosophies – and, in particular those six abilities or powers which are “unique to humans.” The first three (related to intuition, communication, and analysis (with comprehension) lead to the final three. The final three (related to the elimination of three-fold sorrow, the cultivation of friendship, and the power of generosity) can be considered heart practices, just as wisdom and the brahmavihārās (or divine abodes of loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy) are heart practices in Buddhism. Notice that there is a definitive overlap between wisdom, friendship, compassion, and generosity. The other thing that strikes me is how Lincoln’s words dovetail with the commentary of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, (specifically as it relates to generosity): “This joy is the architecture of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

“We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. That is what we have to do. But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us, that he wishes any such object to be effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion.’ Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advance of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.”

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

However you look at it, the reality is that “our house” is divided [still…once again, you pick]. We are divided around the same issues of race, state rights versus civil rights, and federal sovereignty. And, we can’t go back. Going back just takes us to another form of divided.

We can talk all day about how we move forward, but we must move forward – and that requires moving out of the sympathetic nervous response of fight-flight-freeze/collapse. We can argue/debate the merits of starting something over from scratch and building from the ground up or just redecorating, but either way we have the same tainted building blocks and scorched earth. If we are to make something out the ruins, if we are to rise out of our own ashes, we must do so with the awareness that we are the same human beings that got it “wrong” the first time. Moving forward as a house divided, we are faced with the same problems and pitfalls as our ancestors. Those problems and pitfalls require us to figure out a way to come together and move forward together or, conversely, we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong, things may look different. The new normal, however, can too easily settle into a different verse of the same song. Ask yourself if you want your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren to be dealing with the “instant replay” of these same issues 50, 60, 100, 200, or 400  years from now. If you’re younger than me, do you want to be dealing with these same issues 50 or 60 years from now? ‘Cause, I’m going to be frank, we’ve been here before. This may feel new and different to some, but to others of us….

“Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser today than he was yesterday – that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong. But, can we for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish to not misrepresent Judge Doulgas’ position, question his motives, or do aught that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle. But clearly, he is not now with us – he does not pretend to be – he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends – those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work – who do care for the result.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 16th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page.)

 

A House Divided” (audio with text) by Abraham Lincoln

 

 

### “We shall not fail – if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.” AL ###

You’ve Got The Power June 15, 2020

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“…re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

– from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

 

“…I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything.”

 

– from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Letter #4 to Franz Kappus, dated July 16, 1903)

 

As you will see, I am looping back around to a previous post. Really, I am looping back around to several posts and several conversations, including a couple of conversations about dana (much thanks to Adam and Cameron) after last week’s Common Ground practice (on Zoom). However, I feel I should preface this by saying a couple of things, so….

First, I am surrounded by a lot of really smart people – and I have been all my life. Some people are intellectuals; some are even recognized as such. Others are intellectually smart – even if they don’t have a lot of formal education. Some are labeled as fun, but you would be ignorant to underestimate their knowledge base. Still others are smart, savvy in a way that underscores the origins of “savvy,” which comes from Spanish by way of pidgin English for “you know.” (In other words, they know things – and they may or may not have ever read about those things in a book or seen them in a movie.) Second, teaching yoga the way I do is a little like being a comedian (or any kind of writer) in that if we have a conversation or any kind of interaction there’s a good chance you’re going to pop up in my practice. After all, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in Tibetan Buddhism is, “Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with practice.”

Keeping all of that in mind, you can be sure that when I post a title like “How Ignorant Are You?” – as I did on Saturday – I did it knowing that it was blunt, in your face, and that a lot of people’s knee jerk reaction is, “Well, I’m not ignorant, but [insert person of choice]….” Calling someone, or even implying that someone is, ignorant is a great way to push someone’s buttons. It’s like calling someone racist when they are exhibiting racist behavior (especially when they believe they are “not racist” and/or believe they are straight up “woke”). It’s also like calling someone racist when they have been a victim of systematic racism (especially when you do so while exhibiting your own racist behavior). These are great examples of shenpa, which Pema Chödrön translates to as “the hook” and is a sign of attachment (which is one of the afflicted thought patterns that produces suffering).

Avidyā is the Sanskrit word for “ignorance.” It can also be translated as misconception, misunderstanding, or incorrect knowledge. We may also think of the English word as “lack of knowledge.” No matter how you view it, we are all ignorant of something – either because we have not experienced it (i.e., perceived with our own senses); we have not inferred (or logically deduced) it based on information we have perceived; and/or it has not been revealed or taught to us through sacred text (i.e., the documented experience of another). Note that I have been very specific about how we can lack knowledge. I have been very specific, because these descriptions are specifically outlined in the Yoga Sutra 1.7 as vidyā (“correct knowledge”), which is obviously the opposite of incorrect knowledge.

Correct understanding and incorrect understanding are two of the five mental functions. But, perhaps even more importantly, the five mental functions (correct understanding, incorrect understanding, imagination, dreamless sleep, and memory, as indicated in Yoga Sutra 1.6) fall into two categories: klişțāklişțāh (“afflicted and not afflicted”). Afflicted thought patterns create suffering and there are five afflicted thought patters: “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death of loss.” Again, I’m very specific here, because these are the definitions outlined in Yoga Sutra 2.3.

Furthermore, these afflicted thought patterns (which I referred to as “dysfunctional” on Saturday) are all connected. When we don’t have correct knowledge or understanding about the world that means we also don’t have correct knowledge or understanding of ourselves (and others). That initial lack of knowledge leads us to create stories so that, inevitably, we define ourselves according to the things and people we like (attachment rooted in pleasure) and the things and people we don’t like (attachment rooted in pain). Finally, we fear change, because all change is the end/death of something and a loss of something – specifically the death or loss of ourselves and our world as we know it.

Take a breath. Let all of that settle in for a moment before you move on to the next paragraph.

So, Patanjali starts off his explanation of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga by explaining how the brain/mind works and then gets into the practice, which is how we can work (work with / play with) the mind. Along the way he mentions siddhis, which can be loosely translated as “powers.” It is more literally “fulfillment: or “accomplishment.” Even if you’ve never delved into any Sanskrit texts, this may sound familiar if you know the story of the Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama), the story of Siddhartha Finch, and/or you’ve been to one of May the 4th classes (when I talk about Jedi Knight tricks). More often than not, when random people (myself included) talk about siddhis in the context of yoga, we are talking about the extraordinary (or “Supernormal” as Dean Radin calls them in the book of the same name) powers/accomplishments Patanjali describes at the end of the yoga sutras. However, when he goes deeper into the nature of afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns, Patanjali indicates and alludes to the side effects – in other words, some of the direct suffering – of these thought patterns.

Patanjali specifically points to nine obstacles to practice and to maintaining a clear, joyful mind (YS 1.30) plus five physical conditions which arise because of the obstacles (YS 1.31). The physical conditions (pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling limbs, abnormal  or unsteady inhalation, and abnormal or unsteady exhalation not only arise from the obstacles, they also feed into the obstacles. So, it is a constant loop of suffering that dulls the mind. And all of this starts with those five afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns, specifically ignorance. I could go on all day about this (and have), but my focus today is on some very specific powers we lose when we are steeped in avidyā.

“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 the four other debilitating conditions….”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 1.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

In commentary, which is based on comparative analysis and lived practice, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, describes how our minds (and bodies) become disempowered in 28 different ways. These different types of disempowerment fall into three categories: (1) disempowerment of our mind and senses, (2) disempowerment of our inner sense of fulfillment, and (3) disempowerment of powers unique to humans. Now, the first category manifests as dullness in experience; we are riddled with doubt and the world loses its vibrancy. Think about how food tastes (or lacks taste) when you are steeped in depression or sadness versus how it tastes when you feel alive and engaged. The second category has a series of subcategories (with their own subcategories), but let’s just say that we experience one (or more) of these nine subcategories when we are rigid in our beliefs; when we are satisfied with the (spiritual) trappings of our beliefs and believe those external trappings will bring us peace; when we procrastinate; when we fall into what I call the “fate/predestination” trap; and/or when we use any of a number of logical arguments to avoid engaging in worldly matters. The third type of disempowerment is a loss of power related to “powers and privileges unique to humans.”

Here, finally, is the focus for today! According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have the following six siddhis:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., 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.”

 

“I’ve got the power
I’ve got the power

It’s getting, it’s getting, it’s getting kinda hectic
It’s getting, it’s getting, it’s getting kinda hectic”

 

– from the 1990 song “The Power” by Snap!

 

Now, I (personally) can’t say for sure that all of these are unique to humans, but I do feel comfortable saying that most very clearly are human abilities/powers. I’ve experienced them in myself and in others, and one of the things that has struck me over the last week in particular is how much of these siddhis are being lost, dulled, or completely short circuited in people all over the world. Yes, there are some people all over the world who are experiencing their powers – even recognizing the responsibility that comes with their powers – and using their powers for help those around them. But, I bet if you could identify and poll those people, most of them would also say they have felt a loss in powers. So, the question becomes, how do we activate our innate powers? According to the sacred texts, the removal of ignorance is the key (or secret) to experiencing true peace, fulfillment, and freedom. Furthermore, every system of religion and philosophy recommends surrender in order to obtain that key or secret.

If you’re interested in a little sweet surrender, please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 15th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

“We have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others. We are designed to experience the joy of giving. This joy is the architecture of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 (as it relates to “dana”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

 

 

#### “… with great power there must also come great responsibility” SL, et al ####

 

 

 

 

Blood Will Tell (or Blood Will Out)… June 14, 2020

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“But not until recently has it been recognized that in living organisms, as in the realm of crystals, chemical differences parallel the variation in structure.”

– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

Pause for a moment. Consider the idea that “blood will tell” or “blood will out.” These are phrases, along with “blue-blood” that date back at least as far as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when it was believed you could tell who was an “pure-bred” aristocrat and who was of Norse or Celtic descent by the way one fought on the battlefield. Your view of which was preferred depended on which side of the battle you fell.

Now, consider the idea that you can tell something about someone’s heritage just by looking at their outside – or at their actions. Don’t click yet, but consider the idea that in this picture you can see “humanity at its best and at its worst.” Even before you click on the link, you may have a feeling. Now, when you click on the link, pause before you read the headline or the caption.

Did your first impression match what you were seeing? Did it match what you were expecting?

I always say, go deeper. Go deeper than what is on the surface and you will find that we all breathe – even when we do it on a machine; we all have hearts; we all have the same blood pumping through our veins and arteries. Except we don’t…

Go deeper.

Dr. Karl Landsteiner, born today in 1868, was an Austrian biologist and physician known for identifying and classifying the main blood groups, based on the presence of different agglutinins (the substance which causes blood particles to coagulate and aggregate, i. e., clot). Even though Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys documented successful blood transfusions as far back in 1667, the success of those surgeries was most likely the result of luck and/or the small amounts of blood that were used. Landsteiner’s research in 1900, as well as his work with Dr. Alexander S. Wierner to identify the Rhesus factor (in 1937), enable physicians to transfuse blood without the allergic reaction that proved fatal when blood types were mixed. In between his work with blood types, he worked with Drs. Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper to discover the polio virus (1909). He has been awarded several prestigious science awards, including the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and is known as the “Father of Transfusion Medicine.”

“I have recently observed and stated that the serum of normal people is capable of clumping the red cells of other healthy individuals… As commonly expressed, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins exist, one kind in A, the other in B, both together in C. The cells are naturally insensitive to the agglutinins in their own serum.”

– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

In honor of Dr. Landsteiner’s birthday, today is World Blood Donor Day. (Coincidentally, it falls just the day before the anniversary of Dr. Denys’s 1667 surgery on a 15-year old boy, using sheep’s blood.) Established in 2005 by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Blood Donor Day is a celebration of and an expression of gratitude for the millions of donors worldwide. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness for the need for safe blood and blood products, which is a universal need. According to WHO, 42% of the world’s blood supply is collected in high income countries, which are home to only 16% of the world’s population. Additionally, as of 2014, only 60 countries have the majority (99-100%) of their blood supplied by voluntary, unpaid donors. Over 70 countries depend on family and paid donors. Go deeper and you will find that even in countries that can depend on voluntary donations, certain parts of the country experience shortages which can only be alleviated by a mobilized network. One of the goals of World Blood Donor Day is to “mobilize support at national, regional, and global levels among governments and development partners to invest in, strengthen and sustain national blood programmes.”

“The last category of our innate siddhis is dana, “the ability to give.” We have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others. We are designed to experience the joy of giving. This joy is the architect of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

If you want to get your blood pumping, please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 14th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 has gone into effect yesterday. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“I found that Landsteiner and I had a much different approach to science: Landsteiner would ask, ‘What do these experimental observations force us to believe about the nature of the world?’ and I would ask, ‘What is the most simple, general and intellectually satisfying picture of the world that encompasses these observations and is not incompatible with them?

 

– from “Fifty Years of Progress in Structural Chemistry and Molecular Biology.” By Dr.  Linus Pauling (published in Daedalus, 99, 1005. 1970)

### WHAT QUESTION ARE YOU ASKING? ###

How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel? June 3, 2020

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“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)  

 

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

The beginning of today’s blog post looks like a Saturday blog post. During the Saturday practices, we’ve spent the last year and a half digging deep into the Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali outlines the 8-limb philosophy of Yoga and spends quite a bit of time talking about the mind and how the mind works. The last few weeks (and really most of the quarantine), there has been an emphasis on the “seen” and the “unseen” and how we perceive the world around us (and how the world around us based of those same perceptions). Much of what we’ve been exploring on Saturdays fits in with this week’s theme of how perception connects to ideals.

Remember, what we “see” translates into what we understand (because we can only understand what the mind shows us) and what we understand leads to what we believe, which in turn forms our ideals – and how we live is determined by what we believe. Check to make sure you got that: We live not by what we say we believe (or what we claim are our ideals and values), but by what we actually believe in our hearts. Before, however, we get into the emotional and energetic side of this – before we go deeper into the metaphor of “seeing” – let’s take a step back, and consider how we (literally) visually see.

“The eye and the brain are not like a fax machine, nor are there little people looking at the images coming in.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel (b. 06/03/1924), co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

“We’re interested in how the brain works, and we work on the part of the brain that has to do with vision. And we…we record from single cells in the brain, and ask how it is you can influence those cells by shining lights and patterns.”

 

– Dr. David Hubel, summarizing research with Dr. Torsten Wiesel that won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

When Dr. Torsten Wiesel, born today in 1924, started working with Dr. David Hubel in the 1950’s, they were under the impression that animals (people included) saw whole images. By connecting the brain of an anesthetized cat to electrodes which produced a sound when the receptor cells within the visual cortex were activated, they thought they could map the cat’s neural pathways. Eventually they would not only map the cells associated with the visual cortex (and determine the mechanism by which they work), they would also win the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on ocular dominance columns. I say “eventually,” however, because they weren’t very successful when they started. Their basic premise was flawed, and it was by virtue of a “lucky” accident that they started making headway (pun intended). This, then, is one of those “aha” or epiphany moments I talk about all the time, where a realization occurs because someone is primed to recognize/understand what they are seeing.

“Science is not an intelligence test. Intuition is important, knowing what questions to ask. The other thing is a passion for getting to the core of the problem.”

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Wiesel and Hubel started off by shining bright lights at the cat, which resulted in no reaction from the electrodes, meaning no reaction from the receptor cells. They then moved on to slides of black dots. The black dots seemed to work – in that the cells fired and the electrodes engaged to produce a sound. However, the cells didn’t seem to fire consistently. When the researchers paid attention to the exact moment the cells fired, they realized the cat’s brain wasn’t reacting to the very pronounced black dot. Instead, the cells deep inside the visual cortex were reacting to the very faint line produced by the edge of the slide as it was moved in and out of the projector.

By experimenting with the placement and angle of lines (of various densities and from various sources), the scientist were able to identify and map “simple cells” and “complex cells.” Simple was the term applied to cells which reacted to lines presented at a specific angle (some cells reacting at one angle, others at another). Complex was the term applied to cells which responded to lines presented at a specific angle and moving in a specific direction. They were also able to determine which cells responded to light versus dark lines, which cells responded to bright versus dim lines, and which responded to lines of different colors and densities. All told, they expand were able to determine that the 125 million rods and cones in each retina sent information to 1 million fibers of optic nerve, which each transmitted signals to a variety of different regions in the brain. Those regions in the brain consisted of over 1 million cables of fibers which transmitted electric signals to additional regions before the signals finally reach the simple and complex cells in the visual cortex (about seven stages beyond the retina). All of this signaling and transmitting happens in the blink of an eye. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

As they went deeper, Weisel and Hubel discovered that if they covered one eye in kittens, preventing stimulation, the now dominate eye took over the areas of the brain (and the corresponding cells) which would normally be activated by the opposite eye. However, the cells of these kittens did not develop in the same way as kittens using both eyes. They did not develop binocular vision, which meant they did not see objects 3-dimensionally within their environment – and this lack of development was irreversible, which lead to a deeper understanding of ocular (and brain) plasticity.

“Innate mechanisms endow the visual system with highly specific connections, but visual experience early in life is necessary for their maintenance and full development. Deprivation experiments demonstrate that neural connections can be modulated by environmental influences during a critical period of postnatal development.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel

 

“We are born with this ability. So, as a newborn, open your eyes, visual system is ready to respond to the outside world.”

 

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, explaining significance of research that won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Consider, for a moment, what you (literally and visually) saw as a child. Did you see people from different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and races? Did you see different genders and sexualities? Did you see people of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds? Did you see people of different heights and weights? Did you see people of different abilities? How did you see these people? And, how did you come to understand these people and how they fit into your world?

These are important questions to ask ourselves, in part, because while science has shown that brains can experience quite a bit of plasticity over a lifetime, change and new neural pathways are only created when we understand what we are seeing/perceiving – and understand that what we are seeing/perceiving is different from what we have seen/perceived/understood before. Additionally, the neural pathways are only hardwired when repeated experiences reinforce the new experience. Ultimately, however, if we don’t have reinforced experiences (or we don’t understand what we are seeing/perceiving) then what is reinforced is our tunnel vision and lack of depth. Confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new information as confirmation or proof of existing beliefs is tunnel vision and a lack of depth. It can also be a bit of hallucination.

“We see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well. And seeing with the brain is often called imagination. And we are familiar with the landscapes of our own imagination, our inscapes. We’ve lived with them all our lives. But there are also hallucinations as well, and hallucinations are completely different. They don’t seem to be of our creation. They don’t seem to be under our control. They seem to come from the outside, and to mimic perception.”

 

– Dr. Oliver Sacks in a TED Talk, discussing Charles Bonnet syndrome (a condition where visually impaired people hallucinate)

“I saw people that had been incarcerated and, you know, the whole issue about the rights of people determining their own fate has always been close to my heart.”

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, discussing his humanitarian efforts as an academic and scientist

Dr. Torsten Wiesel turns 96 today. His career as a scientist, a researcher, and an academic allowed him to be exposed to people from all over the world. And, it seems, he always kept his eyes open. He served as chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the National Academies of Science in the US, as well as the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies for 10 years. He is a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, a nongovernmental nonprofit established in 2004 to support collaborative research between scientists in Israel and Palestine. In addition to his many scientific awards and accolades, he was awarded the 2005 David Rall Medal from the Institute of Medicine and the 2009 Grand Cordon Order of the Rising Sun Medal (in Japan).

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 3rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice that’s as much about the brain as it is about the body and the heart. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“For me ‘plus tôt’ is a piece that talks about the sort of space and time that you’re in before things happen to you. The sort of calm you can feel when you don’t know that some events are about to change you. It’s the beginning of the trip. It’s the beginning of the inscape.”

 

– Alexandra Stéliski explaining the inspiration for the first piece on her album Inscape (the song title translates to “earlier”)

More ocular science…

 

(NOTE: Some blog quotes by Drs. Wiesel and Hubel are from a short biography produced by National Science & Technology Medals Foundation when Dr. Wiesel was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science.)

 

### I CAN SEE YOU. CAN YOU SEE ME? ###

 

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

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“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###