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Re-envisioning Freedom, on a Tuesday (a “renewed” post) April 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Tuesday, Easter Tuesday, or Counting the Omer! 

It’s the fourth day of Passover and, since I don’t have classes on Thursday and Friday, I’m returning to one of my favorite Passover class themes. Also, the message, which I originally posted in 2020, bears repeating! (Class details and links have been updated. Plus, there’s a special offering from my YouTube series about changing perspectives.)

“’Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take [one] according to the number of people, each one according to one’s ability to eat, shall you be counted for the lamb.’”

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– Shemot / Exodus 12:3-4

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“’And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord.’”

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– Shemot / Exodus 12:11

Every year, as we approach the end of Passover, I think about the first Passover Seder. What would that have been like? How would have felt to celebrate freedom? How would it have felt to give thanks to G-d for that freedom? Charlie Harary points out that while it is natural to think the first Passover Seder occurred a year after exodus, it actually happened the night before exodus. That’s right: G-d commanded the Jewish people to celebrate their freedom and give thanks for being delivered out of Egypt before they were even free – even before they knew their freedom was guaranteed.

Can you imagine doing that? Can you imagine how it would feel? Can you imagine the faith it would take to sit in the middle of your suffering, in the middle of your family and friends as they suffer, and give thanks for what’s to come?

There is a history of this kind of observation in the Hebrew Bible. Remember, in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the instructions for Sukkot are to celebrate what will be given – not what has been given. On a certain level, the High Holidays falls into this paradigm; as the 10 Days of Awe / 10 Days of Atonement are a period of reflection, but also a period of looking forward.

“If one thinks of onself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’”

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– Ashtavakra Gita 1:11

It seems completely backwards to the modern mind. Today we think we need to Have something, in order to Do something, in order to Be what or who we want to be. However, Harary, as well as Neale Donald Walsh in Conversations with God, point out that the Old Testament formula – the formula for success in the time of Moses – was very different. Instead of Have + Do = Be, Harary and Walsh say that the formula was Be + Do = Have. So, if we want to have certain experiences, certain relationships, and certain things in our lives, we have to conduct ourselves as the person that has the experiences, relationships, and things we want in our lives.

“This formula is infallible. There is no wish that has been fulfilled, nor any wish that has been denied, that does not adhere to the principle of the Creation Equation. Every time that you got what you wanted, your desire for it plus the energy you invested in achieving it were greater than the forces that resisted you having it. Each time they weren’t greater, you didn’t get what you wanted.”

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– Rod Styker in The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom

Think about it for a moment. One of the things with which people struggle at times is what to Do in a situation. Other times, we don’t struggle. We know exactly what to do and everything falls into place. Successfully achieving our goals still takes effort, it still takes work. But, sometimes, we know exactly what steps to take. How do we know? Because we’re in the mindset of the person who is going to do the work, we take that first step.

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker codifies a similar formula for success, which he calls “The Creation Equation:” Is + Iv > Ik = P. Here, the intensity (or energy) of desire (Is) combined with the intensity (or energy) put into achieving the goal (Iv), must be greater than the resistance to achieving the goal (Ik), in order for the goal to be achieved (P). It’s easy, straightforward, and makes perfect sense. The problem is that we don’t always realize how much resistance we have to overcome – or that a large bulk of resistance comes from not believing in our ability to achieve success; and/or, in others not believing that we can achieve our success. When we spend a lot of time focused on what we don’t have, we don’t do. When we wake up each morning knowing who we are (BE); we get to work, (DO)ing what we need; so that at the end of the day we HAVE what we need and want.

But, going back to that first Passover Seder for a moment, consider that there is also a contemplative history of imagining one’s self in a certain situation and considering how we would feel or act in that situation. In the Roman Catholic tradition, contemplation is imagining one’s self in the situations of the Gospels. This type of contemplation, along with discernment (noticing the interior movements of the heart), is a big piece of Saint Ignatius of Loyala’s “Spiritual Exercises.” Another example of contemplation in the Christian tradition is moving through the Stations of the Cross. In the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga, one of the niyamas (“internal observations”) is svādyāya (“self study” or “self reflection”). Svādyāya includes noticing how we physically, mentally, and emotionally react or respond to sacred text, music, or situations.

“The study of scripture is another way of putting the principle of self-study into practice…. Elaborating on the concept of svādyāya, Vyasa emphasizes that only those texts that embody indisputable knowledge showing us the path to ultimate freedom are an essential component of self-study. In other words, svādyāya entails the study of spiritual texts that are authentic, contain experiential knowledge, and are infused with the energy to guide us on the path of inner freedom.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2:1 in The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

If you’re interested in practicing a little svādyāya, by “attending” the first Passover Seder, please join me today (Tuesday, April 19th) 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 “04142020 Envisioning Freedom”]

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

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

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

If you are interested in more content about changing, which is a game changer, check out the latest video in my “9 Days” video series.

Also, mark your calendar for April 23rd – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

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

Can you imagine Kissing My Asana?

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 14th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 14th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 14th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 14th Practice

“Thank you, God,
Look how misery has ended for us.
The rain has fallen,
The corn has grown,
All the children that were hungry are going to eat.
Let’s dance the Congo,
Let’s dance the Petro,
God said in Heaven
That misery has ended for us.”

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– “Merci Bon Dieu” by Frantz Casseus, sung by Harry Belafonte

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### AMEN, SELAH ###

Effort and Effect (a “missing” post from a week ago) February 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Lent, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“‘Life Is’ is a simple thing, with piano, strings & synth, and is the result of my ruminations on recent events in my life. In many ways it’s a microcosm of my life. Repetitive, in a warm, familiar kind of way, with sprinklings of sadness, and joy… always slightly improvised, but never too much drama. ;)”

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– quoted from the description of the song “Life Is” by Scott Buckley

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“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to consider what it means to be human. In the process of considering what it means to be human, we have to also address what it means to live life as humans. Here, we can use the words of either Scott – because life is “a simple thing” and “life is difficult.” Then we need to add in the fact that life is a beautiful thing, a hard thing, a challenging thing. Life can also be messed up, twisted, upside down, and backwards – and not always in a fun way. Life is full of dichotomy and full of contradictions. It can be, and often is, out of balance. What’s more, the way we live our lives can also be all of these things – at the same time… which can make life really hard.

It can also make it hard to do the right thing.

We would like to think that when we do the right thing everything will just fall into place. We would like to think that life will be easier if we make the right decision, at the exact right time, and do the right things. I mean, that’s what we’re taught, right? That’s the secret, right?

Sure, yes. I stand behind the idea of being in the flow. Here’s the thing though: In order for things to fall into place, they have to be set up in a certain way – which requires work, effort. That’s the part of the lesson we always seem to skip over. But, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful opportunities fall into your lap, you still have to use the opportunities. You still have to do the work.

“The literal meaning kriya is “verb.” Every verb is representative of a distinct process or function and no process of function reaches fruition without a doer.”

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– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated into English as “work” or “effort,” and which both apply to our thoughts, words, and deeds/actions. The first word is kriyā and the second word is karma. Most English speakers are familiar with the word karma (or kamma in Pali). Even if they are not 100% certain about the meaning, they understand the general concept of cause-and-effect. What they may miss is that karma is the effect or consequence, while kriyā is the cause. Kriyā is an ongoing process and also the steps within the process; it is active. You could also think of karma as fate and kriyā as destiny; where the former is unchangeable and the latter as the journey to your destination.

Some traditions specifically use kriyā in relation to internal action or work and speak of karma when referring to external work. In some ways, this dovetails with Yoga Sūtra 2.1, which defines kriyā yoga (“union in action”) as a combination of the final three niyamas (internal “observations”): discipline/austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self). In this context, kriyā yoga is a purification ritual and, as I mention throughout the year, there are several religious and philosophical observations that would fit within this rubric (including Lent, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and the holy month of Ramaḍān).

Additionally, in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, “kriyā” is the term applied to sequences with specific energetic intentions.

This is where it gets (even more) convoluted, because karma can also be the intention. Classically, when we talk about karma, we talk about planting seeds and things coming into fruition. So, one way to think of it is that we plant seeds that already have within them the image of the final product and kriyā is what we do to nurture and harvest what’s been planted – and/or what we do when we need to uproot the poisonous weeds.

“There comes a time when we should be together
United in our fight to make things better.
Our world is here,
But will not be forever,
Depending on our will to change [the] matter.”
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“This is a song of hope.”
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– quoted the song “Song of Hope” by Avishai Cohen

The practice on February 20th was partially inspired by current events and people who feel called to do hard things for the right reasons. These same people have even called on others to help do the work that is required to bring more balance into the world. In thinking about these people in the modern world, I found myself thinking back to people who did hard things in ancient worlds. One such person was Arjuna in the events of The Bhagavad Gita, and, even though it wasn’t the right time of year – per se – I decided to focus on the wisdom of another such ancient person: Syncletica of Alexandria, one of the Desert Mothers.

The Bhagavad Gita is set during a lull in battle during a great civil war. Arjuna is a prince and military leader on one side of the battle. As others magically look on, he stands in the middle of the battlefield and has a crisis of faith. He looks at his family and friends on both sides of the battlefield and he “loses his resolve.” He questions why he fighting and what will be resolved. He shares with his best friend and charioteer that he is filled with an amalgamation of emotions, including the possibility of shame and unhappiness if he were to kill his own friends and family.

As he is sharing his deepest worries and fears, his friend (Krishna) reveals himself as an avatar of God and emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right even when it (and everything else) seems wrong. He outlines several different methods by which one can live a “truth-based life” and experience ultimate fulfilment (which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the spoils of battle). Krishna is very clear that there are different methods or paths for different people and (sometimes) for different situations, but that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine and to self-realization. In this context, “Karma Yoga” is defined as “the path of action for the busy, action-oriented person.”(BG 3.3) However, and this is also emphasized throughout the text, the goal is to work without desire and without expectation. Krishna indicates that “both the action and the fruits of the action” are to be offered up to the Divine so that the action is nonbinding and selfless and, therefore, will not lead to reincarnation. (BG 3.9) Remember, offering your efforts back to the Source is the same instruction Patanjali gives in outlining kriyā yoga.

Ever skeptical, Arjuna thinks it is impossible for him to work without desire. Krishna explains to him, again and again, that it is not impossible. It does require however, that one has the right mindset. It also requires (hard) work and sacrifice. (BG 3.10-3.16, 6.33-36)

“‘Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.47) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

One of the big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is that everyone has a role to play in society. As Krishna explains in Chapter 18 people’s different personalities play a part in determining their different roles and duties. In very general (but explicit) terms, he describes “Seers, Leaders, Providers, and Servers.” He also emphasizes that “No particular group of people is superior to any other, but like limbs of the body, each has a respective role to play.” (BG 18.41) The descriptions are clear enough that we can easily identify ourselves and also recognize that there are times when we are called to serve more than one role.

For example, a professional teacher could be described as a seer and/or a leader. But, even if we are not professional teachers, the way we live our lives sets an example. The way we live our lives teaches others – especially younger generations – how to love, how to care for each other, how to stand up for what’s right, and how to do the right thing… even when it is hard. In this way, we are all leaders.

“‘Consider them one by one. Society’s Seers are the holy ones (in some societies referred to as Brahmins). Seers are expected to establish the character and spiritual underpinnings of society. Their duties are generally of pure, unmixed sattva and are therefore congenial to a person of sattvic nature. This is what is meant by the term “born of their own nature.” Providing spiritual and moral leadership is generally “natural” to Seers.

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‘Seers must have spiritual knowledge and wisdom – knowledge of God-realization obtained through devout study – and wisdom beyond knowledge, acquired through direct experience of the Atma. Seers must have purity of heart, mind, and body; and allow no perversity or corruption to creep in. They must possess serenity, calmness, forbearance, forgiveness, and patience – and hold to an unwavering faith in the divinity of all life. The primary purpose of the Seers is to help transform society’s exemplary human beings into godly beings.

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‘The primary objective of society’s Leaders is to help transform ordinary human beings into exemplary human beings. The Leaders (referred to as Kshatriyas) are expected to guard the welfare and prosperity of society by serving the people. They are charged with bringing moral stamina and adherence to duty through courage, fearlessness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of changing conditions. They must be examples of law, justice, and generosity. They must lead by inspiring the populace through good example and yet be ready to enforce their authority.

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‘Both groups are strong in their own ways. The strength of the Leaders lies in their courage; the strength of the Seers lies in their spiritual glow.'”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.42 – 18.43) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Saint Syncletica is a perfect example of a seer. Also known as Amma Syncletica, she was a 4th century Christian mystic who was reportedly born into a wealthy Macedonian family in Alexandria, Egypt. By all accounts, she was a beautiful woman who could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege. Yet, from an early age, she felt a calling to serve God. From a very early age, she committed herself to God.

When her parents passed away, Syncletica donated her inheritance to the poor. Then, she cut her hair and, much to the chagrin of her many suitors, she and her younger blind sister moved to something akin to catacombs. One abbot reported that she just kept going deeper and deeper into the desert – which might have been a metaphor. Eventually, her lived example drew other women into the ascetic lifestyle that was focused on salvation, self-realization and union with God – the same end goal outlined in the Yoga Sūtras, described in The Bhagavad Gita, and highlighted in sacred texts from a variety of different traditions (including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).

It is believed that Amma Syncletica died around 350 AD, when she was eighty or eighty-four years old. The Vita S. Syncleticæ is one of the primary sources of her life and stories related to her life. The Greek biography is attributed to Athanasius I of Alexandria – although it appears to have been written after his death (and around a hundred years after hers). Thirty to fifty years after the appearance of the Vita, she is one of three women whose stories and words are included in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Saint Syncletica was venerated by the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. In some Greek traditions she is honored on January 4th (on the Julian calendar). In most traditions, her feast day is January 5th – although, she is no longer included on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the Episcopal Church (in the United States) she is celebrated along with two other Desert Ammas, Sarah and Theodora.

“Amma Syncletica said, ‘In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [Heb 12:24]): so we must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

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– based on The Life of the Blessed & Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie 

Coda: A couple of weeks ago, I really felt the need for this message. What I mean is that I needed to hear the encouragement of this message. Given the fact that I knew some other people were facing tough decisions, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one that needed the reminder that even something that reduces us to tears, can lead us to “unspeakable joy.” I thought maybe we all needed to hear how important it is to keep doing the work even when you don’t feel supported by others – and, also, to keep doing the work even when you’re being supported by people with whom you have no other common ground.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was only thinking about metaphorical battles and metaphorical battlegrounds.

Yes, there were real wars and battles happening a couple of weeks ago, but they were (in many ways), out of sight and out of mind. Today, those battles and battlefields are front and center again. As we watch war play out in real time, we can clearly see the Seers, the Leaders, the Providers, and the Servers. We can see how hard it is to do the right thing – and even the high cost of doing the right thing. We can also see that the final words of the Gita are still true:

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.'”

– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to “the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*Dr. Peck noted that he was essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

“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.’

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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.

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‘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.

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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.’”

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

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### You Gotta Do The Work & Honor The Work You’re Doing ###

FTWMI: The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Twosday post about movement and expressions) February 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s 22222! That makes this Twosday a universal palindrome date (“universal” because it’s a palindrome in all the major dating notation systems)! In thinking about common “threads,” here’s the 2021 post for this date. It has been updated with additional embedded links (to related posts). Class information has also been updated for today.

“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

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

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

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

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

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“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

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 22nd) 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.

*

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

*

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.)

### PEACE (PEACE) PEACE ###

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.”

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– 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

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### 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

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– 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)

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“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) ###