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To Whom Are You/We Listening? (a “missing” post) June 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[Pardon me while I catch up! This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 29th. You can request an audio recording of the related practice(s) 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. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“And He said: ‘Go out and stand in the mountain before the Lord, Behold! the Lord passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake-not in the earthquake was the Lord. After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a still small sound.’”

Melachim I / 1 Kings (19:11-12)

Like Patanjali, Saint John of the Cross recognized that the mind-body is constantly bombarded with information via sensations. Patanjali refers to cittavŗitti nirodhah (“ceasing the fluctuations of the mind”). Saint John of the Cross recommended “it is best to learn to silence the faculties and cause them to be still, so that God may speak.” In both cases, the ultimate aim is not to hear the noise of the “wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders,” nor is it to hear the sound of the earthquake or the fire; the ultimate goal is to hear the still quiet voice of the Divine, whatever that means to you at this moment. People have different beliefs about the source(s) of the quiet, and how you can know the good voices from the evil. But, I’m not going to get into all that today. I’m just going to ask some “simple” questions.

Are you listening to the obvious noise or are you listening to a small sound/whisper? To what little, still quiet voice inside of yourself do you listen? Just as importantly, to what little voices outside of yourself do you listen? By that I mean: To whom are you/we listening? And why are you listening to those the voices? Are they simply the ones that that get heard?

“We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them”

– quoted from the “A New Vision” – 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Acceptance Address by Ted Sorenson (written for The Washington Monthly as “the speech of his dreams”)

I get asked some weird, bizarre, and wonderfully insightful questions – on and off the mat. Sometimes these questions are hyper-intrusive. Other times they are questions asked out of general curiosity and asked in ways that make me really curious, get me thinking. One of those really insightful questions, asked out of general curiosity, came from a dear friend who was a friend before really taking my classes. After taking a class one day, this friend approached me and essentially asked if I ever played female musicians. I do and I did. However, with a few exceptions (like on International Women’s Day), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly male and, with a few exceptions (like on Cinco de Mayo), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly white. I can break this down even more, but you get the point: I’m an “American” girl, living in an “American” world.

Even before I literally did the math, which surprised me, I told my friend that it would be naïve of me to say, “This is what I like and this is why I like it,” without pointing out that part of why I like what I like is because it’s what I hear – and what I hear is based on an industry standard that is based on a societal standard determined by a ruling class. Being an “American” girl, living in an “American” world means that I am subject to a white, male, heterosexual gaze (and ear) – and on a certain level, I’m comfortable with that. However, the main reason I’m comfortable with that is because that’s been my primary culture for most of my life. (Please keep in mind, that I put “American” in quotes, not because American culture is monolithic, but because the stereotype of what is American is pretty monochromatic.)

Now, here’s where things get a little twisted; because if the statements above resonate with you, you may not think twice about it (just as I didn’t think twice until questioned about it). If you resemble the statements above, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with my early (and even some current) playlists, because it’s also the music to which you are accustomed to hearing – especially if you are around my same age or slightly older. Even more to the point, you may not have ever questioned why I didn’t play more African-American, Latin, and/or more female musicians. You might have even accepted the fact that I’m from Texas as the reason why I play so much country.

But, the question wasn’t really about the “why.” I mean, it’s informative and can raise awareness, but we can’t go back and change history. I can’t go back and change the vinyl I listened to as a child and/or the first cassette tapes I received as a Christmas present. Ultimately, the question from my friend wasn’t about the past. Ultimately, the question for me was: How do you react/respond now that the question has come up?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT), under “The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1 (NLT)

I could have been offended and even felt threatened by the question and the resulting self-inquiry. Instead, I did the math…. And, not gonna lie, I was a little shocked. Then I did a little more soul searching and decided I could do a little more “soul” searching when it came to the music I used to tell the stories I tell on and off the mat. I could do my part, in more little corner of the world, to ensure a few more voices are heard.

Ironically, the playlist for this particular practice is mostly instrumental. It may not be obvious when the composer is not male and it may not be obvious when a composer is not white. In fact, one of the female composers sometimes shows up on playlists as “Various Artists” – which, I guess, is akin to “Anonymous” in the literary world. Then too, there’s the whole issue of the orchestra’s demographics.

There was a time, not that long ago, when orchestras in the Western world were predominantly white and predominantly male. There was a definite bias in hiring and I can say that with a good degree of certainty because once orchestras started using blind auditions as part of their hiring process, the number of women in symphonies astronomically increased. Granted, sometimes this process to eliminate bias required musicians to not only play behind a screen, but to also to take off their shoes.

The exponential increase in female musicians started in the 1980’s, but has not been completely replicated when it comes to race. While women represented 5-6% of some major American orchestras in 1970, they now make up 30%, even 50%, of some orchestras. This is a statistical change that is not explained away by a change in orchestration. On the flip side, Black and Latino musicians are still not represented in American orchestras in a way that reflects the community around them. In fact, when it comes to race, some of the orchestra pits in American look pretty much the way they did in 1969.

For example, 52 years ago, when 2 Black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic of racial discrimination, the orchestra had only one Black musician, the first one they had ever hired: 30-year old Sanford Allen, a violinist who had started studying at the Julliard School of Music at age 10. This time last year, the Philharmonic still only had one Black musician: Anthony McGill, an internationally renowned clarinetist, who had performed as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal clarinetist for 10 years BEFORE he was hired as the Philharmonic’s first Black principal. Notably, Mr. McGill’s older brother, Demarre McGill, is also a professional musician. In fact, the elder (by 4 years) Mr. McGill is the principal flautist with the Seattle Symphony – a position he previously held with BOTH the Dallas Symphony and the San Diego Symphony.

The McGill brothers were exposed to orchestral music at a young age and started playing at a young age. Additionally, they had talent, perseverance, the resources to audition, and access to private conservatories and summer programs. All of which put them in an industry “pipeline” designed to land in an orchestra pit. Some people have argued that there are other talented non-white musicians out there – but that they don’t have access to the pipeline or the resources to audition. Others argue that the talent is coming – slowly, but surely – into the pipeline. If the latter is correct, and it’s only a matter of time, then the question becomes when will they be heard? When will they have the resources to be heard?

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

– “By this same [practice] the suspension or disappearance of one’s own [spoken] words and other senses can be explained.”

I have heard that Yoga Sūtra 3.22 is a “thread” that doesn’t often get heard. That’s a little pun based on the fact that the sūtra in question is a continuation of the previous aphorism and asserts that the same practice that allows one to make themselves invisible can also be use to make one undetectable by the other senses – specifically, one becomes unheard. Ironically, this particular line is not included in all translations. Sometimes it is left out completely. In other cases, it is wrapped up in one of the other lines.

I’ll be honest, I mentioned it in the previous practice (on not being seen), because I really considered just bundling it all together with 3.21. In the end, however, I decided to let this power be heard for a few big reasons: (a) it is a siddhi that is based on shabda (“word”), which is itself a “power unique to being human;” (b) I was kind of amused by the irony of it getting left out (i.e., not heard); (c) I am consistently frustrated (even angered) by the voices that go unheard; and (d) I am consistently inspired when marginalized voices are heard.

Regarding those last two points, Saturday, May 29th was almost exactly a week before a “First Friday Night Special” when I was going to focus on the throat chakra, which is related to personal will/determination as it relates to universal will/determination. It is also related to expression – one’s ability to speak and be heard; to make one’s needs and desires known to the world. Furthermore, I knew that it was just a few days before the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre that decimated Black Wall Street. The anniversary (and events leading up to the anniversary) highlighted how voices (and stories) that had been silenced for years were finally being heard. What I didn’t foresee was that during that same week, at least three other events would bring awareness to moments when people are heard versus what happens when people are silenced.

First, the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was the largest Indian “boarding” school in British Columbia Canada. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969 and by the Canadian government from 1969 until 1978, when it was closed. Although many people in the United States are unfamiliar with these schools – as they are not discussed in polite company (i.e., in most public and private school systems) – there were over 350 such schools in the United States and 130 such schools in Canada from the end of the 19th century all the way through the end of the 20th century. In Canada alone, over 150,000 First Nation children were placed in these schools – which were established with the specific intent of eradicating Indian culture and, in doing so, decimating the Indian populace as strong people, families, and communities.

Between me initially writing this post and actually posting it, remains of at least 751 more people have been discovered in unmarked mass graves at the location of a different school in Canada.

A friend who was helping an organization tell the stories of some of the children forcibly enrolled in these schools mentioned them a few years back and we talked about how little awareness there was around the schools and their mission. Like my friend, I was as appalled by the existence of these schools as I was by the fact that some of them were still in operation in 1996. According to an Indian Country Today article by Mary Annette Pember, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission estimated “that up to 6,000 children died at the schools from disease, abuse, starvation, and other ills.” Read those Canadian numbers again and consider the ramifications when it comes to similar unheard stories in the United States (which had over 2.5 times as many schools).

“U.S. boarding schools were often woefully underfunded. Conditions at the schools — poor food, clothing, housing as well as close sleeping quarters — contributed to the spread of disease and sometimes death.

According to researchers, many schools failed to keep accurate records of student deaths. Parents of those who died were often notified after the child’s burial, if they were notified at all; few could afford travel expenses to pick up their children’s remains.

Additionally, school superintendents were urged to avoid incurring expenses related to returning children’s remains home to their families.”

– quoted from the June 6, 2021 Indian Country Today article entitled, “‘We won’t forget about the children’ – Additional unmarked graves likely at US Indian boarding schools” by Mary Annette Pember

Around the same time the news was filled with stories about the deaths of First Nations children, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School (in Dallas, Texas) was getting ready for her graduation ceremony. For a variety of reasons, the school’s protocol was that graduation speeches had to be approved and so, as was required, Paxton Smith sent her speech about TV and the media through the proper channels and it was included in the “podium book.” However, her graduation happened less than two weeks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new restriction into law that bans abortions “as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected,” which is at about six weeks. As Ms. Smith noted in the unapproved speech she ended up delivering, the law takes away a person’s choice before they may even realize they are pregnant – and this is true even if the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or incest. By her own admission, Ms. Smith expected her microphone to be cut – but it wasn’t. She was allowed to complete her short speech and express her concern about her future and the future of her peers.

On the flip side, the last thing retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter expected was that his microphone would be cut during a Memorial Day observation in Hudson, Ohio. Just like Paxton Smith, the veteran who served in the United States Army for 30 years (including during the Persian Gulf War) submitted his speech to the appropriate channels. Even though the chair of the Memorial Day Parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary asked him to remove a portion of his speech, the Lieutenant Colonel thought it was important for people to hear about the history of Memorial Day; the whole history, including how it got started. For a variety of reason, he expected his keynote speech to be heard in its entirety. Instead, when he reached the point in his speech where he talked about the first Memorial Day observation, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s speech was cut. In a single moment, he was denied his First Amendment Right. More to the point, he was denied one of the very rights he fought and served to protect. He was also denied the respect that some would say should come hand-in-hand with serving in the military. Why wasn’t he heard (clearly)? Because someone wanted the unheard story of freed Blacks having a parade after giving a proper burial to Union troops to stay unheard.

“The throat chakra has been referred to as the Holy Grail of the chakras because it holds information from all the chakras…. Within the sacred container of the throat chakra, all of this energy and information is ‘metabolized’ – broken down and put back together into a form that becomes your unique expression in the world.”

– quoted from “chapter 5: The Chakras – Your Body’s Energy Stations” in Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body’s Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality by Donna Eden with David Feinstein, Ph.D.

More often than not, when we talk about the neck and throat in our physical practice of yoga, we end up focusing on the heart and heart openers. Which means that a lot of time we access the throat chakra by accessing the heart chakra – and they are inextricably connected, physically and energetically. On the physical side, when we do back bends / heart openers, we are extending the spine. This extension includes the cervical spine, which can sometimes present a problem. Since the neck is usually the most flexible part of the spin it can get hyper-extended, over flexed, over extended, and over rotated. On the energetic side, it can get blocked.

Ideally, if the cervical spine is simply continuing the extension of the rest of your spine, then fully bending backwards (through your whole spine) would bring the top (or back) of your head to your feet and there would still be a hand’s-breadth worth of space at the back of your neck. Consider, however, how often you do a backbend and find your head collapsing back against the tops of your shoulders – essentially compressing the base of the cervical spine instead of extending it. It’s good, every now and again, to check in with your neck to see if it is in line with the rest of your spine or if it is doing its own things.

Checking the alignment of our neck is a good idea even when we don’t completely recognize that we are in spinal extension. Our head, on average, weighs about 12 lbs., but when we drop the head forward (or back) we compound the pressure on our neck. Drop your chin down and the weight/force on the cervical spine increases about 10 lbs. for every inch. In other words, look down so your head drops an inch and now there’s ~22 lbs. of weight on your neck. Look down another inch and now you’ve increased the load to ~32 lbs. – and so it goes. The angle may not seem like much; but, consider what happens when you spend hours looking down at a computer or a book – especially if you are also hunched over or slouching as you look down. For that matter, consider how much extra weight you’re adding to your upper body when you look down during a push up or plank!

Thinking about all that added pressure may remind you to take more breaks to roll out your neck and shrug your shoulders throughout your day – which is great – but don’t forget that all that looking down is also shortening some of your neck muscles and weakening some of your neck muscles. The result of that imbalance in the front and back of your neck may mean your muscles are straining when you’re in a neutral position, because they are not in the habit of holding your head up properly. This can result in neck and shoulder pain, which may in turn cause (stress) headaches. All that looking down and hunching over also means that we are, essentially, hiding our hearts.

“This is a vulnerable place, because the throat chakra is where the inside comes out.”

– quoted from “Chakra Five: Sound – The Communication Chakra” by Anodea Judith, PhD

In learning about the energetic connections between the mind-body-spirit, as outlined by Yoga and Āyurveda as the come to us from India, I was taught that when addressing a particular area make sure you address the areas directly above and directly below. In other words, if you are focusing on the 5th chakra (throat), you would also address the 4th (heart) and 6th (third eye). Inevitably this brings awareness to the whole mind-body – especially when your focus is something like the 5th chakra, which pretty much requires you to address the whole body. And I mean that symbolically as well as energetically, physically, and mentally.

Remember, each part of the (physical) mind-body is metaphorically and energetically connected to one of 7 major energy wheels (chakras)*, which in turn are metaphorically and energetically connected to part of our lived experience. The 1st chakra is related to our lower body, our roots – metaphorically and energetically associated with our first family, tribe, and community of birth. Just as we can be biologically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Hence, an adoptee may deal with genetic and energetic situations related to people that don’t “recognize” as family.

The 2nd chakra, the sacral chakra (lower abdominal and pelvic regions), is the associated with our sacred relationships – in particular, the relationships we make outside of our tribe and community of birth; people we might think of as our “chosen family.” (NOTE: All relationships are sacred; awareness of this simply highlights connections we may overlook. It can also include relationships we make with our first family grouping once we are an adult.) Moving into our upper abdominal cavity, we encounter the 3rd chakra (solar plexus) – metaphorically and energetically associated with our personality, our sense of self, and our self-esteem (ego). These are all tangible and describable parts of our lived experience and, for the most part, fall into the category of being “specific” in nature/manifestation.

The 4th chakra, the heart chakra, is related to our ability to embrace others, ourselves, a moment, and the world. This area is also related to the way we give and receive love, as well as the way we offer our gifts to the world… or not. When we start moving into manifestations of the heart, we start moving into emotional experiences that may or may not be tangible. In fact, we start moving into a category of things that are “unspecific” in nature and towards a category of things that manifest in a way that is “barely describable” – or, only indicated by signs.

Remember, we may not be able to touch a parent’s love for their child, but we can see it and we can experience the feeling of it. Because of this, we often marry these emotional experiences to the outward expressions of what is felt on the inside – which brings us to the 5th chakra, the throat chakra. When we start going deeper into the energetic dynamics of the throat, we find that we are not exploring how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination in a vacuum. No, the throat chakra is connected to how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination as we engage, interact, and/or surrender to (or balance) the needs, desires, and will/determination of others.

The third eye center, or 6th chakra, is the “seat of intuition” and related to one’s ability to perceive the Truth. The crown chakra, or 7th chakra, is related to the present moment. Both of which are “real,” but not tangible (as in touchable) or perceivable through the senses. When it comes to the throat chakra, we want to be able to perceive the Truth, in this present moment, so that we can speak the Truth, right here and right now.

In summary, I often point out that where we come from or start in life plays are part in how we make friends and with whom we make friends (even when it comes down to geography and logistics); where we come from and the friends we make along the way plays a part in how we see and understand ourselves and our place in the world; how we see ourselves and the support we get (or don’t get) from our family and friends plays a part in how we embrace the world and whether or not we offer our gifts and unique expressions/viewpoints to the world – as well as how well we compromise or “play” with others – and all of that plays a part in our understanding of the Truth when we encounter it as well as our ability/willingness to stay in the present moment versus having a penchant for being stuck in the past or constantly daydreaming (without any effort to manifest those dreams).

So, let’s say you (or a person you know) have a strong foundation in life. As a child you had what you needed and, sometimes, you even got what you wanted. If someone told you “no,” there was an explanation that your 5-year old brain may not have completely understood, but trusted and accepted. You may have taken some things for granted, but you mostly appreciate what you had (and have). You have great, supportive relationships, and a solid sense of self that comes with self awareness. You know you have love, joy, and kindness to offer the world and so you offer it to the best of your ability. You may have some self doubt – that’s natural and human – however, for the most part, you are determined to do certain things in life. Now, consider how you (or this person you know) speak up for yourself and others. Think about how the person above “says something” when they “see something” and something needs to be said.

[*NOTE: Some systems describe a several layers of chakras beyond those physically connected to the mind-body, but still connected to our lived experiences. The first of these (purely) metaphysical wheels is the 8th chakra, which is sometimes associated with a sense of wholeness – as in, being fully connected with the Divine. Consider how not feeling you have a stable foundation in life, not feeling connected to others and/or yourself, and not pursuing your dreams (or speaking up for yourself) can make you gullible (i.e., easily fooled or tricked); more inclined to focus on the past or an unrealistic future; and/or consistently seek out ways in which you can feel more connected and more powerful.]

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

During this practice, I asked if not being heard is like Langston Hughes’s “a dream deferred.” Do those who go unheard eventually explode, as the poem concludes? My answer is yes; because, as uncomfortable as it might make us – and as much as we might not like to hear it or admit it – we can’t deny that there are a lot of voices we are just now starting to hear. We are just now starting to hear some voices from the hills and from the mountains, and we are just now starting to hear some voices from the cities. We are just now starting to hear these loud (explosive) voices, because we weren’t paying attention when they were quiet (or being silenced).

There may be some voices we wish we had heard sooner. We may appreciate what they have to say; we may feel enriched by their perspectives; and we might think they would be less angry if they had been heard sooner. And then there are those equally angry voices that we wish would shut up, because we don’t appreciate their perspectives; we don’t believe we will be enriched by what they have to say; and we may not understand why they are so angry.

My dharma-buddy Stacy was recently featured on a podcast (see below) where she talked about how uncomfortable it is to talk to someone who has recently, and/or over the years, expressed opinions you find abhorrent. Maybe it’s a racist uncle. Maybe it’s a misogynistic friend or a classist neighbor. Maybe it’s your radically-left leaning, militant aunt. Either way, we’ve all been there and we’ve all had that moment where we decide not to speak up, because we don’t want things to become more twisted and uncomfortable.

Then, because we (or someone) didn’t speak up, the situation gets worse and more people get hurt. People start asking why we (or someone) didn’t speak up; why we (or someone) let the pain and suffering continue to happen – maybe even causing direct harm to more people. We may even find ourselves in situations where the finger pointing becomes victim blaming and shaming and not only are we not addressing the original issue, we’re not even addressing the situation that manifested as people not feeling comfortable speaking up and speaking out. Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the world have indicated that it is our responsibility to speak up. If we accept that as gospel truth then we also have to acknowledge the responsibility of listening and making sure voices (including our own) are being heard.

“There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose course is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. Such persons are in Montgomery today. These persons are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity, and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these white brothers to gird their courage, to speak out, to offer the leadership that is needed. Here in Montgomery we are seeking to improve the whole community, and we call upon the whites to help us….  If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

– quoted from the December 3, 1959 Address at the Fourth Annual Institute on the Nonviolence and Social Change of Bethel Church, Montgomery Alabama by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

What does it take to be heard? Well, first you have to speak. What does it take to speak? You have to have fortitude; which can come from that strong foundation, strong support, and that strong sense of self. You have to recognize that you’re not going to change every heart and every mind. Simultaneously, you have to know your heart and mind so that, even if what you say makes people uncomfortable, it is said from the heart, with love and kindness. Part of that practice of speaking from the heart – expressing your heart – is recognizing that everyone won’t agree with you or even understand you. And, that’s ok. As one of my sister-in-laws has said, repeatedly, “Sometimes it’s not for you to understand.”

You have to be aware that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. Maybe your basic premise is flawed or maybe you have the right idea, but express it in a way that’s not wise, skillful, or wholesome. You have to recognize that other people’s needs and desires are based on their lived experiences – which are different from your lived experiences. But, with all that, you have to be determined to be heard. Finally, you need someone who is willing (determined even) to listen – and maybe even to give you their platform.

“SM: …I just talk with her about how, I imagine how difficult that will be; given that she has not been able to make her voice heard with someone that she is close to, with someone that she knows. And that that is a great place to start.  It’s like metta practice: Don’t doubt the power of such a seemingly small interaction – that the impact ripples out. So, talk to your friends and family, who articulate a perspective or viewpoint that is different than yours; without trying to convince them that their way is wrong, without trying to change their mind. Again, genuinely engaging with interest: How did you come to have that perspective? How do you imagine that impacts these people? Like, genuinely, with interest to understand.

DH: So courage doesn’t necessarily mean flipping tables or, you know, throwing cutlery. It can just be inquiring with real interest, as opposed to just an outright confrontation.

SM: Absolutely. And it may have that same intensity for that friend as it would for me, say, in my workplace proposing a whole anti-racist curriculum.”

– quoted from the Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris episode “#350: How to Be Courageous” – featuring Stacy McClendon

Ultimately, there are lots of things – physically, emotionally, and energetically speaking – that keep us from…well, speaking. Sometimes there’s too much energy, too much engagement, and at other times there is not enough. Sometimes when we want to talk about a certain subject or be heard on a certain issue, we find we have a scratchy throat or that we’re losing our voice. Other times, we just can’t seem to find the right words… or we can’t get the words out and we stutter. Sometimes another person’s will/determination to be heard is stronger than ours – sometimes because they believe they should be (and/or have the right) to be heard.

Going back to the Patanjali’s sūtra, the “ability” to not be heard can feel like a loss of power, but what if it enables a transfer of power? What if enables more to be heard? What if it enables more understanding?

May 29th is the anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in 1917, President Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery during his tenure as a United States Senator. He even won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, despite the fact that the book was not included in a list of finalists. The short book features profiles of eight United States Senators who spoke up for what they believed to be right, even though their actions, words, and deeds were not necessarily popular with their constituents and/or party. They spoke for what they believed to be right even when they found themselves under attack and without a position. Heart openers and the idea behind the book are usually my focus on President Kennedy’s birthday, and might even seem to be a good point of entry for Yoga Sūtra 3.22 – except for that really inconvenient part of the story people don’t often mention.

At the beginning of 1953, Ted Sorenson became the chief legislative aide to the then-freshman Senator John F. Kennedy. Eventually, he would become President Kennedy’s special counselor, adviser, and primary speechwriter. Along with Georgetown University professor Jules Davids, he was initially (and publicly) recognized as someone who aided the Senator in writing Profiles in Courage. He even received some remuneration for his “research” and assistance. These days, however, many historians acknowledge that while the idea was Kennedy, the final product was almost all Sorenson. Likewise, a poem featured in the miniseries 11.22.63 is almost always credited to Stephen King, who wrote the book of the same name – even though the poem does not appear in the book. The original poem was, in fact, written by Bridget Carpenter and then edited by Stephen King as he reviewed her script.

It is nice to get credit where credit is due, but these examples are also a good reminder that we all have a voice – even if we are using sign language, even if we are using a computer – we have a way to be “heard,” to share the power of our words. So remember, you have been invited in and honor what you have to say, and honor what those around you are saying.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

– a poem by Bridget Carpenter and Stephen King, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

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

On having the heart to have a heart-to-heart (the aforementioned podcast)

### LISTEN SILENCE LISTEN ###

Are You Dreaming or Not Dreaming? June 23, 2020

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“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”

 

Chuang Tzu: Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, Wisdom of Ancient China, Taoist Scriptures translated by Lin Yutang, Mingming “Michael” Xu, et al

 

“QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art
translated. {Exit}

BOTTOM: I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

 

– the rude mechanicals in Act III, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

Everything is a matter of perspective, and our experiences provide that perspective. We see/understand everything through the lens of our experiences. The only problem is that we viewing everything through layers and layers of experiences, essentially layers and layers of samskaras, which often limit our perspective and our understanding. Our senses may pick up everything around us and, on some level, our brains sift through, process, and analyze every bit of information (in the form of sensation), but our mind/intellect may only consciously share a portion of that information. Add to that the fact that we cannot see ourselves, not really. So, we depend on our understanding of what we believe others perceive about us and combine that with how we want to be (or already think we are) perceived. It’s a flawed circuit, based on avidyā (ignorance). Or, as the Eastern philosophers say, it is all a dream, a projection, an illusion, māyā.

Now, add in the fact that we interact with others (and ourselves) based on this limited and flawed view of ourselves, others, and the world – and that we cling tightly to our flawed understanding because we fear losing ourselves. We fear that loss of self even when we recognize on some level that we are limited in our understanding. We especially fear that loss of self when we believe we have right understanding. Factoring all of this, is it any wonder that there is so much suffering in the world? Not only do we not truly understand ourselves or others, we act as if we do understand ourselves and others. We become like Shakespeare’s Bottom: not understanding that we have literally become an ass.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, tells us that we the powers/abilities to lift the veils of illusion. We have ways in which we are innately powerful and, while being steeped in avidyā can disempower us – and create suffering and obstacles that result in physical and mental ailments – we can in fact empower ourselves by going a little deeper into ourselves and our perceptions.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

 

A Hand-book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn

 

“If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill,
That is the true beginning of our end.
Consider then we come but in despite.
We do not come as minding to contest you,
Our true intent is. All for your delight”

 

– Peter Quince, the carpenter, as The Prologue (in the play), in Act I, Scene v of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

In Yoga Sutras 2.15 – 2.25, Patanjali codifies the idea that everything we experience has the potential to cause suffering, an emotional experience; that this suffering is avoidable, because it comes from confusion about what we perceive and the power to perceive; and that everything we perceive serves the two-fold purpose of fulfillment and freedom. Within these threads, he also points out that there are four ways in which we can experience the material world; that while we may perceive something our mind/intellect may not allow us to understand it; that once we truly understand something, that understanding changes everything – for us, but not for anyone else; and that once we gain a deeper understanding, ignorance and (therefore) suffering are eliminated. Simple, right? And yet, it gets just as confusing as a play within a play littered with fairies and star-crossed lovers.

June 24th is Saint John’s Day, also known as Midsummer – making today, June 23rd, Saint John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve. Another way to think of tonight is as Midsummer’s Night, as this is when the celebrations begin and theoretically could be the night made famous by William Shakespeare’s play. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the ultimate comedy with its rude mechanicals and their play within a play, the royal audience, the royal fairies, the star-crossed lovers, and Puck. Ah, Puck!

Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, like the audience, sees everything. But he also understands and points out what the audience may miss. Since he is part of the play, he also plays around with everyone. He is the ultimate trickster (whose pranks provide much of the comedy) and therefore a great symbol for the mind. Puck is the embodiment of māyā. At the end of the play, after all of his shenanigans have been resolved, he reiterates a message that is stated at various times throughout the play: everyone is just dreaming.

If we are dreaming, it is possible to wake up. If we wake up, consider how differently we may treat ourselves and others.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,”

 

– Puck in Act V, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 23rd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may flip your perspective upside down and backwards. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[For more information and commentary about the sutras, you can use the sidebar calendar and click on any Saturday date starting in mid-March 2020. Additional posts during the week may also reference the sutras, but on Saturdays they are the primary focus.)

 

 

### “Helena: … my heart Is true as steel…” ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve Got The Power June 15, 2020

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

 

– from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., intuitive knowledge;
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

The JOyG of Being May 9, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“Yes how my love this moment here is ripe for us
Yes you and I so brave against the years
If nothing’s left to live we must find a way
There’s reason yet to live
There’s something left to give
We must find a way
There is so much to give”

 

– from “When Nothing’s Left” by Royal Wood

 

“For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”

― from The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

 

My friend Bob P once told me this joke: “There are two kinds of people in a kayak, the people that just fell out and the people who are about to fall out.” I find his joke is a pretty apropos metaphor for that feeling of “hitting the wall” during this pandemic; if you haven’t hit the wall, you’re about to hit the wall. While it might seem trite to suggest that you can tell a lot about a person by how they get over/under/around/through the wall it doesn’t change the fact that this is all part of our circumstances and, to paraphrase José Ortega y Gasset, we are (in part) our circumstances.

Born in Spain, today (May 9th) in 1883, Ortega y Gasset was an existential philosopher and writer, as well as a bit of an activist/social reformer, who believed that life was simultaneously fate and freedom, but that freedom could only be experienced within a given fate. In other words, we must play the hand we’re dealt – but, and this is key, we decide what game we’re playing with the hand we’re dealt. In fact, Ortega y Gasset encouraged actively deciding and creating a “project of life” and, in doing so, create meaning not only for one’s self, but also for others.

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference)

 

It may seem strange, even counterintuitive to some, to draw parallels between the work of 20th century existential philosophers and psychologists (or psychoanalysts) and the work of the ancient yogis. Yet, remember, Patanjali, Vyasa, and the authors of the sacred texts like the Upanishads were explaining their life experiences – just like modern day existentialists – and codifying their life philosophies. When you get right down to it, all of this comes down to an understanding of the nature of things and the nature of ourselves. So, once again, we are back to the same two questions: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”

José Ortega y Gasset was a strong proponent of creating one’s world, being an active creator rather than a passive receiver, and the second section/chapter of the yoga sutras (“The Foundation on Practice”) begins by focusing on how we are creating our world and our experiences in the world – sometimes unconsciously.

“Life cannot wait until the sciences may have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. And culture, which is but its interpretation, cannot wait any more than can life itself.”

 

– from Misión de la Universidad (Mission of the University) by José Ortega y Gasset

If you are interested and available, please you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday,May 9th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### “YO SOY YO Y MI CIRCUMSTANCIA” ###