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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 ####

 

 

 

 

Let’s Do That 90-Second Thing! March 16, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Hope, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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“From everything I saw, knew, and felt, my decision had been made: LaGuardia was out. Wishing or hoping otherwise wasn’t going to help.”

– from Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chelsey B.”Sully” Sullenberger

We all experience moments where things don’t go as planned or as we want them to go. As Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger said, “Not every situation can be foreseen or anticipated. There isn’t a checklist for everything.” In these moments, we can second guess ourselves, recriminate ourselves, or we can trust what we feel, and then move forward.

Sometimes it is really easy to follow our intuition. At other times we have to practice listening to that still, silent voice inside of our own heart. At other times, we just have a sense of knowing that we must trust our gut and or the funny feeling in the pit of our belly or low back. My whispers of intuition usually happen around books, or discussions about books – and occasionally with music. It happened on September 10, 2001 (when I felt a strong urge to buy a small copy of the The Art of War). It happened at the end of last year during a conversation about the work and life of Ram Das (when I kept insisting he had died, on the day he was actually dying). And, in a similar, roundabout serendipitous and easily chalked up as a coincidence fashion, it happened when I was trying to figure out the appropriate tone and content for my first COVID-19 blog post.

I had an idea – one we will undoubtedly visit later – but I was worried it would come off as a little to flippant and cavalier. I also wanted to make sure there was space within the frame for good information. And, in my musings, I remembered that my new housemate had given me a copy of Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Note: This was not the only gift in the form of a book that I received last year – or in previous years. And, honestly, I didn’t really remember the title or the titular subject. However, something whispered for me to get the book.

The second featured quote, at the beginning of Chapter One, was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s simile comparing life to stepping into a sinking boat. And from that river flowed the rest of the blog post. 

Sunday night, when faced with the news that my classes at the Douglas Dayton YMCA and Flourish have been cancelled, I felt the desire to go deeper. {On your next inhale, go deeper.}

Pema Chödrön writes, “In My Stroke of Insight, the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about her recovery from a massive stroke, she explains the physiological mechanism behind emotion: an emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just 90 seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it.

The fact of the shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and a half minutes may be drawn out for 10 or 20 years. We just keep recycling the story line. We keep strengthening our old habits.”

Essentially, we throw more fuel on the fire and (literally) light it up again.

What happens if, instead of adding fuel to the flame, we just spend 90 seconds watching the light flare up… and then go out? What happens if, as we do in meditation and as we do our physical practice of yoga, we just breathe into the moment? What happens if the only story we tell is the non-story, that “doing the 90 seconds thing” story that is no story, only experience. (Someone in Chödrön’s circle refers to it as the “one-and-a-half minute thing,” so think of it however it works for you.)

You can settle into a comfortable position, set a timer, and do this on your own. Or, you can click below (or here if the video doesn’t show on your phone) and do it with me. Either way, the idea is to breathe and feel what you feel, for 90 seconds, without adding any story: no value judgments, no interpretations, and no explanations.

Its 90 seconds. If you practice on the mat with me, you know you can do just about anything for 90 seconds.

 

### BE WELL ###

STILL RISING, STILL SINGING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

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. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

April is not only the standard month for Kiss My Asana, it’s also National Poetry Month. Every year I figure out a way to treat each class that I teach to at least one “April is Poetry Month” practice, full of poems set to music. For my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offering, I profiled poets, featured poems, and offered a practice inspired by the poet and their poetry. Since I don’t always teach on Thursdays, this year’s offering will include “Throwback Thursday” links and, at least once, a profile and poems that didn’t get posted last year.

As it happens, I am subbing today ( Thursday, April 4th) – which also happens to be the anniversary of the birth one of our greatest poets, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou would have turned 91 today.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

The more I see people suffering, fearing, and living in confusion, the more I am amazed by the heart’s ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, and even playful. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that we have a limited capacity for pain – there is only so much anyone of us can handle before we pass out – but an unlimited capacity to experience love and joy. The heart rises up, always.

In Buddhism, there are four (4) Bhramaviharas (Divine Abodes, meaning that they are the “special dwelling places of the Divine”). I call them the heart practices, even though (technically) there are more than 4 “heart practices” in Buddhism. The bramaviharas are the unlimited capacity for loving-kindness or goodwill (metta), an unlimited capacity for compassion (karuna), an unlimited capacity for empathetic joy (mudita), and an unlimited capacity for equanimity (upekkah) – which serves as a checks and balance for the others. While these are attitudes believed to be inherent to the human spirit – something found deep within each heart – these are also attitudes to cultivate. And, you find techniques to cultivate these attitudes in various Buddhist traditions, but also in other major philosophies and religions.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are Lojong or “mind training” techniques, which consist of approximately 59 aphorisms or slogans that can be used as meditation points. The first states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” There are four (4) preliminaries: maintaining an awareness of the preciousness of life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; contemplate on how ego driven pursuits result in suffering.”

The other statements are also simple. One such slogan is “In all activities, train with slogans.” Another is, “Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

As you move through your practice, take a moment to offer yourself loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity awareness that all beings suffer and all beings deserve an end to that suffering). As Dr. Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Try a little tenderness.

FEATURED POSE for April 4rd: Camel Pose, hands on floor variation (Ustrasana)

Begin in table top (hands and knees to the mat), in a seated position, or in a standing position with knees bent and hands braced on the thighs. Inhale love, exhale kindness. Move though a few cycles of breath until the mantra (“love” on the inhale and “kindness” on the exhale becomes seamless.) Continuing the mantra, inhale and lift the heart and hips into cow pose. With an exhale, shift into a Halloween cat pose. Move one-breath-one motion, waking up the spine and engage the spirit of metta.

After 5 – 10 full cycles, sit back on the floor or a block with the knees and feet two (2) fists width apart or stand up straight on your feet. Make sure your knees are comfortable. Offer yourself some compassion. Scan your body and as you notice the places where you are holding discomfort and disease, think to yourself, “I see your suffering/I care about your suffering/May you be free of suffering/May the causes and conditions of your suffering end.”

Adjust your body so that it becomes more comfortable. If needed move through a series of sun salutations changing the back bend with each one so that the back bends are progressive (e.g. cow the first time, sphinx the second time, any cobra the third time, extended cobra or Upward Facing Dog the fourth time.) If needed add a twist before the first set or after the last set. Return to the earlier kneeling position with hips between the knees. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and energetically.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

The standard way to start Camel Pose is to stand up on the knees, giving yourself a little cushion (again with the thighs apart about 2 fists width apart) and bracing the hands at the waist or behind the back. If you are practicing this pose while standing on your feet, start with the standard variation. However, if you are kneeling or seated try the variation with knees and feet 2 fists width apart, but sit back (so hips are grounded on the floor, the chair, or a block) and place the hands on the floor, your feet, or a block. For all variations, gaze is right in front of your eyebrows.

If you are standing on your feet, inhale and lift your heart up and out towards your focal point. As you exhale, move your gaze a little higher up or, once you’re gazing at the ceiling, a little further back. The heart keeps rising as you inhale, opening as you exhale – until you reach a physical limit with your hands still at your back or (if it’s accessible to you) you can walk your hands down a wall into an extreme variation of full wheel (Urdhva Dhanuarasana).

If you are seated and leaning back, take an extra round of breath to extend your spine and then begin lifting your hips towards your focal point as you inhale, ensuring your core is engaged as you exhale. Once you’ve lifted the hips almost over the knees you may hold where you are or start lifting the heart on the inhale and moving the gaze on the exhale (as described above). The hands can stay grounded or move to the low back for support if the hips are stacked over the knees.

In all variations, make sure the neck is long. There is a tendency to drop the head back, over extending the neck, in order to go deeper. This actually compromises the integrity of the pose. Make sure, also, that the hips stay in line with the knees. This pose is prenatal-approved and can be practiced with a wall to support the front of the hips and also with a combination of props behind the hips.

After a few rounds of breath, come into any pose where you can relax and release without strain. Close your eyes and breathe. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One lojang statement says, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” When you feel joy in your experience, cultivate that attitude so that you can feel it for others when they experience good fortune.

Round out your practice with a forward fold that matches the intensity of your back bend. For example, if you felt comfortable in the pose and did not feel you were overexerting, you might take Child’s Pose. If you felt like you were working very hard – but still not overexerting – you might take Child’s Pose or a forward fold with your legs stretched out in front (Paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (Uttanasana). If your back feels strained even after you release the back bend, come into a supine forward fold: either lay on your back with legs lifted up in the air or practice Legs-Up-the-Wall (or on a chair). Remind yourself that each part of your body, and each part of your mind, deserves to be free from suffering.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

Allow your body to relax, release, rest – and breathe. As you settle into Savasana or the final pose of your choice, remember all beings everywhere deserve to be free from suffering.

Want more? Here’s the “Throwback Thursday” link to last year’s profile and practice.

### Dr. Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###