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Compassion and Peace (when I Accuse You!) July 19, 2020

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“And now the image of [our country] is sullied by this filth, and history shall record that it was under your presidency that this crime against society was committed.

 At the root of it all is one evil man. … Nobody would ever believe the experiments to which he subjected the unfortunate….

… what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people’s cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

J’Accuse! I accuse you! Yes, you! This is all your fault!!!

Loudly, publicly, and bluntly, I accuse you of doing something heinous. Before we get into the details of the accusation, pause for a moment. Consider how you are feeling. Don’t be surprised if you are feeling a tightening; maybe an immediate impulse to do something to defend yourself; maybe – before we even get into the details – you are already spinning the story, as if you know what I’m going to say. Even though this is a safe place (and you probably do know what I’m doing here: i.e., giving you a container in which to practice), you may already be feeling the bite of the hook. Shenpa; it’s the Tibetan word that American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön translates as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. She points out that while it is usually involuntary “it gets right to the root of why we suffer.”

When you feel it, even a little bit, you are feeling the “urge” or “impulse” to do something to defend/protect yourself… or, at least, defend/protect the afflicted thought that is your false sense of self. Remember, that while this may feel, physiologically, as if someone is threatening you with bodily harm – and while your body will react accordingly – shenpa in this context is not related to physical harm. It is related to suffering and, therefore, Recognizing what you are feeling (and why you are feeling it) is the first “R” in the practice of getting “unhooked.”

“At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

We are living in a time when a lot of people are getting “hooked” by a large number of things. One thing in particular that stands out is people experiencing shenpa because of loud, public, and blunt accusations. The accusations are all related to what in the yoga philosophy would be called avidyā (ignorance) and all four of the other afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. The loudest of the accusations comes in the form of one of several words: racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic. And, let’s be honest, if someone uses the right “mean” word, they don’t have to do it loudly (or publicly) for the accused to feel the bite of the hook. Furthermore, this shenpa-related reaction is so prevalent right now that we don’t have to turn on the news, read about it, or look online to see someone experiencing this particular form of suffering: all we have to do is look in the mirror.

Just to clarify, the suffering to which I refer – the suffering that comes from this particular type of ignorance – is not the suffering of the person who is doing the accusing. Yes, there is suffering when someone is subjected to another person’s hatred and small thinking (and yes, it is related to this same kind of dysfunctional/afflicted thinking), but that’s not the point of today’s practice. Today is more about the suffering of the accused.

Wait, what?

I know, I know, some of you are thinking I’m sleep deprived again – but stick with me.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

For further clarification, let’s talk about a former housemate of mine. This person is a person of color (really, a member of more than one ethnic minority group) and held a position of power within a certain organization. They are also male-presenting and, let’s get real, there’s some power in that. At one point while we were living together, my former housemate was accused of being racist and sexist. Now, he was troubled by this for a number of reasons – not the least of which was that (a) as a minority he felt like he couldn’t be racist, (b) he adored and respected women, and (c) he had personally been the victim of a lot of different kinds of racism. Being accused of such a thing is hard on its on, it’s harder when you know how it feels to have that hatred directed at you.

Part of what makes it hard to be accused of being {fill in the blank} is that for many of us the idea of holding a negative and/or stereotypical view of someone because of something they can’t change goes against who we think we are at our core. We reject the very notion that we could hold views that have been described as “unmitigated evil.” Additionally, even if we think there’s nothing wrong with our view, we recognize that such views and the behavior associated with them are not socially acceptable. So, even if we think we’re right, it’s embarrassing to be accused of something that the populace views as wrong.

It all comes down to perception. As I told my housemate at the time, as soon as someone says something is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic – it is. Full stop. The urge to argue about it is coming from being “hooked” and generates an endless (and, I’d argue, useless) cycle of suffering. Practice the second and third “R’s”: Refrain, Relax. We don’t solve anything by denying what is real in the moment. Our denial, however, is part of what is real and may prevent us from getting to the root of the problem: avidyā.

“I call it, it’s ‘dog-whistle racism.’ It’s something that, everybody could be in the same room as you, but you’re the only person who’s hearing it. And it’s loud and clear to you, as to the reason why you’re being treated this way or not allowed to come here; or being asked for your ID, several times; asked why you’re here; told to go sit somewhere else, even though you’re with a group of people – they don’t see you as part of that group. It happens a lot.”

 

– Canadian author and CTV news anchor Andrea M. Bain, appearing on ET Canada (07/16/2020)

There are very few, if any, modern (First World) societies that were not built on a foundation of ignorance. Here in the United States, racism, sexism, and xenophobia are – in many ways – the very bedrock of our civilization.  (Are you tightening up over these statements? Take a deep breath. Sigh it out. Repeat and then read on.)

To me, a woman of color (from the South, no less), everyone in this country has been socialized to be have ignorant thoughts (be they racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist. Yes, everyone! To turn away from this is to turn away from the opportunity to fix the problems that result in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist behavior. Let’s be clear here, we may not (at this stage) be able to change our thoughts, but we can in this moment change our words and deeds/actions by paying attention to our thoughts. An accusation brings awareness to what’s real in this moment. It’s an engraved invitation to practice. Yes, it is a really stressful, awkward, and horrible invitation, but it’s still an invitation.

By accepting the invitation, we accept the opportunity to make real change. Bringing awareness to what’s going on in our minds (consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously) gives us the opportunity to decide how we want to engage the world and the people in the world. In other words, pausing for a moment to recognize what is happening in this moment allows us to move forward with the final “R,” Resolve. It gives us the opportunity to internally declare, “I just had a racist thought, but I’m not going to follow that up with straight-up racist behavior. I’m not going to be racist today. I’m going to be {fill in the blank}.”

Here’s the thing though: You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the impulse to defend yourself against the accusation. You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the attachment you have to believing you are something you like when someone is accusing you of being something you dislike. You only get to fill in the blank if you allow your “false sense of ego” to die. Yes, you have to let go of you think you are. All of that is to say, you only get to fill in the blank if you let go of your avidyā.

“If we can see shenpa just as we’re starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there’s the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it. Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do. Generally speaking, we don’t catch the tightening until we’ve indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. And unless we equate refraining with loving-kindness and friendliness towards ourselves, refraining feels like putting on a straitjacket. We struggle against it. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

 

Today in 1898, the novelist and essayist Emile Zola fled France after being found guilty of libel in a case associated with the “Dreyfus Affair.” The libel case and subsequent conviction were based on an open letter in which Zola accused the army, the government, and even the court system of illegally arresting and convicting Captain Alfred Dreyfus of espionage and treason. Dreyfus was a French artillery officer, who was also Jewish, and there was no indication (or evidence) that he committed the crimes in question. In fact, two years after Dreyfus was court martialed and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, evidence proved that the real culprit was a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Esterhazy was tried, found “not guilty” of conspiring with the Germans, and allowed to retire in 1898, with the rank of Major. Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, who brought forward the evidence against Esterhazy, was transferred to Tunisia. Once he was out of the country, military officials portrayed Picquart as anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, military officials manufactured evidence against Dreyfus (and convicted him a second time) – and all of this was leaked to the press.

While historians still debate why Dreyfus was arrested, framed, and convicted, everyone agrees that he was innocent. This is not revisionist history. His innocence was firmly established at the time – which is why Zola, a noted writer of the time, was so outraged. Knowing the power of his words and the power of his reputation, Zola penned a 4,500-word article which was published on the front page of L’Aurore. The headline, above the fold, read “J’Accuse…!” and almost 300,000 copies were distributed (on January 13, 1898). That was 10x the normal distribution. The open letter was a detailed timeline of “L’Affaire.” It included names of officials, accused them of anti-Semitism, and provided explicit details to back up the accusations. Zola wanted to “hook” the government and force them to sue him for libel so that all of the evidence from the secret court martial cases would be made public. Additionally, Zola’s letter further incensed the French public, which became even more outraged by Zola’s trial and conviction. His sentencing did not go well, as it turned the already volatile populace further against the military. As Zola fled, more publications took up the fight, the world started watching, and the citizens of France began what many consider major social reformation. They took a look at themselves and the reality of what they were versus what they professed to be: a Catholic nation or a republic where all citizens had equal rights regardless of religion.

“The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor.”

 

– Alfred Dreyfus, after accepting a Presidential pardon

Dreyfus was offered a Presidential pardon in 1899, which he accepted; however, he was still considered a traitor to France and spent several years under house-arrest. It would be 1906 before he was officially exonerated by a military commission, readmitted to the army and promoted to major, and then named to Knight of the Legion of Honor. He retired within a year, but returned to the army at the beginning of World War I. He would eventually be promoted to lieutenant colonel and be awarded the rank of “Officer” within the Legion of Honor. When he died in 1935, he was given full military honors – plus a little extra pomp and circumstance since his funeral procession occurred during Bastille Day. His tombstone inscription is in Hebrew and English, and only refers to his unfaltering service to France.

Zola returned to France after the French government collapsed, but would die of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902. In 1908, during a ceremony to honor Zola by interring his ashes at the Panthéon, a right-wing reporter would attempt to assassinate Dreyfus. In 1953, a roofer admitted, in a death-bed confession, that he had murdered Zola by initially blocking the chimney. Years after the fact, there were still people getting “hooked.”

“Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there’s no way to be arrogant. The trick is to keep seeing. Don’t let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That’s just another hook. Because we’ve been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can’t expect to undo it overnight. It’s not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

Please join me for a compassionate 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson  

 

 

### RRRR(R) ###

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

Compassion and Peace (with regards to Ralph Waldo Emerson) July 15, 2020

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“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödön

When I was growing up, as a Black girl in the South, I got my hair done. You might say I was getting a permanent, getting a relaxer, or getting my hair processed. Either way, getting my hair done was a lengthy (and relatively expensive) endeavor which, as it did in the 70’s, involved lye. Lye, can refer to a variety of metal hydroxides; however, in this case I’m referring to sodium hydroxide (NaOH). The same chemical used in soaps, detergents, and drain cleaner (specifically because it can breakdown hair clogs) was included in most commercial hair straightening products for African Americans with a certain texture of hair. These products could, and often did, result in chemical burns on the skin of men, women, and children. Sometimes the physical scars were permanent; sometimes you were just left with the memory of the horror of feeling like your scalp was being burned off your head. Obviously, this was an experience people wanted to avoid – so, everyone had to keep their cool in the beauty shop. This made some subjects off limits. Specifically, we didn’t talk about sex, religion, and/or politics.

Talking about sex, religion, politics, and any subject that combines one or more of the three is a guaranteed way to “get a rise out of someone.” And, what is inevitably rising is your blood pressure, your body temperature, and your passion (“suffering”). Talking about sex, religion, politics, and any combination of the three is a great way to get “hooked” – which means conversations involving those subjects are great times to practice “compassionate abiding” and the Four R’s (Recognize, Relax, Refrain, Resolve). I would even suggest that if you have a way with words, or you are engaged in conversation with someone who has a way with words, it might be helpful to start the practice before you even start the conversation.

I know, I know, to some my suggestion sounds ridiculous. Yet, people who have a way with words have a way of getting a rise out of you. Words have power. Remember, words are related to the first two powers (siddhis) unique to being humans. People who have a way with words can be very powerful.

“A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man when his heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue. Then he is instructed in what is above him. He learns that his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness. That which he venerates is still his own, though he has not realized it yet. He ought. He knows the sense of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render account of it.”

 

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson had a way with words. He was one of the leaders of the Transcendental Movement of the 19th century and consistently encouraged poets, scholars, the clergy, and everyday people to turn inward, to take a look at themselves. He was a teacher of “Young Ladies” and influenced naturalists and pioneers of the environmental movement, like John Muir, and political and social theorists, like Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. He inspired people like Walt Whitman to write poetry, to properly capture the spirit of the United States. He supported abolitionists like John Brown and inspired people like Henry David Thoreau to go into the woods to live deliberately and to discover, through Nature, who/what they were and from whence they came. He believed all things were connected to God and, therefore, divine – radical religious thinking for a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. Yet, he was invited to speak to Harvard students twice, in 1837 and 1838.

Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature” resulted in an invitation from Harvard College’s Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1837. By most accounts, “The American Scholar” went off without a hitch. It was an introduction to Transcendentalist and Romantic views on Nature, as well as the American scholar’s relationship with and responsibility to Nature. He talked about cause and effect, history, and the scholar’s role in writing history. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. called the speech “the declaration of independence of American intellectual life” and, 95 years later, Phi Beta Kappa would name its newly established literary magazine after the speech. The speech also resulted in an invitation to deliver the commencement speech for his alma mater, Harvard Divinity School.

“The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus; in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today in 1838, eleven months after receiving a lifetime of accolades for his “The American Scholar” speech, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed six of the seven members of the Harvard Divinity School graduating class, Unitarian theologians like Andrews Norton and Henry Ware, Jr., and the Divinity School Dean John G. Palfrey. Keep in mind that, at the time, Harvard Divinity School was closely associated with the Unitarian church (having originally been established as a Unitarian school) and that Emerson was a former Unitarian minister. The fact that Emerson had left his position at a Unitarian church was no secret – in fact, some would say that “The American Scholar” speech was a reflection on his own spiritual crisis. Perhaps, the scholarly aspect of his relationship with Nature was so inspiring that no one paid much attention to the religious part. With the commencement speech, however, Emerson left no doubts about his beliefs.

He outlined how Transcendentalism and Unitarian theology didn’t fit together and proclaimed that moral intuition was a better guide than religious doctrine. Furthermore, he discounted the need to believe in the historical miracles of Jesus (who he defined as a great man, but not God); denied the need for a “personal God;” and basically declared that the clergy (including those in attendance) had killed God and killed the Church with ministry devoid of life.

 “Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. On the contrary, the absence of this primary faith is the presence of degradation. As is the flood so is the ebb. Let this faith depart, and the very words it spake, and the things it made, become false and hurtful. Then falls the church, the state, art, letters, life. The doctrine of the divine nature being forgotten, a sickness infects and dwarfs the constitution.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson expected his speech to inspire debate, maybe even a third invitation back to Harvard. Instead, today’s 1838 commencement speech pushed people’s buttons and got them so “hot” (or hooked) his critics started attacking him personally. He was called an atheist and someone who poisoned young men’s minds. It was implied, in print, that his speech was barely intelligible and “utterly distasteful.” Norton called Transcendentalism “the latest form of infidelity,” and Ware (who had been Emerson’s mentor during his time at Harvard) delivered a sermon a few months later that was seen as a point-by-point rebuttal to Emerson’s speech. Instead of an invitation to come back, the 35-year old Emerson was banned from Harvard for 27 years (and 6 days). When he returned to deliver the 1865 commencement speech, his words were a reflection of a country that had been at war with itself, as well as a reflection of a man whose spiritual community had been at war with him.

“MR. CHAIRMAN, AND GENTLEMEN : With whatever opinion we come here, I think it is not in man to see, without a feeling of pride and pleasure, a tried soldier, the armed defender of the right. I think that in these last years all opinions have been affected by the magnificent and stupendous spectacle which Divine Providence has offered us of the energies that slept in the children of this country, – that slept and have awakened. I see thankfully those that are here, but dim eyes in vain explore for some who are not.”

 

– quoted from the 1865 Harvard Divinity School commencement speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty, which ravished the souls of those eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also. The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures contain immortal sentences, that have been bread of life to millions. But they have no epical integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order to the intellect. I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

### TRUTH BEAUTY RIGHTEOUSNESS ###

Compassion and Peace for Pema July 14, 2020

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“I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others.

Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however… it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

There’s a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the last few years: persistence, staying with it, stick-to-itiveness, leaning in, being present. I would argue that the ability to be present is part of being human, but so is the ability – even the desire – to get away from something (or someone) that is toxic or challenging. You could say that these two sides of the coin are two sides of human nature and, so, it’s natural that abiding (i.e., enduring) is part of the practice. The problem we run into when we move aspects of human nature from the practice – be it Buddhism or Yoga – and into business or personal relationships, without the benefit of the practice and/or an understanding of human nature, is that we take it out of context.

Born today in 1936, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is the author of almost two dozen books and countless articles. She is one of the teachers credited with spreading the teachings of the Buddha into the Western world. She was married and divorced, twice, in her early twenties and thirties and calls her second ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. She is a mother and a grandmother, as well as the principal teacher and director at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in North America for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She might appear to be the poster child for “leaning in” – and yet, she recently resigned (in protest) from her leadership role at Shambhala International after a series of accusations related to the misconduct of other teachers and leaders led her to conclude that the governing organization was going in an “unwise direction.”

Just to be clear, calling something “the unwise direction” is very definitely calling it antithetical to the tenets of Buddhism.

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings often center around the concept of shenpa, a Tibetan word she defines as “attachment” and the practice of the 4 R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve), which is the practice of getting unhooked. From the outside looking in, this could look like the opposite of stick-to-itiveness.  Yet, the core of the teachings is what she refers to as “compassionate abiding.” It is being present with what is, leaning in (if you like that phrase), but without engaging the additional layer of suffering that can come from dealing with a toxic or “unwise” situation. It is, absolutely, recognizing the reality of the situation and also offering oneself the opportunity to let go of what no longer serves them. It is breathing in to what is, recognizing and acknowledging it, and then breathing out, relaxing and “giv[ing] the feeling space.”

That’s it, that’s the practice. I realize that sometimes I may explain this in a way that seems opposite of what Chödrön teaches; so let me clarify. Both the inhale and the exhale are opportunities to recognize/acknowledge what is and relax into it. Both the inhale and the exhale create space around what is. When I say, “let go of what no longer serves you” (on the exhale), it is not a suggestion to run away. Instead, it is an opportunity to release the tightness that comes from the shenpa: It’s an opportunity to get unhooked. As attachment is the root of suffering in Buddhism (and in the philosophy of Yoga), the ultimate act of self-compassion is any act of non-attachment or detachment. This, the compassionate part, is what is missing when we take the practice and/or human nature out of the “leaning in” equation. After all, we can leave a toxic situation and still be attached to the toxicity.

“This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

 

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct.”

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

“Compassionate abiding” is sustained by metta/maitri (“loving-kindness”) and it is an inherent part of the practice of the Four R’s. Ani Pema Chödrön says that it can be a stand-alone practice and also a way to prepare for tonglen meditation, a form of compassion often defined as “taking in and sending out” or “giving and receiving.” Either way, it is breathing with intention and that intention is related to the end of suffering. It is, again, recognizing/acknowledging the ways in which we are suffering and, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others are suffering in this same way. It is recognizing/acknowledging our own desire to be free of suffering while, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others also want to be free of this same suffering. It is simultaneously working towards our own liberation as a means of liberating others – and it opens us up to the reality of people whose suffering is different and/or greater than our own. The desire, the work, the effort are not separate. In fact, the minute we start separating our own needs, desires, and suffering from the needs, desires, and suffering of others is the minute we create more avidyā (“ignorance”) and therefore more suffering.

“By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 Please join me today (Tuesday, July 14th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom to experience a little heart melting. 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.

 

“Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 

Check out the full article at Tricycle and

 

Fill your cup with Ani Pema and Oprah

 

 

 

### “May [all of us] be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” ###

 

Fill Your Cup! (It’s Compassion and Peace Week) July 13, 2020

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It’s Compassion and Peace Week! At least, that’s what I’m calling this week.

It’s an opportunity to practice peace and compassion on several different levels. I’ll explain later this week the reason why I often place a special focus on this time, but (for now) let’s just dive into the practice.

 

“We have the capacity to discover the tools and means to overcome our sorrow.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.24 (referencing one of the six “powers unique to human”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Just so we are all on the same page, remember that in the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali identifies afflicted (kleśāh) thought patterns as the cause of suffering; breaks down those afflicted thought patterns into five specific types of thought (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death); and further breaks down ignorance (avidyā), as it is the bedrock of the other four afflicted thought patterns. He then proceeds to outline ways to end ignorance, and therefore suffering.

If you’ve studied or practiced any Buddhism, this all sounds very familiar for a reason. I have heard that the Buddha was aware of the philosophy of yoga, maybe even practiced it for a bit, but found that it was not practical. Keep in mind that during Prince Siddhartha’s time practicing yoga stereotypically involved renouncing the world and renouncing the daily activities of the general populace. There were no classes you slipped in during your lunch hour or streamed before work. There was no separation between the physical and philosophical practices.

And this, some commentators say, is exactly why modern practitioners run into a problem. The problem being, perhaps, that we are already not on the same page. Take a moment to consider what you believe to be the state of absolute liberation and freedom from suffering.

After you’ve paused, and really considered yourself in a state devoid of freedom consider the following: Are you still in the world? Or, is your idea of enlightenment/heaven some place outside of this physical existence? Does your viewpoint make the achievement accessible or nearly impossible to achieve?

“The wisest course (so we are told) is to attain moksha, salvation, which in effect means extricating ourselves from the world as quickly as possible.

Patanjali’s understanding and experiences are antithetical to this view. According to his predecessor, Kapila, the impetus behind our birth and manifestation of the universe is anugraha, divine grace. Divine grace is suffused with unconditional love and compassion. Purusha, the intrinsic intelligence of [primordial matter/power], knows everything about each individual soul…. As purusha is spontaneously moved by its own realization, [primordial matter/power] begins to pulsate….

Compassion is the sole cause of the initial pulsation – the power of compassion is itself the pulsation (anugraha shakti). Thus, spiritually speaking, the power of compassion is our origin…. And we thrive due to the power of compassion inherent in us. The power of compassion is the power of the divine.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.5 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Remember, just last week, I quoted the 14th Dalai Lama, who said “that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Makes sense, right, that once again the Eastern philosophies mesh. But, before we get into that part of the practice, let’s take a side trip from Eastern philosophy into Western religion. (Consider this the scenic route.)

Because of where and how I was raised (Hello, Bible Belt!), so much of the language above reminds me of the language in The Gospel According to John. Specifically, in John 17, theoretically written by the youngest of the apostles, Jesus lays out a prayer and some very specific (although, I guess, easily forgotten or misunderstood) instructions. John the Apostle recounts Jesus foretelling his own death and asking that his disciples be protected by the same power he (Jesus) used to protect them in life. He then goes on to state, repeatedly (for emphasis), that he and they are not “of the world,” but that he and they have been sent “into the world” with a purpose. That purpose, again, is salvation and the end of suffering – through love (and many traditions agree). Note, however, that in the very middle of this passage, Jesus explicitly states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world….” (John 17:15, NIV) So, here, again, the instruction is to find, seek, teach, and discover the end of suffering in the material world. Patanjali even explicitly states that that is the purpose of the material world. (YS 2.18)

“Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

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

 

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Compassion comes to us from the Latin phrase, by way of Old French and Middle English, for “to suffer with.” Take a moment to consider with whom you ALWAYS suffer. Take a moment to consider with whom you are closest. Take a moment to consider who you know the best.

The answer should be obvious, but for many it’s not: it’s us. Likewise, we ourselves are in the position to be the most respected by us, the most loved, the “most dear,” and the one we understand to have “the right to be happy and overcome suffering” – and yet, somehow we lose sight of this. Somehow we think that someone else is more worthy of happiness or the end of suffering. It used to seem odd to me that while the traditional way to practice “Metta” (loving-kindness) meditation is to start with oneself and work outwards to those who are most challenging for us to be loving and kind, “Karuna” (compassion) meditation traditionally starts with the one who is enduring the most. It seemed especially odd when you consider that the person suffering the most is sometimes the most challenging person in our lives. But, ultimately it’s not odd; it’s just a reflection of human nature.

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, NIV)

 

“I want you to know that I love you very much, and I’m very proud of you. I want you to know that if you can love me, you can love your… self. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to do a little mantra with you. I want you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything.’ I really want you to say that, because I believe that we can save the world if we save ourselves first.”

 

– Lizzo at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England

 

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 – from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Today is a good day to train your mind to offer yourself compassion. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 13th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice that begins with yourself.

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.

 

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles. If you are hungry, you have to find something to eat. But everyday problems are very mixed – they’re not clear. The Cube’s problem depends just on you. You can solve it independently. But to find happiness in life, you’re not independent. That’s the only big difference.”

 

– Ernő Rubik (b. 07/13/1944)

 

### MORE HEARTS ###

 

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. ###