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I Hope You See The Light (the “missing” Tuesday post) February 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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My apologies for the delay, but I was not feeling 100% this week. Here, finally, is the “missing” post for Tuesday, February 15th. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Always old, sometimes new…”

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– a riddle* (read post for clues, see the end for the answer)

Philosophically speaking, part of our yoga practice is about bring awareness to what we know – or what we think we know – about ourselves and the world around us. Once we do that, we have begun the process of recognizing how what we know or think we know determines our actions, our thoughts, our words, our deeds. Our beliefs influence the we interact with ourselves, with others, and with our environment. Once we really get into it, we also start to notice when – or if – we incorporate new information into our belief system; thereby adjusting our actions as we grow and mature.

At some point, we may start to notice how our experiences shape our beliefs and how our experiences and beliefs determine what we chose to do on any given day. Hopefully, we also recognize that other people make other choices based on the their beliefs and experiences. If we can see that, be open to the reality of that, and maybe dig a little deeper into that reality, we gain better understanding of ourselves (and maybe of the world). In other words, we gain insight.

Vipassanā is a Buddhist meditation technique that has also become a tradition. It literally means “to see in a special way” and can also be translated as “special, super seeing.” In English, however, it is usually translated as “insight.” This insight is achieved by sitting, breathing, and watching the mind-body without judging the mind-body. Part of the practice is even to recognize when you are judging and, therefore, recognizing when you are getting in your own way. It is a practice of observation – which is also part of our yoga practice.

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

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

Born February 15,1564, in Pisa, Duchy of Florence, Tuscany, Italy,  Galileo Galilei is remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense given the aforementioned definition of insight. Galileo was able to see things others had not seen thanks to advancements in telescope technology and also because he was willing to pay attention. He was open to new information and to how that information supported or did not support his understanding of what had previously been observed by himself and others.

Galileo was an astronomer, a physicists, an engineer, and a polymath who studied all aspects of physical science and invented the thermoscope and a variety of military compasses. He used the telescope to track and identify the moons of Jupiter; the phases of Venus (which are similar to moon phases); and the rings of Saturn. He also analyzed lunar craters and sunspots and supported Copernican heliocentrism (the idea that the Earth rotated on it’s axis and also rotated around the Sun). In fact, his observations became the basis of his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) – which was banned in Italy for a while and resulted in Galileo being convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that the ban extended to the publication of his future books, Galileo wrote Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences while he was under house arrest. This latter work, which was basically a summation of thirty years worth of physics, could not find a publisher in France, Germany, or Poland. It was ultimately published in Leiden, South Holland and featured the same characters who were conversing in his Dialogue. There was one notable change in the characters, however, the “simple-minded” one that had previously been viewed as a caricature of the pope was not as foolish or stubborn. When the text made its way to Roman bookstores, it quickly sold out.

“But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”

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– quoted from the 1615 letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany (mother of Cosimo II de ‘Medici) by Galileo Galilei

Susan B. Anthony, who was born February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts, was also considered quite controversial by the establishment of her time. Like Galileo Galilei, she was an observer. Her primary observations, however, were related to the social interactions of humans. She was a suffragist as well as an abolitionist and is remembered for her great friendship and collaborations with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women had different backgrounds made different life choices, but they were firmly united in the quest for equal rights.

The second-oldest of seven, Susan B. Anthony was born into a liberal Quaker household despite the fact that her mother (Lucy Read Anthony) was Methodist and her father (Daniel Anthony) was shunned (for marrying outside his religion) and disowned (for allowing dancing in his home). The Anthony children were taught Quaker values, as well as the importance of self-sufficiency and social responsibility. At least three of her siblings were activists. Ms. Anthony herself, attended a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia until 1837 when the Anthony’s, like so many, faced financial ruin and depression. She left school for a bit, but ultimately became a teacher at a different Quaker boarding school. By this time, the family had moved to New York and eventually joined what would become the Congregational Friends, and offshoot of the Quakers.

The Congregational Friends were active social reformers and many attended services at First Unitarian Church of Rochester, which was also socially active. Around the late 1840’s, the Anthony farm in Rochester had become a favorite place for activists to come together. One of those activists was Frederick Douglass, with whom both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony would develop a friendship.

“I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.”

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– quoted from the end of Susan B. Anthony’s “Power of the Ballot” speech (probably on July 12, 1871) as printed in “Chapter XXIII: First Trip to the Pacific Coast (1871)” from The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Complete Illustrated Edition – Volumes 1&2): The Only Authorized Biography containing Letters, Memoirs and Vignettes of the life of the World Renowned Suffragist, Abolitionist and Author and Friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Ida Husted Harper

In 1846, Susan B. Anthony accepted a position as headmistress of the girls’ department at Canajoharie Academy in Canajoharie, Montgomery County, New York. A year or two later, she was offered the position of superintendent or director of the women’s department. She was in Canajoharie, almost 173 miles away from her family, during the Seneca Falls Convention (July 19-20, 1948) and the Rochester Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 (on August 2nd), but at some point she was aware that her parents and her sister (Mary Stafford Anthony) had (at least) attended the latter.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention organized by women (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Martha Coffin Wright) and it produced the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Several online sources indicate that the three Anthony’s signed the declaration; however, they are not listed by the National Parks Service (NPS) and their names do not appear on the original document preserved by NPS. According to a media report included in The History of Women Suffrage, edited by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper (published in 1902), no attendees at the National-American Convention of 1898 (February 13th – 19th, in Washington, D. C.) attended the Seneca Falls Convention. However, the report indicated that Mary W. Anthony stated that she had attended the Rochester convention and signed the declaration at that time.

Between her unhappy experiences as a student and the observations she made as a teacher, Susan B. Anthony found herself more and more disenchanted with the disenfranchisement of women and enslaved people. She didn’t have the same agenda as her parents and siblings, but she wanted to be paid the same as her male counterparts – for doing the same work. When she left the Canajoharie Academy around 1849/1850, she went home and found herself feeling more and more at home with the radical ideas around her. She even started to dress less and less like a traditional Quaker woman and more and more like a radical feminist. She even wore started wearing the pantaloons associated with the publisher and editor Amelia Jenks Bloomer. In fact, it was the erudite and entre Mrs. Bloomer that introduced Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851.

“It is often said, by those who know Miss Anthony best, that she has been my good angel, always pushing and goading me to work, and that but for her pertinacity I should never have accomplished the little I have. On the other hand it has been said that I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them. Perhaps all this is, in a measure, true.”

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– quoted from “X. Susan B. Anthony” in Eighty Years and More (1815 – 1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a writer; Susan B. Anthony was an organizer; and their friendship was the ultimate collaboration. By the time the dynamic duo met, Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of four and would eventually be the mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships and that a woman should absolutely have domain over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. Henry Brewster Stanton was a lawyer and a politician, who was traveling ten months out of the year in the 1850’s. So, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” Her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote; Susan B. Anthony organized and spoke.

This relationship, too, required compromise – and not only because the ladies had different personalities and working styles. Susan B. Anthony stopped wearing bloomers so people would listen to her rather than get distracted by her clothes. And the whole Stanton family made room for “Miss Anthony.”

When the Stanton family moved to New York City in 1861, the women had established a finely tuned system. Sometimes they would write together, sometimes Ms. Anthony would take care of the kids while Mrs. Cady Stanton wrote – but both methods required the pair to be in the same place. So, whenever the Stanton’s moved, the set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and she became part of the family.

“Eventually Anthony supplanted Henry in Elizabeth’s affections. Both Henry and Susan moved in and out of her life and her household, but overall, Stanton probably spent more hours and days with Anthony than any other adult.”

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– quoted from the “Methodological Note: Stanton in Psychological Perspective” section of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elisabeth Griffith

The collaboration between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not restricted to speeches. They co-founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society – after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was female – and the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863. The league, which used different iterations of the name, was specifically formed to lobby for the abolition of slavery. At one time they collected almost 40,000 signatures in support of abolition, which was the largest petition drive in United States history at that time. They also initiated the American Equal Rights Association (1866) and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).

On January 8, 1868, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started publishing the weekly paper The Revolution. The paper’s motto was “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In addition to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, the paper covered general politics, the labor movement, and finance. Ms. Anthony ran the business end of things. Mrs. Cady Stanton co-edited the newspaper with the abolitionist minister Parker Pillsbury. The initially received funding from the transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train – who shared their views on women’s rights, but not on abolition – but eventually transferred control of the paper to the wealthy writer and activist Laura Curtis Bullard, who toned “the revolution” down a bit.

The ladies that started it, however, did not tone down at all.

“Miss [Anna] Shaw said: ‘On Sunday, about two hours before she became unconscious, I talked with Miss Anthony and she said: “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel!”’

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“I replied: ‘Your legacy will be freedom for all womankind after you are gone. your splendid struggle has changed life for women everywhere.'”

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– quoted from the obituary “Susan B. Anthony” in the Union Labor Advocate (Vol. VII. May, 1906, No. 9)

Anna Shaw was correct: Susan B. Anthony’s legacy includes the 19th amendment to the United States constitution, which was ratified fourteen years after the Miss Anthony’s death. That legacy also includes United States v. Susan B. Anthony, a very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial that changed the fight and helped change laws that had nothing to do with the suffrage movement.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted after she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York. The judge over the circuit court was the newly appointed Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) Associate Justice Ward Hunt. The election official, a Mr. Beverly W. Jones, testified that when he said he wasn’t sure if he could register her, she asked him if he was “acquainted with the 14th amendment.” He also testified that when said that he was, and she asked if he would consider her a citizen, the Supervisor of Elections said there was no getting around her argument. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

Because the judge refused to jail her (for refusing to pay the fine), she was unable to take the case to the Supreme Court. The other women, who also registered and voted in that election, were arrested, but never tried. On the other hand, the election inspectors who allowed them to vote were arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed (for not paying their fines). President Ulysses S. Grant eventually pardoned the inspectors and all of the attention from the trials pushed suffrage to the front of the women’s rights movement. Justice Hunt’s controversial actions during Susan B. Anthony’s trial resulted in years of legal debate and, in Sparf v. United States, 156 U.S. 51 (1895), or Sparf and Hansen v. United States, the SCOTUS decision that a jury must apply the law based on the facts of the case; the court  may not direct the jury to return a guilty verdict; a jury may convict a defendant of a lesser crime if that is part of the case (in some cases); and that juries can – but do not have the explicit right to – dispute the law.

Over the years, Susan B. Anthony gave hundreds and hundreds of speeches. In addition to giving up the “bloomers” she considered more sensible and reasonable, she was subjected to yelling mobs that would throw rotten eggs and sometimes even furniture at her. People would brandish guns and knives and, of course (I say sarcastically) she had to continuously contend with questions about why she wasn’t married. Her answers to the questions changed depending on her mood, or perhaps, who was asking the question. My personal favorite answer was when she said that she had never wanted to spend the majority of her life as “a housekeeper and a drudge [which she would have been had she married someone poor]” and neither had she ever wanted to be “a pet and a doll [which she would have have been had she married someone rich].” But, all that being said, she believed in a woman’s right to choose… whether she got married or not.

“Marriage, to women as to men, must be a luxury, not a necessity; an incident of life, not all of it. And the only possible way to accomplish this great change is to accord to women equal power in the making, shaping and controlling of the circumstances of life.”

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– quoted from the speech “Social Purity” by Susan B. Anthony

As I mentioned over the last two weeks, some people celebrate the Lunar New Year for a handful of days and then go back to their regular routines. For some, however, there’s the Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. This year, the Lantern Festival occurred on February 15th, and one of the customs turns the event into something similar to modern-day Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, women would write their contact information on oranges and then toss the oranges in the river where men would scoop them up. Then, the men would eat the oranges. A sweet orange meant the couple could potential have a good relationship, but if a bitter orange meant the match was best avoided.

Of course, the oranges in the river makes for a pretty sight but that’s not the main focus of the Lantern Festival – nor is it the most spectacular. In fact, anyone observing areas celebrating the Lantern Festival would primarily notice cities, towns, and villages adorned in red lanterns and lit up… almost like everything is on fire.

There are several different legends associated with the Lantern Festival. There is a story about the Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty wanting every person in every class to honor the Buddha as the monks would on the fifteenth day of the year. According to another story, Dongfang Shuo (a  scholar and court jester) came upon a homesick maiden from the place. To console her and lift her out of her despair, he told the young lady that he would reunite her with her family. Then he dressed up like a fortune teller and told everyone who came to his stall that they must beg the “red fairy” for mercy on the thirteenth day of the new year or else everything would burn down in a couple of days. When the maiden, Yuan Xiao, appeared all dressed in red, people flocked to her and all that she could think to do was say she would take a message to the emperor. Of course, Dongfang had already “tricked” the emperor and convinced him to tell Yuan Xiao to make her sweet-rice dumplings called tangyuan, because they were the favorite dessert of the God of Fire.

The whole town, and people from surrounding towns, came together to make the dumplings as a tribute to the God of Fire. As word spread, more people came – including Yuan Xiao’s family. And this is why Dongfang Shuo’s plan was so clever: In Chinese, the dumplings are 湯圓 or 汤圆 (pinyin: tāngyuán), which sounds like 團圓 or 团圆 (pinyin: tuányuán), which means “union.” While the round dumplings are enjoyed at a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, they are a staple during the Lantern Festival, which is actually 元宵節 or 元宵节 (pinyin: Yuánxiāo jié) – Yuan Xiao’s Festival.

“‘When you see it, it’ll affect you profoundly…'”

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– Wang De quoted in the Feb. 19, 2019, The Strait Times article entitled “Blacksmiths keep alive the flame of China’s molten steel ‘fireworks'”

There are more variations on this them, but the legend with which I am most familiar, and the one I share in the practice, is the story of the Jade Emperor and his favorite bird, a crane. This crane was beautiful and unlike any other bird or species. In some stories, the ruler of heaven and earth decided to treat people with a glimpse of the exotic bird. In other versions of the story, the crane got discombobulated and flew close to the earth. Either way, what happened next is why we can’t have nice things: Someone shot the exotic bird. The Jade Emperor was furious and decided to send down fire breathing dragons to destroy the towns and villages. The Jade Emperor’s daughter warned the townsfolk and someone suggested that if they lit lanterns, started bonfires, and set off fireworks, the dragons – who are not that smart in these stories – would think everything was already on fire. The trick worked… on the dragons. The Jade Emperor was not tricked, but his anger had passed and he decided to offer a little compassion to the people on Earth.

To this day, people carry on the tradition of lighting up the skies. Traditional, lanterns are paper, wooden, or jade. Some people will spend months designing and creating delicate lanterns that they will enter into competitions. Other people will make simple lanterns or purchase fancy store-bought lanterns. In addition to the plethora of basic red lanterns, there will also be animal-shaped lanterns – the most popular of which are in the shape of the animal of the year. Many of the lanterns will have riddles at the bottom – which adds to the fun, because if you know the answer to the riddle you can go find it’s owner and they will give you tangyuan (those sweet dumplings that sound like “union”) as a reward.

In addition to the lanterns, there are bonfires, fireworks, and a 300-plus years old tradition called Da Shuhua.

Da Shuhua is one of the English spellings for 打树花 (dǎshùhuā in pinyin), which is a 300-500 years old tradition handed down through families of blacksmiths in China´s northern Hebei province. It is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s fireworks, because it is produced from scrap metal that people in the remote village of Nuanquan give to the local blacksmiths. Dressed in straw hats, sheepskin jackets, and protective eyewear, the blacksmiths and their assistants melt down the scraps and then the blacksmiths throw the molten liquid up against a cold stone wall. When the liquid metal – which can reach up to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius) – hits the cold wall, sparks fly.

The spectacular display looks like a blossoming tree and so the name of the art form translates into English as “beating tree flowers.” Although there are a few other places in China where this art form is showcased, it is traditional to Nuanquan and there is a square in the village (“Tree Flower Square”), which was specifically built to hold tourists who travel to the village to see the display. In addition to three days of performances at the end of the Spring Festival, the tradition is also performed during the Dragon Boat Festival. Also called Double Fifth Festival, this second event takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar New Year (June 3 of this year). Although UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated Da Shuhua as a prime example of China and Hebei province’s intangible cultural heritage, the tradition may be dying out. In 2019, there were only four blacksmiths trained in the art form and the youngest was 50 years old. Wang De, one of the four, had trained his youngest son; however, like so many of the younger generations, his son had moved to the big city and started working in a different industry. His concerns, and hopes, for his legacy are not unlike those of Galileo Galilee and Susan B. Anthony.

“‘It’s extremely dangerous and it doesn’t make much money,’ said Wang, who also farms corn to supplement his blacksmith’s income.

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[…] Still, Wang De is hopeful he will return to keep the flame alive.

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‘When we no longer can pull this off, people can learn from him. I have this confidence that (Da Shuhua) will be passed on.'”

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– quoted from the Feb. 19, 2019, The Strait Times article entitled “Blacksmiths keep alive the flame of China’s molten steel ‘fireworks'”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lantern Festival 2022”]

*RIDDLE NOTE: The riddles at the bottom (or sometimes underneath) the lanterns, are literally called “riddles written on lanterns,” but are sometimes referred to as “tiger riddles,” because solving them (in Chinese) is akin to wrestling a tiger. They often have three parts: the riddle, a hint or suggestion (which is that the answer is in the post), and the answer. In this case, I took a page from Dongfang Shuo’s book and only gave you part of an English riddle so that instead of having one definite answer, there are three possible answers. Highlight the space between the hashtags for the answers.

### The moon (which is the original answer), a bit of history you didn’t know, and a legend from a culture with which you are unfamiliar. Let me know if you got the answer(s)!  ###

Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

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When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

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– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

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– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

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– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

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– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

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– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

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“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

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The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

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– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

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– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

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### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###