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Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. 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.]

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

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

 

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

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

What Does It Mean to You? (a “missing” 2-for-1 post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is a 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, September 26th and for Monday, September 27th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

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

 

During Sukkot, people are commanded to be happy. But what does happiness even mean? Happiness is, after all, a really personal thing, a really personal experience. I can ask, “What do you need to be happy?” But it would be really ignorant to believe that if I surround myself with the things and people that “make you happy” that I will also be happy. In fact, that’s an example of several different types of avidyā (“ignorance”) and klişţa (dysfunctional/afflicted) tendencies that lead to suffering. Furthermore, if you’ve studied a little philosophy, especially a little Eastern philosophy, you know it’s a trick question; because you know that happiness is a state of mind. So, it is more important to know (a) what you value and appreciate and (b) what happiness means to you (at this moment and in any given moment).

As I’ve mentioned before, Hod, the fifth sefirot  or attribute of the divine on the Tree of Life, translates into English as “humility,” “gratitude,” “splendor,” and “glory.”  Thinking of all of those together gives us some insight into what it means to be thankful – in other words, pleased, relieved, and grateful. To be grateful is to feel and/or show an appreciation for a kindness or courtesy. Gratitude, then, is defined as the “quality of being thankful; [the] readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Finally, appreciation is the defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” Even though anyone can say “thank you,” for the smallest demonstration of kindness – and we absolutely must as it is a way of returning some of that kindness – it can sometimes feel like a throwaway line. A true expression of gratitude, however, includes a little detail to demonstrate “a full understanding” of why something or someone is valued.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

The Talmud says:

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Once we establish what we value and appreciate, we can look at happiness as the embodied expression of our enjoyment and appreciation. Then, too, we must recognize that “happiness” (whatever that means to you at this moment) is not one-size-fits-all. For some people, happiness is an ecstatic kind of joy. For others, it is “just not being miserable.” Then there is every experience in between – plus the fact that the way we experience happiness today may not be the way we experienced happiness yesterday or the way we will experience it tomorrow.

At the Happiness Studies Academy (HAS), where you can get a certificate in “Happiness Studies,” the experience that is happiness falls into the rubric of positive psychology, which is defined as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” In other words, scholars like HAS co-founder Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar are concerned with the interdisciplinary science of living a good life – whatever that means to you at this moment. As I mentioned on Saturday, October 25th, the anniversary of the creation and initial approval of the United States Bill of Rights (in 1789), the founding fathers had definite ideas about what was needed in order for the citizens of their new nation to experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Similarly, the Buddha expressed ideas about what a person needs to be happy and the HAS definition fits the Buddha’s teachings on the happiness of a householder. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, summarizes the overall Buddhist concept of happiness as “not suffering” or being free of suffering. Then there is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (an October baby), whose ultimate meaning is not exactly like Patanjali’s instructions in the Yoga Sūtras; and yet, sounds very similar to YS 2.46 (“sthirasukham āsanam”). In both cases, there is an emphasis on finding balance between effort and relaxation (i.e., power without resistance).

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome.”

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

One thing to remember, when applying Nietzsche’s words to our physical practice (or to society), is that there is resistance in too much power. Think about a power lifter who has very muscular arms and legs. They might have some flexibility in their spine and hips, but their most muscular parts tend to be their least flexible parts. So, while they might be able to move easily in one direction, they might find it really hard to move in a direction that is counter to the way they have trained their body. Furthermore, finding balance between effort and relaxation, finding that state where there is power without resistance, is not just physical; it requires mental and emotional effort as well. Happiness, after all, is a mind-body-spirit experience.

Science has shown that our propensity for happiness is based on a cocktail of genetics, personality, and attitude. That mixture of elements combined with our circumstances creates what was referred to by Drs. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell as a “hedonic treadmill” (or “hedonic adaptation”), whereby as our circumstances change our expectations (and desires) also change – creating a baseline for happiness. Accordingly, research in positive psychology shows that regardless of how extreme an event is (e.g., we win the lottery or experience a debilitating accident) people return to their happiness baseline (or “hedonic set point”) in a relatively short period of time. We just need recover time.

During that recovery time there are things that promote good mental, emotional, and physical health. In fact, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Six Tips for Happiness” encapsulate the best ways we can spend our time if we want to cultivate happiness, including: eating well, sleeping, staying hydrated, exercising, and the practices of acceptance and gratitude. Some of those things we may not always want to do, but we feel better when we do them. We also may or may not (automatically) feel grateful for what has happened to us, but not being grateful for something is definitely detrimental. Furthermore, science has shown that even thinking about something for which we could be grateful is beneficial.

The benefits of thinking, contemplating, and/or meditating on “positive” emotions are some of the reasons why Matthieu Ricard, (10/7/2020) considers happiness a skill. M. Ricard is a French Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as a translator for the 14th Dalai Lama and has been called “the happiest man in the world.” He is also one of the monks whose brain has been observed and studied to learn the clinical benefits of meditation. What researchers have learned about M. Ricard’s brain, however, is about more than just mindfulness. While hooked up to 256 electrodes, the brains of Matthieu Ricard and the other mediators indicated that even adult brains have some neuroplasticity and, therefore, can be changed. The research shows that we can not only change our brains; it shows that in doing so we can change our baseline for happiness.

M. Ricard equates changing one’s baseline for happiness to training for a marathon. It’s about pacing and using the appropriate techniques. In the documentary “A Joyful Mind,” Dr. Richard Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, states that brain scans indicate someone new to meditation can meditate 30 minutes a day over a 2-week period and see a change in brain activity. If you specifically want to change your baseline for happiness, one of the most effective “training techniques” is cultivating benevolent thoughts – like meditating on loving-kindness and compassion (which takes us right back to Tolstoy’s answer of “do that person good”). Another effective method for changing your happiness baseline is giving thanks.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

 

Last year, when World Mental Health Day (Oct 10th) fell during Sukkot, I mentioned that happiness could be considered an aspect of good mental health. I also mentioned that The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” I ultimately concluded that when we look at happiness through this mental health lens, “happy people,” just like people with good mental health, are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues and/or when unhappy. This is consistent with the Yoga Philosophy.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg made the same observation in 48 Ways to Wisdom in “Way #27: Happiness,” when he dispelled certain myths about happiness and contentment by pointing out that a happy person has the energy and inclination to do things like spontaneously go for a boat ride. The unhappy person, however, only seems to have the energy and inclination to stay stuck in a downward spiral. Here, again, it is important to remember that if we don’t have a recovery period – after experiencing something really good or something really tragic – any one of us can get stuck in that downward spiral.

Just as we can raise our baseline for happiness, circumstances can lower our baseline. In either case, there is a change in brain chemistry as well as in behavior. We may welcome the physiological changes that come from being a happier person. However, if our baseline is going down, we may find we need some help – possibly even some professional help – in order to get ourselves and our baseline back to a functioning level. Because, again, the key to happiness fits our mind, body, and spirit.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10102020 World Mental Health Day (also Sukkot 4)”]

 

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

“Give yourself permission to be human.

Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.

Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.

Simplify!

Remember the mind body connection.

Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

 

– quoted from the Harvard University’s Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

 

You can find portions of this post, in slightly different contexts, in the linked posts highlighted above.

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### Be Joyful! Whatever that means to you at this moment. ###

Time To Breathe, with Gratitude (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. 

[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 22nd. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

 

Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1-8), KJV

When most Americans – especially most Christian Americans – think of Ecclesiastes (or Ecclesiastes – Or, The Preacher, as it is called in the King James Version), they think of the beginning of the third Chapter. It is no accident that this passage about the different seasons in our lives, like the whole book, sounds a lot like the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”), which is often recited or chanted during Rosh Hashanah services. In fact, this whole book of the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament) focuses on how one could spend their time. So, it is not surprising that people within the Jewish community (and those who observe the commanded holidays) spend some time in the fall reviewing this book of the Torah. What may be surprising to some is that a community review of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes doesn’t happen during the High Holidays. It happens after.

Yes, after spending (at least) ten days reflecting, remembering, repenting, and planning for a New Year, people within the Jewish community then spend a little time celebrating what’s to come with the observation of Sukkot. Remember, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is a time to give thanks for blessings that will be given and during this time people read the twelve short chapters featuring the philosophy of a teacher (or a preacher) who is identified at the beginning and only speaks directly at the beginning and the end. Some people, even some religious scholars, consider the wisdom within these pages to be rhetorical questions and musings only intended to get people to think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a pessimistic meditation with a shot a fatalism. Others, even some religious scholars, view these passages as words by which we all should live: giving, allowing, and embracing each season of our lives as full as possible. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a life affirming meditation on the power of the gift that has been given: this present moment.

“Breath of breath, said the Teacher; [like the shadow of mist that passes], all is breath.*

What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it yearns and rises there.

It goes to the south and goes to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits.”

 

(*NOTE: The Hebrew word “hevel” (variations of which occur 3 times in K-E 3.1) is often translated into English as “vanity,” “futility” or “meaningless,” but is literally translated as “breath.)

 

 – Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (1:2-6)

As the sun rises and sets, as “it goes to the south and goes to north,” people around the world mark the changing seasons with a variety of rituals and traditions. This year, the second day of Sukkot (September 22nd) was also the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (which is the Vernal or Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. So, while some people spent their twelve or so hours of daylight practicing a 108 Sun Salutations or finishing up mooncakes left over from Mid-Autumn Festival (a Harvest Moon festival in China that actually fell on September 21st this year), some people spent the twelve or so hours of daylight (and nighttime) eating, sleeping, reading Kohelet – Ecclesiastes, and giving thanks outdoors in their sukkah.

I keep saying, “twelve or so hours” because everybody everywhere doesn’t get exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime on the equinox.

Giving thanks – that’s one way we can spend our time. One way we can spend our breath. Some even say it is one of the most powerful ways to spend our time, because it is a way to cultivate happiness. In fact, appreciating what is (in any given moment) is one aspect of santosha, the second niyamā (internal “observation) in the yoga philosophy.

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

Patanjali used variations of the Sanskrit word “sukha” throughout his treatise on the practice. For example, he used it in his explanation of the third limb of the philosophy, āsana, where it (sukham) is often translated into English as “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” (YS 2.46) Prior to that, in offering different ways to clear the mind, he suggested offering “the essence of friendship” or “friendliness” to those who are sukha and “a joyful condition of the mind” or “happiness” (muditā) when dealing with people who are virtuous (puņya). Furthermore, in our physical practice of yoga, we have Sukhāsana. A pose kids know as “criss-cross, apple sauce,” but it is often translated into English as “Easy Pose” – even though it can be quite challenging if your hips are tight and/or you have knee issues. Literally speaking, though, it could just as easily be called “Happy Seat.”

This year it really struck me that the Hebrew word for “booth” or “tabernacle,” the same word applied to an ancient farmer’s temporary shelter, sounds (and looks) like the Sanskrit word for “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” We could get into the etymology and shared roots of ancient languages, but for the moment I want to focus on context. In ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts, there are two different ways in which one can experience happiness, pleasure, and/or bliss. There’s the conditional and transitional experience that you might have after, say, eating your favorite meal or dessert. It is short term, not lasting, when you’re patting your full belly and not thinking about anyone but yourself. That is preya.  On the flip side, there is an experience that is more intrinsic and more lasting, one that is associated with something that is “good” in that it serves a purpose.

Consider, for example, the feeling experienced by a farmer who, after bringing in the harvest that will feed their family and friends, has a moment in the temporary shade where they look out over all of their land and experience satisfaction that is tied to the land, tied to the work of their hands, and also tied to the future. Yes, that single moment of deep satisfaction may only happen for a single moment (then it’s time to get back to work) and it can absolutely be something that is connected to one’s ego. (Again, making it preya.) However, here I’m talking about a sensation born from living a life of purpose and living a life that requires complete commitment to the purpose. The person who cooks during and after the harvest may look around the table and recognize how their efforts are connected to the overall effort and also experience a bone deep satisfaction that comes from complete commitment.

By complete commitment, I mean mind-body-spirit aligned with thoughts, words, and deeds. When that commitment is experienced along with an awareness of how everything (and everyone) is connected and with a true understanding of how everyone (and everything) works together in order for there to be past (and future) harvests, then we are entering into the “sukha” realm. The farmer recognizes that they can’t work without the efforts of the cook; the cook recognizes that they can’t work without the farmer; both recognize that they cannot do what they do without the land, the seasons, and – especially in this context – without God (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Descriptions of this lasting type of “happiness” are found in the Upanishads as well as in Buddhist texts like the Anaņa Sutta. In the latter, the Buddha describes “four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions….” (Sound familiar?) Descriptions of the first two kinds of joy – the bliss of having and the bliss of [making use of] wealth – emphasize the work (or effort) of a person and the righteousness of that work (meaning it is wise or skillful work, in the Buddhist sense). Descriptions for the latter two kinds of joy are shorter in that they simply describe how one is debtless (because they are without debt) and blameless (because they are without kamma/karma). Even though the last two have shorter descriptions, it is clear that to move through the world without owing and/or harming anyone is a skill that requires practice.

So, the question remains: How will you spend your time?

“So the whole point of that is not, sort of, to make, like, a circus thing of showing exceptional beings who can jump, or whatever. It’s more to say that mind training matters. That this is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

 

– quoted from a Ted2004 talk entitled “The Habits of Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 3”]

Here’s another one of my 2020 Sukkot posts about practicing gratitude in order to cultivate happiness.

“Misconception #2: ‘If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I’ll lose my motivation to achieve more.’

Happiness doesn’t drain your energy. It adds more!

Ask a happy person: ‘I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?’
He’ll say: ‘Great! Let’s go!’

Now ask someone who is depressed: ‘C’mon, let’s go fishing!’
He says, ‘I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain…’

Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There’s never enough time to do everything they want to do.”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

### Breathe In, Breathe Out: Give Thanks ###

Giving Flowers for Now & for Later (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Movies, Music, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. Happy Equinox to all!

 

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 21st. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

 

– quoted from the 2005 University of Maine Commencement Speech by Stephen King

As more and more people pass away at an early age, especially those whose deaths are tragic, we hear the old saying that we should give people their flowers when they are living. Although I can’t find the original source, Anne Frank is often quoted as writing “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.” How scary is that? I mean, to me, the idea that someone could come to the end of their days – or live all of their days – not knowing how much they are loved and appreciated is very scary and unsettling. The human heart can hold a lot of love and a lot of kindness, even a lot of courage, wisdom, and generosity. But, the human heart can also hold its fair share of regret, fear, judgement, hatred, selfishness, self-centeredness and inconsideration.

The aforementioned “negative” sentiments may or may not seem really scary to you, but think about how they are expressed in the world. Then think about how those expressions in the world manifest in books by Stephen King. Born September 21, 1947, Mr. King is an acknowledged expert in horror, suspense, supernatural fiction, who has also written crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels. His (65-and-counting) novels and hundreds of short stories and novellas (like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, from 1982), as well as non-fiction work and have sold hundreds of millions of copies, won hundreds of awards, been adapted into movies and comic books, and creeped the living daylights out of people all over the world. And, it doesn’t matter if you use his first novel, Carrie (1974) or Pet Sematary (1983) or Misery (1987) or (one of my favorites) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), every Stephen King story starts with a “what if” and then proceeds to give us a glimpse into the best and the worst parts of the human heart. And the worst parts can be really scary.

Of course, there is more to Stephen King than scary stories. He is also a musician who has collaborated with artists like Foo Fighters and Bronson Arroyo, as well as John Mellencamp, and played guitar for the Rock Bottom Remainders. He is also a husband, father, grandfather, a Boston Red Sox fan, a philanthropic (and political) activist, and a recovering addict. In addition to inspiring two of his own children to become published authors, he has written books on writing and reportedly “donates [millions every year] to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment,” schools, and arts-related organizations. He and his wife Tabitha King (neé Spruce), who is also an author and activist, support Maine charities and communities through their foundation. They also own a radio station group.

While I haven’t read everything he has ever written, I am a Stephen King fan and I appreciate his work and his life – and I appreciate how both have made me think about my work, my life, and the world-at-large.

“Either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

– quoted from the film the novella “Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption: Hope Springs Eternal” by Stephen King

 

Like Stephen King, Herbert George Wells was born on September 21 (in 1866) and was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction including works of history, satire, biography, and autobiography. While his work also is full of social commentary and glimpses into the human heart, when most people think of H. G. Wells, they think of science fiction like The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), War of the Worlds (1897), and When The Sleeper Wakes (1899). Also like King, Mr. Wells suffered an accident that severely injured one of his legs and left him bedridden for an extended period of time. There are several obvious differences between the two accidents, including the fact that Stephen King’s happened when he was a successful adult writing about writing; while young “Bertie” suffered his accident as an eight year old. But, the very advice Mr. King gives in On Writing – to read as much as possible – is the very experience that led Mr. Wells to write (a hundred years later).

H. G. Wells got people to think. He got people to think, “What if…?” He inspired authors and scientists like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Carl Sagan, Ursula Le Guin, Sinclair Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Margaret Atwood. He predicted a world war, the atomic bomb, and wrote about a “world brain,” which was basically an encyclopedia accessible by the entire world through another of his fantastical ideas (let’s call it an electronic web). He also wrote about aircraft, tanks, space travel, and satellite television that had not yet been invented.

He was also a husband and a father, possibly even a grandfather; however, with all due respect, he seems to have been more of a philanderer than a philanthropist. While some of his actions set women back, he predicted the sexual revolution and, perhaps, even inspired it. Again, I haven’t read all of his books – or indulged in all of the movies, radio plays, and comic book adaptations – but I appreciate the worlds that he built and how they make us think about the world we are building.

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

 

– H. G. Wells

My third bouquet of gratitude flowers goes to Leonard Cohen, also born on September 21 (in 1934), an award winning musician and poet, whose songs are psalms, sacred songs, for the human heart. A Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ), he started out as an author or poetry and prose, who even had some of his drawings published with his written words. His professional music career didn’t start until he was in his early thirties; however, despite what some might consider a late start, he proceeded to create fifteen studio albums in nearly fifty years and wrote songs that would become chartbusters for himself as well as for singers like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (who is the father of Mr. Cohen’s granddaughter), and Jennifer Warnes. He also inspired bands likes Nirvana and U2, collaborated with Phillip Glass, and co-wrote (and/or had music featured) in several films, including the rock musical Night Magic (which he co-wrote with composer Lewis Furey).

Mr. Cohen was a father, who collaborated with his son on an album and his daughter on a musical video and on one of his world tours. While he studied (and practiced) Zen Buddhism as an adult – and was even ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk – Leonard Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family with a rich religious heritage and observed the Sabbath “even while on tour and [performing] for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.” He never seemed to shy away from political and social commentary, in his music or in his life. In fact, some of his efforts to support peace efforts and reconciliation in the Middle East were met with discussions of boycotts and, ultimately, withdrawal of some supporting organizations. Despite those discussions of boycotts, however, his 2009 performance in Tel Aviv, Israel (which occurred towards the end of the High Holidays that year) sold out within 24 hours.

Leonard Cohen had style and grace that was evident in his dress and his demeanor, as well as in the way he performed. For instance, there is a powerful moment in the recording of a live performance of “Anthem” (a moment possibly captured by his daughter Lorca) when Mr. Cohen introduces his band to the audience. This is something that is pretty typical for most Class A musicians when they are on tour, but the way it happens at this performance in London epitomizes what it means to give someone their flowers while they are still living. Watching the footage is also like watching a mutual appreciation society in action. The gratitude is a living breathing thing being exchanged between all the people on the stage.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

 

– Leonard Cohen

 

Living and breathing gratitude is a key element in my practice this time of year, because giving thanks is a critical aspect of happiness. In fact, “expressing gratitude” is recommended by experts like Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in Positive Psychology and the author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom, who use to teach a class at Harvard University called “Happiness 101” (also known as Psychology 1504). In his class and through his research, he offered the following 6 very practical tips for cultivating happiness:

“1. Give yourself permission to be human.

  1. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.
  2. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.
  3. Simplify!”
  4. Remember the mind body connection.
  5. Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

I share these tips this time of year, because Monday at sunset marked the beginning Sukkot, which many people consider the “Season of Happiness,” because they view the instructions in the Bible as a mandate to be happy. Since the instruction is to be joyful, or rejoice, about things that have yet to happen – blessings yet to come – one has to wonder: How can we be “independently happy” and celebrate something that hasn’t happened yet?

That’s a good question, and the tips above are some of the really good answers. Especially, if you allow your gratitude to ride the waves of your consciousness, almost like a traveler in a time machine.

“‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.’”

 

– quoted from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

Portions of the following were previously posted on October 4, 2020 (see “Sukkot” link above).

In the Torah (and the Christian Old Testament), there are a list of commandments and, mixed into that list, are certain dates the faithful are commanded to observe. We think of them, in the modern context, as “holidays” and they are filled with ritual and tradition. Sometimes the mandate is general and left to interpretation (like when it says in Deuteronomy, “‘… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.’” Other times, however, it is very specific about who, what, when, and even where. Sukkot, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is one of the times where the details are specific – even when they appear vague.

For seven days, 8 in the diaspora, people within the Jewish community and people who observe the commanded holidays, eat, sleep, socialize, and sometimes work in a temporary shelter. The shelter, a sukkah, consists of three walls of any material and a roof made of natural fiber. (Natural being something grown from the earth.) I mentioned last year that it is a holiday that seems tailor-made for the times we find ourselves in – when it is still recommended that people gather outdoors in small groups, maintain a little social distance, and wash their hands. I reiterate this, not to make light of the tradition or the circumstances we find ourselves in; but to reinforce the wisdom of the rituals and the traditions – as well as the fact that things can be sacred even when they are not perfect.

“Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

 

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

 

– quoted from Devarim  – Deuteronomy (16:14 – 15)

 

One of the significant things about Sukkot is that it is a time for people to come together regardless of their circumstances, gender, religion, or political affiliation. It is a time for all to remember challenges of the past; while also celebrating better days ahead. Another especially noteworthy thing about Sukkot is the symbolism behind the rituals. For instance, one of the points of being outside in the most basic of shelters, exposed to the elements, is to remind people of the time when their ancestors were living in simple, temporary shelters when they were exiled in the desert for 40 years. It is also a good time to remember how much we have – as well as the fact that we could be happy with less. Sukkot is a reminder that life can be full, even when it is simple and bare-boned. It is a time of appreciation and it is also about accepting the present moment.

That last part – accepting the present moment – is easy to overlook. However, the commandment specifically states that the celebration occurs in a place chosen by God. In other words, we might not be where we want to be or where we thought we would be. (Hello, 2020 & 2021!) This is something I point out every year, but it was especially pointed out to me in 2016, when the creamery, where I held my 2015 Sukkot retreat was no longer available… and again, in 2017, when it was no longer as easy to schedule time in the church where I held the second retreat… and again, in 2019, when the church camp I had planned to use experienced a fire and had to cancel the bulk of their season. And now, here it is 2020 (& 2021) … once again, things are not as we planned – despite the fact that CP graciously offered to help me plan a 2020 retreat. On the face, it might seem that we are “destined” not to observe this time – and yet, we do, every year… just not necessarily in the place that we thought.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

 

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

 

The Talmud says:

 

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 2.5 for 09212021]

NOTE: YouTube has music from the original movie version of The Time Machine.

 

### Thank you for all that you do! Thank you for just being you!! ###