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

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

 

– Pema Chödrön

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

 

– Nelson Mandela

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

– Pema Chödrön

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

 

– Nelson Mandela

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

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

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

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

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

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

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

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

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

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

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

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

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

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Pause…. June 29, 2020

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“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It may seem odd, paradoxical even, to feel the need to pause during a time when the pause button has been pressed on the whole world. That need, however, is what I’m feeling right now. Maybe some of you are feeling it too. A moment of reflection highlights the fact that while some things have been on pause during this pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, the world hasn’t actually stopped. We haven’t actually stopped.

Most of us have still been bombarded with external and internal stimuli. We’ve still had to figure out what to do next. We’ve still had to adapt to new information. We’ve still had to process grief, anger, astonishment, confusion, and yes, even joy. Maybe there’s even been some disappointment, fear, disgust, guilt, and loneliness. It’s not all bad – during this time people have experienced great amounts of love and kindness, friendliness, compassion, generosity, and (as mentioned before) joy. Sometimes we’ve experienced all of this in the space of a day…or in one hour… or in a matter of minutes. It can be overwhelming. And, more to the point, all of what we are feeling is occupying space in our minds and in our bodies – which can be exhausting.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

In Eastern philosophy, human beings can experience vedanā, which can be translated as “feeling,” “sensation,” or “vibration.” Different philosophies address, and even describe, these sensations in different ways. However, what is consistent about these embodied experiences is that thoughts simultaneously arise with these sensations and these thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. The only problem with looking at these categories from a purely psychological viewpoint is that what may seem functional in a given moment may still create suffering – even in that moment – and the philosophical viewpoints (in this context) are specifically concerned with how the afflicted thoughts create suffering. This idea, that there are types of thoughts which create suffering (not only in our selves, but also in others) is also consistent between the philosophies.

I say it all the time: sensation is information. In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collection information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

That’s a lot of sensation, a lot of information. Now, consider that our thoughts around what we experiencing (externally) and feeling (internally) may be based on avidyā (“ignorance”). We may or may not have correct information around a certain experience, but/and we may add a level of imagination and/or be unconscious to certain aspects of our experiences. Finally, we may remember an experience, or even a thought and feeling, in a way that creates more layers of sensation – even more layers of ignorance. We can, and will eventually, get into how all this manifests in the body – and the fact that there is action associated with the senses, but notice how even just getting into the basics is exhausting.

What happens if you pause? What happens if you just take a moment out of every day to just let all the sensation wash over you? It doesn’t have to be a full practice of yoga or meditation, although a full practice can be extraordinarily helpful. What is most important is to stop; notice what you are experiencing; appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering.

“I think this is an interesting time and an important time for all of us to check our perspectives and where we’re coming from. For me and my people, for the Black community, this is not an exciting time for us. And this isn’t a time that we get to really reflect. We’re dealing with a lot of trauma. We’ve lost a lot of lives. We’ve been losing lives for decades, for centuries. And I think, for me, I am trying to figure out how to channel my anger…. I’m also mourning with my people… and I’m not settling….”

 

– Janelle Monáe, during a “Drama Actresses Roundtable” with Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, Reese Witherspoon, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rose Byrne (hosted by The Hollywood Reporter June 2020)

Sandra Razieli and I were recently discussing the ubiquitous presence of the Yoga Sūtras in Western yoga and people’s love of lists. I think, a love of acronyms (as a way to remember the list) is included in that love of lists. Here I offer you both. SNAP: Stop; Notice what you are experiencing; Appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); Press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering. Just as in modern day vernacular, this type of snap reinforces the need to pay attention to what is in this moment. It can be abrupt, even abrasive, but it is a reminder not to look away. (In this case, it is also a reminder that looking away just adds another layer of sensation – and, perhaps, another layer of suffering.

“The Purusha, when it identifies itself with nature, forgets that it is pure and infinite. The Purusha does not love, it is love itself. It does not exist, it is existence itself. The Soul does not know, It is knowledge itself. It is a mistake to say the Soul loves, exists, or knows. Love, existence, and knowledge are not the qualities of the Purusha, but its essence. When they get reflected upon something, you may call them the qualities of that something. They are not the qualities but the essence of the Purusha, the great Atman, the Infinite Being, without birth or death, established in its own glory. It appears to have become so degenerate that if you approach to tell it, “You are not a pig,” it begins to squeal and bite.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom. There will be a lot of space (to breathe and to feel) in today’s practice.

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

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

 

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