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Let’s See…Where We Go May 23, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

 

“‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

There are some things that once seen (heard, felt), cannot be unseen (unheard, unfelt). Those things – whether we like them or dislike them; whether we truly understand their nature or not – become part of us and part of our world. Those things – whether we recognize/identify them as part of ourselves and/or part of our world – become how we perceive ourselves and the world. Those things – whether they are specific, unspecific, barely describable, or absolutely indescribable – play a part in how we understand ourselves and our world. Those things… are (almost) everything: and everything can lead to fulfillment and freedom.

The statements above are a way to view Yoga Sutras 2.17 – 2.20, which we’ve covered on Saturdays in the last few weeks. (The calendar on the side will link you to posts on any given date if you want to review.) Those statements are also the scaffolding for this week’s sutra (2:21) which gets to the heart of why (to paraphrase the anonymous quote) everyone can only understand from our level of perception – as well as why one person doesn’t automatically “get” what another person “gets.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

One of the reasons I share/teach the things I share/teach is that I understand we (read: our minds) have to be prepared for epiphanies. In other words, we (our minds) have to be prepared to understand what we are seeing. Also, once we have that epiphany – that “aha” moment – where we start to see things in a different way (a special way), we can’t “unsee” that different perception of reality. It’s like the dress or the sound or the picture of the animal or the picture I once shared in the downtown studio.

Some people only ever see/hear/experience things a certain way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we can only believe what we understand; and so, you can talk until you are blue (or gold) in the face and some people will never understand anything other than what they first perceived. Their minds have not shown them any other possibility (YS 2.20). On the other hand, some people, when presented with the truth about the reality of the dress, the sound, or either picture will start to perceive the object in a different way. And, once they do, that new perception becomes part of their understanding of reality (YS 2:18 – 19). When presented the object of experience again, they may first still see what they initially perceived, but their mind/intellect will now also present them with the other option(s). Add to this the fact that there are some people who will initially experience both/all options (YS 2:15 – 17). While people in this last category can isolate what others perceive, they will also still understand the ultimate reality: it’s all about perception, baby.

And, our perceptions play a starring role in our actions, our suffering, and our ultimate freedom from suffering.

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

 

– from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

 

We have reached the end of the month of Ramadān, which can be viewed through the Yoga lens of Kriyā Yoga (a prescription or path to union). Part of the reason I share some of the history, pillars, and articles of faith related to Islam (as well as to Judaism and Christianity) is because if one person gains insight or additional understanding it not only changes their perception, it changes the way they relate to themselves and to the world. Sure, I hold out for the possibility of more than one person, but I also acknowledge that one person can make a big difference… if you know where to look for the change.

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

 

“ Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornadoes; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

 

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972

 

It might seem random that a technical talk to a science organization in 1972 would popularize a theory that dates back as far as 1800. Turns out, however, that it’s not random, it’s chaos (theory) and changing a seagull’s wings to a butterfly’s wings was just the beginning of a ripple of effect with a “strange” legacy. According to Edward Norton Lorenz (born today in 1917), he did not submit a title for his now famous speech (“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”). The title, which came from the session chair, Dr. Philip Merilees, carried “the idea that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology. It carried it everywhere – even into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. (Even though sometimes people don’t actually understand – or even know – the actual theory.)

If you are interested in experiencing some theory and “seeing” where it takes you, please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, this time using the lens of Ramadan and chaos theory. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020 75+ mins” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music (or use this “chaos” music).

 

(A little theory to go.)

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Just Leave The Light On May 20, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

 

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

 

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

 

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

 

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

 

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 20th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM, if you are interested being the light you want to see in the world. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

 

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A Night of Great Power, A Night of Great Peace May 19, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

 

HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

 

QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

 

RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

 

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Sunday, while others will be praying tonight (Tuesday, May 19th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (almost a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

 

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

 

All that is to say, tonight is the night we’re going to open our eyes, or hearts, our bodies, and our minds. If you’re interested and available, please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Prayer for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### PRAY FOR PEACE ###