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Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

*

‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s 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.]

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Who Is Minding the Store? (the Saturday post) January 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 9th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s 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.]

 

“Man’s unhappiness, says Descartes, is due to his having first been a child. And indeed the unfortunate choices which most men make can only be explained by the fact that they have taken place on the basis of childhood. The child’s situation is characterized by his finding himself cast into a universe which he has not helped to establish, which has been fashioned without him, and which appears to him as an absolute to which he can only submit. In his eyes, human inventions, words, customs, and values are given facts, as inevitable as the sky and the trees….

 

From childhood on, flaws begin to be revealed in it. With astonishment, revolt and disrespect the child little by little asks himself, ‘Why must I act that way? What good is it? And what will happen if I act in another way?’ He discovers his subjectivity; he discovers that of others. And when he arrives at the age of adolescence he begins to vacillate because he notices the contradictions among adults as well as their hesitations and weakness. Men stop appearing as if they were gods, and at the same time the adolescent discovers the human character of the reality about him. Language, customs, ethics, and values have their source in these uncertain creatures. The moment has come when he too is going to be called upon to participate in their operation; his acts weigh upon the earth as much as those of other men. He will have to choose and decide. It is comprehensible that it is hard for him to live this moment of his history, and this is doubtless the deepest reason for the crisis of adolescence; the individual must at last assume his subjectivity.”

 

– quoted from “II. Personal Freedom and Others” in The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

 

“What is an adult? A child blown up by age.”

 

– quoted from The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Do you ever take note of yourself? In particular, do you take note of who you are and what you are all about – and how you got in the habit of being you? That last part may seem weird, because you’re thinking that you just are you and that being you is a state, not a habit. However, philosophically speaking, we become who we are – more and more, every day – and, as we become who we are we less and less likely to deviate from a certain pattern of behavior. In other words, who we are in this moment is a habit.

Simone de Beauvoir, born today in 1908, was (along with her longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre) one of the founders of existentialism; the philosophical and literary idea that freedom and the expression of personal freedom should be the foundation of and motivation for everything. Despite the fact that the couple, individually and collectively, sought to define themselves regardless of social conventions, there was a point when de Beauvoir had not considered how her sex and gender (and people’s ideas around her sex and gender) limited her freedom of being. In fact, she specifically told Sartre that she had not experienced any oppression or marginalization because she was a woman. (A comment I always find astonishing since one of the reasons the couple didn’t marry was because she had no dowry and said that made marriage “impossible.”)

Sartre basically told de Beauvoir to go deeper, and she did. The result of that deep dive was The Second Sex.

Published in 1949, the two volumes of The Second Sex (Facts and Myths and Lived Experience) provided a history of the treatment of women; made a distinction between biological sex and socially-constructed gender; and became the foundation for modern feminist theory – although its author was reluctant to call herself a feminist. One of the bottom lines from The Second Sex is that men (and in particular in certain cultures, white men) are seen by society as the “norm” and that everyone (and everything associated with everyone) else falls is defined (on a scale beneath men) in a way that “Others,” fetishizes, and demeans them. Additionally, she pointed out that to deviate from the “norm” and the resulting hierarchy can be detrimental.  

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

 

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

 

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

 

We may think nothing of the way we think and the way our brain process stimuli, until there is a problem – a fracture in our understanding of “reality” – or we engage in a contemplative practice that requires us to question everything; including the way we think. The Yoga Philosophy continuously asks us to question… everything. As we must understand our selves and the way our mind understands the world (through the senses), the 8-limbed philosophy explores how everything we think, say, do, and experience creates a mental/psychological impression (samskara) through which we filter the next thing we think, say, do, and experience. We also look at how we repeat this pattern throughout every moment of our lives and how, unless we take note and do something to lift the “veil of impressions,” we become who we are because we are hardwiring ourselves to be a certain way.

Another way to think of this is purely neurological. Every time we do something new (so, everything we think, say, do, and experience) a neural pathway is created in the brain – a pathway that gets hardwired as we repeat a thought, word, deed, or experience. This is how habits are formed – whether it is the habit of eating or not eating certain food; drinking or otherwise imbibing to excess (or not at all); working out (or not); working 80 hours a week; procrastinating; not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much…. The list goes on, because once we repeat a behavior enough times, we do it without thought or consideration. And, when you think about it, this is how we become who are; who we are in the habit of being.

“Stendhal said: ‘All the geniuses who are born women are lost to the public good.’ To tell the truth, one is not born a genius: one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”

 

– quoted from “Part II – History: Chapter VIII. Since the French Revolution: The Job and the Vote” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

 

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

Using Simone de Beauvoir as an example, consider how her understanding of the world (as she had been taught as a child) meant that her lack of dowry prevented her from getting married. Yet, that same lack of dowry (that prevented her from getting married) allowed her to study an academic discipline she may not have been able to study had she been married with children. At some point and on some level, she decided to focus on the freedom she “gained” from not being married rather than on the limitations society placed on her because her family wasn’t wealthy. Freedom and expression of that freedom became everything! At various points throughout her life, there were situations (of oppression) that she was in the habit of ignoring, because she was in the habit (as her father said) of thinking “like a man” and acting accordingly.**

In some ways, the explanations above are overly simplified, because they barely touch all the layers. The reality is that all of our experiences are based around external sensations (whereby we receive information about an object through our sense organs) and the internal processing of these sensations (which is a mental engagement). Yoga looks at five senses, plus the mind: smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing, and thinking. These senses are physically and mentally (neurologically) tied to a sense organ; to the mind; and, also, symbolically and energetically tied to a chakra. That chakra connection means that each sense is also associated to a part of the body that is not directly (physically) connected to the sense organ. Additionally, each sense is tied to an action: eliminating, (pro)creating, moving, grasping/holding, speaking, and thinking. When Patanjali explains the practice and experience of pratyāhāra (which is literally defined as “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point”), he specifically mentions indriyāņām, which are the 5 expressions of the physical-mental sense organ engagement and the 5 expressions of the corresponding action – with thinking sometimes ranking as an 11th indriya.

To get the real “big picture” we must also factor in our (emotionally) feelings about what we are sensing and thinking, as well as whether that emotion is rooted in the presence or (as is more often the case) rooted in the past. In the commentary for this week’s sūtra (2.55), Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, points out that there is a point in the (continued) practice when, “The joy engendered by this union [between mind and prana] engulfs the mind’s roaming tendencies. The cortex, which is the seat of the manas, the thinking mind, stops brooding on the future. This leads to freedom from anxiety. The amygdale, which is the seat of chitta, the storehouse of memories [and the processing point for decision-making and emotional responses], stops interacting with emotions associated with past issues. This leads to freedom from sorrow.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah

 

– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.55: tatah paramā vaśyatendriyāņām

 

– “From that [pratyahara] comes the highest level of mastery over senses

Think back to the classic analogy of the senses being wild horses*; the mind/brain being the reins; the body being the chariot; the mind/intellect being the charioteer; and the Atman-Self being the passenger along for the ride. Think about how every experience involves a variety of sense objects which will attract the attention of the horses. Think how, if not controlled, the horses keep pulling in the direction of the sense object each one finds most appealing. Chaos reigns.

And we fear the chaos.

Now, think about what happens if the horses have been trained (though experience) to know which way is “the barn” and that “the barn” equals whatever appeals to the senses. Now, you could drop the reins and the horses would all go to “the barn.” The only problem is they are still pulling in a different direction – just now you know why and where. This is a more controlled form of chaos, because now the senses and the brain are in the habit of doing certain things given certain information (stimuli) and conditions.

What if, however, “the barn” is not where you are going? Now, you have to struggle a bit, to keep the horses on course – especially since each horse may be pulling towards a different “barn.” Maybe you hold too tightly to the reins, especially when you notice you’re going in the “wrong” direction; and then you go nowhere fast. The alternative, according to Patanjali, is to intentionally train the senses by drawing them in – almost like an American football huddle.

 Remember, this is not about suppressing or repressing natural abilities. Neither is this about becoming so “numb” you are sleep walking through life. No, this is about training – and/or retraining – the mind-body to process sensation/information in different ways. It’s not about being reactive, it’s about being responsive. It’s not about improving your sight, but rather about improving your vision (of yourself and the world). It’s not about denying or suppressing reality, but rather about believing in yourself. And, ultimately, it is about being in the habit of being your best self.

The beauty of this practice is that while it is not magical, and doesn’t happen overnight, it does happen.

“To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object: a woman in love is neither asleep nor dead; there is a surge in her which unceasingly ebbs and flows: the ebb creates the spell that keeps desire alive.”

 

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter III. Sexual Initiation” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

*NOTE: I decided to stick with the tried and true wild horse and chariot analogy, rather than the store analogy referenced in the title.

**NOTE: Sometimes Simone de Beauvoir’s behavior was so much “like a man” that had she actually been a man, I might put her in the same category as President Richard Nixon, born today in 1913, and not every focused a class on her contributions. A double standard? In this case, yes.

“The new feminism is radical, by contrast. As in 1968, its watchword is: change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

 

– quoted from After the Second Sex: Conversations with Simone de Beauvoir by Alice Schwarzer

 

### Riding with a Charioteer Named Purpose ###

 

Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Movies, Philosophy, TV, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

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

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###