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The Angels (& Devils) Within Us (the “missing” post) October 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is a “missing” post for Saturday, October 29th. You can request an audio recording of a related 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.]

“Violence is clearly destructive. It springs from fear, one of the fundamental afflictions. According to this sutra, the practice of non-violence requires us to arrest our violent tendencies by cultivating thoughts opposite to violence.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

By all accounts, it started off simply and innocently enough. Just a few childish pranks at the end of Thanksgiving: knocking at the door that opened to reveal no one; random, unexplained noises, cabbage being uprooted and then tossed around; patio furniture inexplicably shifting and moving to a neighbor’s porch. You know, things that ghost, goblins, and devils might do when the veil between worlds was lifted. It was so simple and innocent, in fact, that in 1790, a headmaster at Saint John’s College in Oxford even ended a school play with a little encouragement: “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” 

Mischief Night, the night before Halloween, is also known as Hell Night, Cabbage Night, Gate Night, Moving Night, Devil’s Night, and a variety of other names throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. It was just supposed to be a little “trick” before the treats. References to Devil’s Night and Mischief Night in Michigan can be found as early as the 1910’s – when college students reportedly started bonfires and then handed cigars to the firefighters who came to put out the flames. However, the vandalism and arson increased in the 1930’s and 1940’s. By the 1970’s, the simple and innocent pranks in Detroit turned into criminal mischief and started extending into October 29th. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, there was serious vandalism and arson that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1983, over 550 fires were reported. In 1984, the number of reported fires was more than 800. Some officials started theorizing that some people were using the reputation of Devil’s Night to commit insurance fraud. And, speaking of that reputation, by the mid-1980’s, people were not only driving into town from other states to watch the fires, they were flying in from other countries.

“Fire buffs, newspeople and just plain gawkers came to watch Detroit burn Wednesday night.

They even came all the way from Tokyo.

Director Nobi Shigemoto was here with an eight-person crew from Asahi national TV network. The crew planned to follow fire trucks Wednesday night and do a live shot from in front of Highland park fire headquarters before returning to Japan.”

*

“Shigemoto said Detroiters ask him why he is ‘looking at bad things.’

His reply:

This is the truth. US (is a) most rich country. When you look at Detroit, it looks nothing like rich.’”

*

– quoted from the Detroit Free Press article “Keeping the watch – Reporters, fire buffs, gawkers come to track night’s events” by Bill McGraw (printed in the “Devil’s Night” section, dated 31 Oct 1985, Thu) 

In the mid-1980’s, then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young and city officials created the “No More Devil’s Night” campaign, which included a dusk-to-dawn curfew for teenagers, neighborhood watches, the opportunity to “adopt” empty properties, and a coordinated “patrol” effort by police officers, firefighters, and miscellaneous city workers. Over 11,000 volunteers participated that first year – and the number of reported fires was cut in half. Local cable television offered free access to premium channels so that more people would stay home. News outlets agreed not to air footage that might glamorize arson and/or encourage copycats – and the number of fires dropped. The number of volunteers rose (to ~17,000) in 1987, and again the number of reported fires dropped. 

Detroit’s “No More Devil’s Night” campaign was so successful that when Dennis Archer was elected mayor, in January of 1994, he decided his predecessor’s official campaign was no longer needed. People warned him he was wrong. Unfortunately, those people were right. According to a New York Times article (dated November 1, 1994), there were 40,000 volunteers working to combat the arson and other criminal mischief in 1993 versus 8,000 in 1994. That difference in volunteers reflected a trend well established in previous years: more volunteers resulted in less arson and criminal mischief; less volunteers meant more arson. While there were significantly less fires in 1994 than there had been in 1984, one of those fires – set on October 30, 1994, in the same suburb Nobi Shigemoto filmed nine years earlier – resulted in the death of 1-year old Destiny Wilson and the serious injury of several others, including Destiny’s mother, 3-year old sister Ivory, and two older siblings. Then-mayor Archer and other city officials rebranded the original campaign and got more serious about cultivating the opposite energy; being angels instead of devils.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The rebranded Angels’ Night(s) encouraged volunteers to do what they could to actively combat the violence with non-violence, from October 29th – 31st. It was based on the idea that if everyone cared, everyone could do something to make a difference. Some people volunteered to patrol their neighborhood with flashing amber lights on their vehicles. Others agreed to wear orange ribbons and participated in neighborhood watches – even adopting an “empty” property. Still others agreed to leave their lights on and to enforce – or honor – the curfew. Official activities were organized at recreation and community centers. Bottom line, there was a way for everyone, regardless of age or ability, to stay alert and stay connected. In 1995, 40,000 – 50,000 volunteers agreed to be “angels.” As before, arson and vandalism steadily declined. 

While there was a spike in arsons around Halloween 2010, the overall decline in “devilish” activity continued through the 2000’s and 2010’s. In 2005, official “Angels’ Night” activities were cancelled as the entire city mourned the death of Rosa Parks. In 2015, there were “only” 52 fires (with 24 appearing to be arson). Interestingly, this steady decline around Halloween was paralleled by a slight increase in fires around the 4th of July. In 2018, there were only three reported fires and the city officially ended the campaign. Citizens, however, continue to be angels.

“The earliest recorded instance of someone saying ‘Hurt people hurt people’ appears in the Feb. 26, 1959, edition of a local Texas newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-Times, in its review of a lecture program put on by the Parent Teacher Association of Fannin Junior High School. The Globe-Times attributes the line to a speaker named Charles Eads, who, judging from the article’s description, spoke in the manner of vaudeville satirist and cowboy Will Rogers:…’”Hurt people hurt people.’ So, maybe before I wound someone next time, I’ll stop and think if it’s because I’ve been hurt, myself.’”

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quoted from the article “The History of ‘Hurt People Hurt People’ – The adage has been credited to everyone from pastors to self-help gurus to Andrew Garfield. It’s much older.” By Matthew Phelan (posted on slate.com, Sept 17, 2019) 

We’ve all been hurt. We all suffer. According to the Yoga Philosophy, dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns create suffering. The question – which is also addressed in philosophies like Buddhism, and even in the major religions – is, “What do we do with our own suffering?” Do we alleviate it? That’s the next question, because the philosophies say that we have the ability to alleviate our own suffering? Of course, there’s always the flipside, where our hurt/suffering becomes the foundation for more suffering and “devilish” behavior?

To answer the questions, take a moment to do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) or discernment – what some might call “metacognition.” Consider your own reaction to the aforementioned Devil’s Night, especially with regard to the arson and vandalism. Consider, who you think was responsible – not only for the problem, but also for the solution. Are you keeping in mind that the initial fires, even in Detroit, were set by college students? Have you thought about what was happening in the world when the arson first increased? Did you remember that the Wilson family lived in the suburbs? 

Consider how you feel when you take it all in and then consider how those feelings translate into thoughts that precede your words and then your deeds. Given the opportunity to counteract violence and destruction, would your active response to the “devilish” behavior be functional and skillful – or would it be just another form of damage?

In the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, there are several different ways in which we can achieve transparency of mind. One way is to focus on the breath. (YS 1.34) Another way is to “focus on someone who is free from all desire.” (YS 1.37) This is what people are ostensibly doing when they ask themselves, “What would … do?” Of course, the commentary indicates that in the absence of resonating with some great figure – from religion, philosophy, or mythology – we could focus on the best version of ourselves: What would we do/say if we were free from desire? What would we do/say if we were not attached to a particular outcome?

“Then concentrate upon [the] heart. Try to imagine how it must feel to be a great saint; pure and untroubled by sense-objects….”

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– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.37 from How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood  

Another method for achieving clarity of mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, is to offer friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are suffering, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference/non-judgement to those who (we consider) are non-virtuous. (YS 1.33) I personally love this idea, but I also know it can be challenging. Different parts may be challenging for different people – and under different circumstances – but the part that is usually challenging for me is the last part: offering indifference/non-judgement to someone (I consider) non-virtuous – or whose actions are not virtuous. Sure, ideally, we could ignore those non-virtuous people/actions and they would go away or stop their “devilish” behavior; but, life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we have to directly engage and actively combat the violence in a non-violent way.

My non-violent way is logic. While I often believe that (my) logic will resolve conflict and/or get people to do what I think is right, that is not actually how the world works – because that’s not how the human mind works. Remember, according to Yoga Sūtra 2.20, we can only see/comprehend what our mind-intellect is ready to show us. This is not an idea restricted to the people we think are wrong in their thinking; this also applies to each and every one of us. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that logic doesn’t work. I’m saying that if someone we consider to be non-virtuous, or acting in a way that is non-virtuous, were to think (and feel) the way we think (and feel) they would speak and act the way we do. So, applying our own logic on someone else does not work. They have to apply their own logic. While we may be able to help someone apply their own logic, we can only do so with a clear mind. 

In other words, to truly alleviate suffering, we have to turn inward. We have to understand our own feelings and thoughts and how those become our words and deeds. In turn, we have to understand the impact/effect of our words and deeds. It is only then that we can effectively, as Patanjali said in Yoga Sūtra 2.44, be in the company of angels.

“No, don’t give up

I won’t give up

‘Cause there must be angels”

*

– quoted from the song “Angels” by Tom Walker (written by Emma Davidson-Dillon / James Eliot / Thomas Alexander Walker)

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: The Spotify playlist contains one track that may not play without a subscription. My apologies for the inconvenience.)

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### Be safe, y’all! ###

First Friday Night Special #16: “The Diff’rence A Moment Makes” February 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #16 from February 4th. This practice featured a Restorative Yoga sequence with emphasis on releasing the midsection (belly+low back and iliopsoas).

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”

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–  Rosa Parks

We all have defining moments in our lives. These may be moments that we use to describe the trajectory of our lives or maybe moments that we use to describe ourselves. Either way, when a single moment plays a big part in who we are and what’s important to us, we sometimes forget that that single moment – as important as it may be – is part of a sequence of moments. It is the culmination of what’s happened before and the beginning of what happens next; it’s just a single part of our story. Even when – or especially when – that moment is the story, we have to be careful about how we frame it. It doesn’t matter if we are telling our story or someone else’s story; how we tell the story matters.

For a lot of people who are celebrating the Lunar New Year, the fourth day is the day when things start going back to normal (whatever that is these days). People go back to work and back to school. People who were able to travel to see family start heading back home (or are already home). Even though those celebrating the Spring Festival for 15 days, will reign in the festivities a bit. However, each day still has significance and special rituals. For instance, the fourth day of the Lunar New Year is not only the birthday of all sheep (in some Chinese traditions), it is also the day when the Kitchen God returns to the hearth.

According to one set of stories, the Kitchen God was at one time a man who, after gaining a certain amount of power and wealth, abandoned his first wife and married a younger woman. Years after the original couple divorced, the man fell on hard times. He lost his wealth, his power, his second wife, and his eyesight. He became a beggar on the streets. One day, the stories tell us, the man’s first wife saw her former husband begging in the streets. She was a woman of great kindness and compassion and so she invited him to her simple home and offered him a shower, some food, and a moment of warmth by the fire.

Remember, the old man could no longer see and didn’t know that this generous woman was the same woman he had treated so poorly. Full, clean, and sitting by the fire, however, he started to talk about his first wife. He lamented about his first marriage and the life they could have had if he hadn’t dumped her. In the process of soothing her now sobbing former husband, the woman revealed her identity and said that she forgave him. Miraculously, the man was suddenly able to see; but he was so distraught that he threw himself into the kitchen stove.

Legend has it, the woman could only save his leg – which became the fireplace poker – and the man became the “Kitchen God,” who leaves the kitchen alter just before the New Year and returns to heaven in order to give the Jade Emperor an accounting of each household’s activities during the previous year. In the final days of the old year, people will clean up their homes – so the alter(s) will be ready for the return of the gods and ancestors – and, sometimes, smear honey on the lips of the Kitchen God so that his report is extra sweet. Then the Kitchen God and other household gods return on the fourth day of the New Year.

I always imagine that some years the Kitchen God’s report is really, really, wild. Can you imagine? Seriously, imagine what he would say about the way we have treated each other over the last few years. Sure, some of us might not be portrayed too badly; but others of us….

More to the point, consider what happens when the Kitchen God’s report includes an update about someone’s defining moment. Just imagine a report from the beginning of 1913 (which would have been the end of the year of the Rat); some point in 1932 (the years of the Goat and the Monkey); not to mention 1943 and 1955 (both Goat years).

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

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–  Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents, Leona (née Edwards) and James McCauley, were a teacher and a carpenter, respectively. When they separated, Rosa and her younger brother moved with their mother to a farm in Pine Level (or Pine Tucky), an unincorporated rural community about 25 miles outside of Montgomery, Alabama. The farm they moved to belonged to Mrs. McCauley’s parents and it was there that Rosa Parks learned to sew and quilt. Even though she went to school for a bit, even started her secondary education, she ended up dropping out of school to take care of her mother and grandmother.

So, it was that she grew up to be a housekeeper and a seamstress. She married Raymond Parks, a Montgomery barber, when she was 19 years old (in 1932) and he encouraged her to get her high school diploma. It wasn’t something that very many African-Americans had at the time, but Mr. Parks was very active in the advancement of the people. In fact, he was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and by 1943 she was too. Rosa Parks not only served as the NAACP secretary, she also worked with her husband on anti-rape campaigns and was a member of the League of Women Voters. She was also determined to register to vote – which she finally did, on her third attempt. Although she attended Communist Party meetings with her husband, she was never a member. She did, however, practice haha yoga, the physical practice of yoga (as early as the 1960s).

A job at Maxwell Air Force Base exposed her to the possibilities of integration and then she  started working for a liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The Durr’s were not only liberal leaning, they were also fairly well connected. Both the Durrs were Alabama born and bred, but ended up furthering their education outside of Alabama. Mr. Durr attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and then became a lawyer, whose income insulated the Durrs from some of the hardships others around them experienced during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Mrs. Durr was essentially raised by Black women (as many children in well-to-do Southern homes were at the time) and then attended Wellesley College, where she regularly ate her meals with women of different races. She would eventually befriend First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and become the sister-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Given their backgrounds, it is not surprising that the Durr’s encouraged (and even financially supported), Rosa Parks’s activism.

During the summer of 1955, just before the murder of Emmett Till, Mrs. Parks attended trainings at the Highlander Folk School (now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center). The training, led by Septima Clark (the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement), focused on civil disobedience, workers’ rights, and racial equity. The combination of the training, her previous life experience and activism, and the hot toddy of emotion bubbling up from the 1955 murders of Emmett Till and two Civil Rights activists (George W. Lee and Lamar “Ditney” Smith) proved to be a powerful force – a force, perhaps, that explains her hardened resolve on December 1, 1955. It was a force that definitely led to progress.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Samayama, comes from the root words meaning “holding together, tying up, binding.” It can also be translated as “integration.” In some traditions (e.g., religious law), it is defined as “self-restraint” or “self-control.” Patanjali used the term to describe the combined force of focus, concentration, and meditation – and he basically devoted a whole chapter of the Yoga Sūtras to the benefits of utilizing samyama. Interestingly, the chapter he devoted to the powers/abilities that come from applying samyama is called “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.”

As I have previously mentioned, there are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers. The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism) – and the “progressing” to which English translators refer is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

According to yoga sūtra 3.53, applying samyama to a moment and it’s sequence (meaning the preceding and succeeding moments) leads to higher knowledge. This higher knowledge gives one a higher level of discernment; knowledge and discernment that transcends categories and fields of reference. We can easily look at what happened after Rosa Parks refused to move, but; to truly understand the power of that single moment, we have to also consider the moments that preceded it.

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

In addition to some of what I’ve already referenced, it’s important to remember that December 1, 1955 wasn’t the first time that a Black person, let alone a Black woman, had defied the unjust laws and social conventions. It wasn’t the first time it had happened that year. Remember, Claudette Colvin’s refusal to move and subsequent arrest happened in the spring of 1955. Furthermore, it wasn’t even the first time that Rosa Parks had been in that situation… with that particular bus driver. In fact, Mrs. Parks and that particular driver (James F. Blake) had had multiple conflicts.

One incident that stands out (because it is often highlighted) was in 1943, when he told her that, after she paid her fair at the front, she had to re-enter at the back of the bus. This was a city ordinance, but some drivers didn’t enforce it. For whatever the reason, there was conflict and when she exited the bus, he drove away before she could re-enter. (Note: This would have been right around the time she started actively working with the NAACP.) While Rosa Parks reportedly decided not to ride with that driver again, the driver was (allegedly) in the habit of driving past her when she was at a stop. Bottom line, there was a lot of water under the bridge between 1943 and 1955. Some of that proverbial water included Mr. Blake’s ongoing conflict with at least one other Black woman, Mrs. Lucille Times.

Mrs. Times, who died last year, and her husband Charlie were active members of the NAACP, registered voters, and activists. According to various reports, Lucille Times and James F. Blake were involved in a road rage incident that led to a physical altercation and Lucille Times’s decision – during the summer of 1955 – to “disrupt” Mr. Blake’s route by offering African-Americans rides. She continued that practice all the way through the official end of the Montgomery bus boycotts in December of 1956.

Finally, there’s the issue of the seat. Rosa Parks sat down in the “Colored” section of the bus. Somewhere along the route, the bus driver decided to make room for more white passengers by telling Black passengers to move. Then, after some grumbling and resistance, he moved the sign so that anyone who didn’t move (i.e., Rosa Parks) would officially be breaking the law.

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

So, there was Rosa Parks: Tired after working all day and then shopping for Christmas presents. Tired of people in her community not being guaranteed the rights promised to them. Tired of people in her community being murdered when they worked to legally secure their rights. Tired.

And there was the bus driver, who called the police and filed a complaint.

I will resist assigning any emotional underpinnings to his decisions. I haven’t found any quotes from him that would humanize him and make him more than a stereotype. But, then again, I don’t need to do that. Just as we can put ourselves in the shoes of 15-year old Claudette Colvin or Lucille Times or Rosa Parks, we could put ourselves in his shoes. We can, if it is in our practice, apply samyama to his thoughts (as reflected by his words, deeds, and physical expressions) to know his state of mind, as described in yoga sūtra 3.19. Similarly, we could apply samyama to his heart to deepen that understanding (see yoga sūtras 3.20 and 3.35). Remember, however, that this is not where the practice begins. Additionally, we would only apply samyama in this way to gain a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds.

“I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” – I recommend Track 3 on YouTube or Track 1 on Spotify, but any track will work.]

A little something extra…

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### “In this undiscovered moment / Lift your head up above the crowd / We could shake this world / If you would only show us how / Your life is now” JM ###

How Do You Shine? (Stories For the Living, redux) December 1, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

*

– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

So far this week I have centered classes around a series of interrelated, light-related questions: 1. When do you shine the brightest? 2. Why so much focus on light? Of course, these questions are inspired by the fact that it is Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights. When I tell the story of Chanukah, I endeavor to highlight the different “miracles” within the story, the little things that turn into big things, and to also show that each and every one of us, is the light. People – and the way they shine – are every day miracles. I consider the Maccabees the shamash of the story; the way they show up, keep their faith, and inspire others when faced with oppression is one example of how people can shine in the world. That people still observe Chanukah is another example of people shining in the world.

Additionally, as I said mentioned to a friend yesterday, there are plenty of other stories in the world about people who show up and shine despite tragedy and oppression. There are several stories associated with today that feature people who are, in their own rights, the attendants, caretakers,  and light workers of the world. People who helped make the world better, because they showed up and shined. As you read or hear today’s stories (or even take another look at the Chanukah story) consider how each person was in a unique position to make a difference, to shine. Then, consider your unique position and how you can shine.

Most of the following was originally posted on December 1, 2020. Dates and playlists have been updated. Some supplemental information has been added.

“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, [we] may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

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“‘Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’”

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– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

Today I have two stories for you. Both are fables, in that they are stories with a moral. Both are also true – in that they actually happened. Finally, both stories are open ended… in that we are still living with the ramifications of the stories and their lessons. There are some other overlaps; however, ultimately, one of the stories is a dark and twisted fairy tale, while the other is a bit of a horror story. You can decide which is which.

In the first story, a 15-year old student, coming home from school, was told she was in a place where she didn’t belong. For the record, she was in a place specifically designated for “her kind,” but that was neither here nor there when someone designated as her “better” was going to be in the area. This student, let’s call her Claudette (because that is her name) and an older pregnant woman (let’s call her Ruth) decide they were going to stay put. Of course (I say with a lot of sarcasm), the police were called. Ruth moved. Claudette did not. Eventually she was (re)moved, by the police and arrested. On the way to the police station, she was sexually harassed by the officers and she feared that one would take the harassment farther. A minister bailed her out of jail; she was convicted (in juvenile court) of three charges; and two of the charges were eventually dropped on appeal. Ironically, the charge that stuck – assaulting an officer – might not have even happened.

The events described above happened in the Montgomery, Alabama in the Spring of 1955. Claudette Colvin was not the first Black person to refuse to make room for a white person on a bus, or anywhere else, and she would not be the last. But, her story is one that many people forgot or didn’t know; because, nine months later – today in 1955 – Rosa Parks sat in the “white section” of a bus and didn’t get up.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

*

– Rosa Parks, as quoted in Fight Like A Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella

Some people referred to Mrs. Parks as a tired seamstress, a 42-year old “Colored” woman; but, more importantly to the story, she was an activist who had worked as a secretary for the NAACP and she made for good optics. Unlike, Claudette Colvin, who was a pretty, dark skinned teenager who was pregnant and unmarried, Rosa Parks was a pretty, fair skinned, established married woman – who also practiced yoga and was trained in civil disobedience.

There are lots of different lessons and morals to that story. Some of the big ones (to paraphrase Claudette Colvin) are the importance of knowing your rights, taking a stand, and saying when something isn’t right. Another big lesson: optics and messaging matter. Which leads me to the next story that is relevant to today.

Once upon a time some people got sick and, because of their illness, some children were born prematurely. Doctors thought the illness was a form of pneumonia. While there were some studies around the illness, it didn’t affect enough people in the right places to become a priority on any one’s radar. After all, optics and messaging matter – and it was believed that the adults who got sick did so because of their behavior. Fast forward 69 years and an African-American teenager in Saint Louis, Missouri (let’s call him Robert R) died of this pneumonia with weird symptoms. 7 years later a Norwegian sailor (with ties to Africa) died, 4 months after the death of his daughter and 8 months before the death of his wife. The next year a Danish doctor, also with ties to Africa, also died – as did several other people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and (in the case of the adults) occupations.

By the late 70’s, children were being born with this pneumonia that some doctors then thought was a form of cancer. By the 1980’s, researchers and major American news outlets were publishing news about a “gay cancer” – which it is not – and people without any medical knowledge were guessing at how the disease is spread. And it was spreading, globally.

“If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

It took a playwright and activist – that some people called “the angriest man in the world” and others considered to be a man “with a golden heart” – to really sound the alarm and lead the charge. Lawrence “Larry” Kramer started consolidating information, resources, and people. He started organizing. Mr. Kramer held a meeting in New York City with over 80 gay men and a doctor. In addition to gaining critical information from the doctor, the group raised over $6k towards research and efforts to raise awareness about the growing pandemic. That first meeting was the impetus for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (now known as GMHC Health Services), whose mission is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” Mr. Kramer, who died in May of 2020, was also one of the co-founders of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Because yes, we’re talking about AIDS which, along with HIV, currently affects over 38 million people (including over 1 million children) worldwide. Yes, we’re talking about AIDS, because today is World AIDS Day. Designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), today is simultaneously an international day of mourning and remembrance as well as a day to raise awareness. As is the case with other epidemics and pandemics, fact-based awareness and testing are essential to prevention, treatment, and support. About 81% of people with HIV (worldwide) have been tested and know their status. Unfortunately, that means 19% (approximately 7.1 million people) have not been tested, do not know their status, and therefore risk infecting others. (In the United States that statistic translates to 1 in 7 people.) Additionally, HIV and AIDS still disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people designated as “male” at birth, and gay and bisexual men.

One critical thing to remember about HIV and AIDS is that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are now life-saving treatments which make it possible for people to live a long and healthy life. It is also possible to go about your life without a high risk of sexually transmitting HIV to others.

The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day was “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact.” The 2021 theme for World AIDS Day was “End Inequalities, End AIDS” (in the US, the National Institutes of Health used “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voices”). This year’s theme(s), in particular, highlight(s) the fact that there is still a social stigma associated with AIDS and HIV – a stigma that magnifies the toll of the disease and makes it harder to combat the spread of the disease. That stigma can result in people not getting the support they need, not getting the treatment they need, and (in some cases) facing additional trauma. Here again, there’s something about the optics.

World AIDS Day was marked with virtual displays of memorial quilts (in places that are still actively battling the COVID-19 pandemic), symposiums, access to rapid self testing kits, and information about how the disease is transmitted and how it is treated. That last part is a key element of the story and it’s moral, because when we look at the timeline of COVID-19 in other countries, we find that countries that learned from their response to previous epidemics – like AIDS and Ebola – have had better success rates of containing COVID-19. You may wonder why everyone in the world isn’t publicizing those facts…. Sadly, again, it may have something to do with optics.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 1st) at 4:30 PM 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. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 3-4) & World AIDS Day 2021”]

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.)

A beautiful version of the “23rd Psalm,” which Claudette Colvin prayed in her head during her arrest.

“‘I know that segregation isn’t dead – just look at schools and neighborhoods and workplaces, and you can see that it’s still all over America. And yes, we are still at the very beginning economically. But at least those degrading signs, “White” and “Colored,” are gone. We destroyed them. There are laws now that make segregation illegal. We forced white people to take a different view. They had to change their attitudes toward blacks. The civil rights movement cleared the way legally so we could progress.’”

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– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

For anyone interested, last year’s World AIDS Day is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

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### DO YOU REMEMBER? ###

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The Sum of the Whole Is Our Behavior (a Monday post) November 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Monday, November 15th. 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.]

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages. But even so, the world forgets the people of one country who hate and fear the people of another country because they are afraid, they are sometimes foolish enough to fight each other.

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Children should be wiser. At any rate, I hope the children who read this will be more sensible.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed “Yours lovingly, Chacha Nehru

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and blog post, we’ve all been children and, as children, we were given a world/society and taught different ways to understand that world/society. We were given culture (or cultures) and raised to understand our culture(s) and other people’s culture(s) in certain ways. On a certain level, we could say, that we begin life as “passive recipients.” However, children are curious and children play, experiment, and explore in order to learn and grow. With ourselves, our peers, and our toys, we begin to accept and/or reject the world and culture(s) that were given to us and the understanding that was taught to us. That’s part of being a child: questioning our environment; even pushing back at what we are taught about our environment; and creatively considering other possibilities. In other words, part of being a child is figuring out how we fit into the world.

Do we continue to exist as a “passive recipient” or do we become a “co-creator” of our culture and environment?

I don’t remember ever hearing the terms “passive recipient” and “co-creator,” as related to culture, until I met Merrick Rosenberg. He is a consultant, keynote speaker, and personality expert who often works with companies undergoing change. He is the co-founder of Team Builders Plus and Take Flight Learning; the co-author of the parable Take Flight! (Master the DISC Styles to Transform Your Career, your Relationships… Your Life) and Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know; and the author of the parable The Chameleon: Life Changing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has A Personality Or Knows Someone Who Does and the children’s book Which Bird Are You? (recommended for ages 8 – 12). He is also a black belt who practices yoga – which is how we met and how I ended up reading and recommending his first book.

I was already interested in change management; had already looked into Virginia Satir’s Change Process Model and was fascinated by what it takes to shift culture – on an individual, corporate, and global scale. But Take Flight! (which I highly recommend) and my conversation with Merrick Rosenberg about his work caused me to dig a little deeper into the roles we play when it comes to change and the beliefs we hold that, inevitably, shape those roles. As evidence by his books, Merrick likes a good parable and, so, it’s not surprising that when I searched his work, I found more stories.

Just as I shared one of those stories towards the end of Monday’s practice, I’ll share that story towards the end of this post. But first, a little back story. It’s actually several stories, that converge around behavior, belief, culture, and personality.

There seems to be a single starting point for psychology, exactly as for all the other sciences: the world as we find it, naïvely and uncritically. The naïveté may be lost as we proceed.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

Wolfgang Köhler, PhD, born January 21, 1887, was a German psychologist whose field of expertise included phenomenology, the study of subjective experience. Along with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka, he was one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, which focused on the human mind and behavior as a whole, rather than on individual elements. (Since November 15th is National Tree Planting Day in Sri Lanka, think of a Gestalt psychologist as someone who would focus on the whole forest rather than a single tree, or on how the whole world is affected by planting trees in a forest.) Dr. Köhler is remembered because of his research with chimpanzees, which provided insight into human behavior, as well as his lived experience as it related to human behavior during Nazi Germany.

After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin and working with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka at the Psychological Institute in Frankfurt, Wolfgang Köhler moved to the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, and became the director of the anthropoid research station at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. There, from 1913 – 1919, his research included the problem solving skills of chimpanzees, which he choose to study specifically because their brains were structurally similar to humans. In 1917, he published The Mentality of Apes, which described chimpanzees using “insight learning” to access some fruit that was out of reach, rather than trial-and-error.

Remember, when we think of insight from the perspective of Buddhist or Yoga Philosophy, we think of it as wisdom that comes from “[seeing] in a special way” and this is exactly what Dr. Köhler observed. When the chimpanzees realized their food source was out of reach, they paused for a moment and (according to Dr. Köhler’s research) came up with a solution that relied upon an understanding of cause-and-effect. The chimpanzees in the experiments realized that they needed tools to reach the fruit that was too far away or too high and either connected sticks or stacked boxes to make up the difference.

In 1920, Wolfgang Köhler returned to Germany and (eventually) succeeded one of his mentors (Carl Stumpf) as the director of the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin. He was there as the Nazis came into power in 1933 and while one of his mentors (the physicists Max Planck) criticized the effect Nazi Germany’s policies were having on the field of science, Dr. Köhler was publicly silent for many months. Towards the end of April 1933, however, he wrote an article criticizing the Nazi Party and the practice of dismissing Jewish professors. Then he attempted to organize a resistance movement within the scientific community – but his colleagues erroneously believed the fascist regime would largely leave the universities to their own devices. On November 3, 1933, the Nazi government announced that professors were required to start their lectures with the Nazi salute.

Dr. Köhler refused to passively accept the culture that was being handed to forced on him. Within a month of publicly explaining his refusal to follow the edict, his class was raided and student’s leaving his lecture were forced to show their identification. By May of 1934, he had concluded that there was nothing more he could do and announced plans to retire. By that summer, his interactions with students and other faculty and staff was under investigation. Unable to effectively teach or conduct research, Wolfgang Köhler immigrated to the United States in 1935, where he taught and conducted research at Swarthmore College and (in 1956) at Dartmouth College. He would also eventually serve as President of the American Psychological Association and as a guest lecturer and faculty advisor at the Free University of Berlin.

I know, I know, that’s already a lot of information. So, here are the highlights: Dr. Wolfgang Köhler believed (a) that subjective experience matters; (b) that the human mind and behavior have to be considered as a whole (and that whole includes subjective experience); (c) that, like chimpanzees, humans are capable of problem solving through insight learning; and (d) that people could – and one can argue should – stand up for what they believe to be right and, in doing so, actively co-create the world in which the live.

Problems may be found which were at first completely hidden from our eyes. For their solution it may be necessary to devise concepts which seem to have little contact with direct primary experience.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

Fast forward to the 1960’s, and we find generations of researchers standing on shoulders of scientific giants like Dr. Wolfgang Köhler. One of those researchers was Dr. Gordon R. Stephenson (at the University of Wisconsin, Madison) who, in 1967, published a paper entitled “Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkey.” The paper detailed research that involved 4 male and 4 female “lab-reared rhesus monkeys… about 3 years of age,” a variety of plastic kitchen utensils, a test cage, and air that was blasted on the monkeys under certain circumstances. (NOTE: I’m just highlighting here. Dr. Stephenson’s paper and experiment are more detailed than my summary and include the fact that the monkeys “had much play experience with each other;” were considered “socially normal;”  and had no conditioning prior to the experiment.) 

According to the paper, the monkeys were assigned unisex partners and then one of the pair would be placed in the test cage with one of the plastic objects. Observations included “passive contact,” whereby contact between the monkey and the object was not intentional, and active engagement that ranged from intentionally moving the object to playing with it and/or mouthing or chewing it. For the most part, the interactions were consistent between each group based on the different objects and all subjects tended to manipulate the novel objects more than the familiar. Higher and lower manipulation trends were experienced by all the monkeys during the same periods of time throughout the multi-week experiment. Although, there were some statistically differences in manipulation rates between males and females when they were alone (in general the male rate was twice as high in the first block); between males and females when they were with a partner; and between objects (regardless of sex).

In the first part of the experiment, an individual monkey that intentionally manipulated an object, was “punished” with an air blast. In general, the monkeys stopped manipulating the objects after two or three blasts. Later, when the conditioned monkeys came back to the test cage for the second stage, they avoided the objects without any air blasts. In the third part of the experiment, the (now) conditioned monkey was brought into the cage with its naïve partner. and the plastic object. In the fourth part, the naïve partner was brought into the cage with the plastic object. 

Dr. Stephenson wanted to see if (and how) the conditioned learning would be transferred. He observed the following:

(a) many of the naïve monkeys were cautious about the plastic object when they observed the behavior of their conditioned partners;

(b) most of the conditioned male monkeys (in various ways) intervened when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects and this sometimes altered subsequent (fourth stage) behavior*;

(c) most of the conditioned female monkeys did not interfere when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects; and 

(d) some of the conditioned female monkeys approached the plastic objects when their naïve partners were not blasted with air (indicating that they learned through observation that the “punishment” was not being applied).

Later experiments, conducted with different monkeys and under slightly different – including some that used food, showed a higher (baseline) manipulation rate with the female monkeys, but similar results in the interaction between conditioned and naïve pairs (i.e., male monkeys were more likely to interfere when their partners tried to manipulate the objects). Some of these later experiments found that female monkeys with infants were more likely to pull their offspring away from an object than a naïve peer.

*NOTE: Later experiments also found that the level of interference, with regard to male monkeys, may make a difference in the naïve partners interaction with the test object in the fourth stage. 

I regard culture as the constellation of behaviors characteristic of a single social group, behaviors which are transgenerational and socially learned by individuals as members of the group. The present report describes an attempt to apply controlled laboratory methods to a social learning situation suggested by the above field and laboratory observations. My particular interest was whether the learned avoidance behavior of a conditioned monkey toward a conditioning object could induce a lasting effect on the behavior of a second toward that same object.

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–  quoted from A. Introduction” in Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeyby Gordon R. Stephenson, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Fast forward again, to 2011, when an article entitled “What Monkeys Can Teach us About Human Behavior” appeared as a Psychology Today post. The post was written by creativity expert and author Michael Michalko, who served as an officer in the United States Army and worked with “NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods” and then applied those methods to problem solve. He has since extended that knowledge about problem solving into the corporate and public sphere. In his 2011 post, he described the now infamous “5 Monkeys” experiment, which is the story I came across some years ago after meeting Merrick Rosenberg. And, maybe, it’s a story you’ve heard.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment goes like this: Researchers placed 5 monkeys in a cage with a set of steps placed underneath bananas tied to the top of the cage. Whenever the monkeys started using the steps to get to the bananas, the researchers sprayed them with ice cold water until they stopped. Once the monkeys were conditioned to not go for the bananas, the researchers replaced one of the conditioned monkeys with a naïve monkey and observed the four conditioned monkeys intervening, sometimes violently, whenever the naïve monkey headed for the steps. Once the new monkey was conditioned, the researchers replaced another conditioned monkey with a naïve monkey and repeated the steps until the cage contained the steps, the bananas, and 5 monkeys that had never been sprayed with water – but had been conditioned by their peers to not go after the bananas!

It’s a great story. It’s a really great story, especially if you want an easy-to-follow, scientifically-supported business lesson about culture and conditioned behavior. It’s a really great and inspiring story if, as one CPA and Controller stated in 2019, you’re “not a big fan of fiction.”

There’s just one problem.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment, by all indications, is fiction.

In a comment on Michalko’s blog post, primatologist Frans De Waal expressed some skepticism about the experiment and asked Michalko if he had a scientific reference for this study. In response to the comment from another reader, Michalko posted the following:

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‘FIVE MONKEYS. This story originated with the research of G.R. Stephenson. (Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.)’ ….

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… His research inspired the story of five monkeys. Some believe the story is true, while others believed it’s an exaggerated account of his research. True story or not, his published research with rhesus monkeys, in my opinion, makes the point.’

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–  quoted from the Psychology Today blog post What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Human Behavior: From Facts to Fiction – When creativity crosses the line.by Dario Maestripieri Ph.D. (Reviewed by Ekua Hagan), posted March 20, 2012

By his own words, Michael Michalko knew the published details of Dr. Gordon Stephenson’s experiment  and knew that that experiment did not use food, a ladder, water, or more than two monkeys in a cage at a time. Neither did it include a naïve/community-conditioned monkey that “took part in the punishment with enthusiasm!” as he described. Although, that description kind of parallels Dr. Wolfgang Köhler’s observation that once his chimpanzees came up with a solution, they executed their plan with “unwavering purpose.” Given the similarities and his work in the Army (and specifically in Germany), I think it’s safe to assume that Michael Michalko was familiar with Dr. Köhler work – and most (if not all) of the significant research in the same area. It’s also possible that he knew a little bit about Dr. Köhler’s experience with the Nazis. At the very least, he knew German history and (I imagine) he knew about the papers of Drs. Köhler and Stephenson and the experiments they cited in their work. Regarding those citations, it’s important to note that Dr. Stephenson’s introduction specifically references experiments and field observations that theoretically imply that the conclusions of the hypothetical “5 Monkeys” experiment could exist in a real life scenario. (In fact, those implications were part of Dr. Stephenson’s inspiration. You know, they established a hypothesis.) Finally, we know, based on Michael Michalko’s work in the public and private sectors, that he knows how to communicate and teach ideas.

So, it makes sense, that he would tell the story that he told. It’s a great story and we can easily see the truth of our lived experience with regard to violent conditioning in our own society. The thing is, while some people might focus on that lived truth – and others might focus on the fact that there’s no evidence the experiment ever happened – my focus today is a little different. I’m looking at how and why the story came to be; how it’s become part of some people’s culture; and how the belief that the story is verifiably true plays a part in our actions.

Remember, what we believe bridges the gap between what we conceive and what we achieve. This is true on an individual level and on a community/cultural level.

Some people tell the “5 Monkeys” story as a cautionary tale. Some people use it to underscore the importance of examining why they – individually and collectively – do the things they do. But a lot of people tell the story because they think it’s true. And, given the truth, I find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story highlights perceived male monkey behavior, but not the wisdom of observation exhibited by the female monkeys in Gordon R. Stephenson, et al, experiments. I also find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story doesn’t highlight the insight exhibited by the chimpanzees in Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments.

In the real life experiments, the chimpanzees and monkeys recognized that things change, from day to day and moment to moment. In the real life experiments, the primates were curious about their environment and their culture. They weren’t ever (really) passive, even when they weren’t directly engaging. Which brings me back to where we started: with childhood and the fact that we’ve all been children who inherited culture(s) and cultural understanding about our individual and collective communities.

Whether we like it our not, our lives are a reflection of our beliefs. Not, I might add, a reflection of what we say we believe or what we want to believe, but what we actually believe. And our beliefs are built around the stories we’ve been told and the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories… that sometimes aren’t actually true.

If we wish to imitate the physical sciences, we must not imitate them in their highly developed contemporary form. Rather, we must imitate them in their historical youth, when their state of development was comparable to our own at the present time. Otherwise we should behave like boys who try to copy the imposing manners of full-grown men without understanding their raison d’être, also without seeing that intermediate phase of development cannot be skipped.

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–  quoted from Chapter II: Psychology as a Young Science” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” ~ Rosa Parks ###

 

Stories For the Living December 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, [we] may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

“‘Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’”

– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

Today I have two stories for you. Both are fables, in that they are stories with a moral. Both are also true – in that they actually happened. Finally, both stories are open ended… in that we are still living with the ramifications of the stories and their lessons. There are some other overlaps; however, ultimately, one of the stories is a dark and twisted fairy tale, while the other is a bit of a horror story. You can decide which is which.

In the first story, a 15-year old student, coming home from school, was told she was in a place where she didn’t belong. For the record, she was in a place specifically designated for “her kind,” but that was neither here nor there when someone designated as her “better” was going to be in the area. This student, let’s call her Claudette (because that is her name) and an older pregnant woman (let’s call her Ruth) decide they were going to stay put. Of course (I say with a lot of sarcasm), the police were called. Ruth moved. Claudette did not. Eventually she was (re)moved, by the police and arrested. On the way to the police station, she was sexually harassed by the officers and she feared that one would take the harassment farther. A minister bailed her out of jail; she was convicted (in juvenile court) of three charges; and two of the charges were eventually dropped on appeal. Ironically, the charge that stuck – assaulting an officer – might not have even happened.

The events described above happened in the Montgomery, Alabama in the Spring of 1955. Claudette Colvin was not the first Black person to refuse to make room for a white person on a bus, or anywhere else, and she would not be the last. But, her story is one that many people forgot or didn’t know; because, nine months later – today in 1955 – Rosa Parks sat in the “white section” of a bus and didn’t get up.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

– Rosa Parks, as quoted in Fight Like A Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella

Some people referred to Mrs. Parks as a tired seamstress, a 42-year old “Colored” woman; but, more importantly to the story, she was an activist who had worked as a secretary for the NAACP and she made for good optics. Unlike, Claudette Colvin, who was a pretty, dark skinned teenager who was pregnant and unmarried, Rosa Parks was a pretty, fair skinned, established married woman – who was also trained in civil disobedience.

There are lots of different lessons and morals to that story. Some of the big ones (to paraphrase Claudette Colvin) are the importance of knowing your rights, taking a stand, and saying when something isn’t right. Another big lesson: optics and messaging matter. Which leads me to the next story that is relevant to today.

Once upon a time some people got sick and, because of their illness, some children were born prematurely. Doctors thought the illness was a form of pneumonia. While there were some studies around the illness, it didn’t affect enough people in the right places to become a priority on any one’s radar. After all, optics and messaging matter – and it was believed that the adults who got sick did so because of their behavior. Fast forward 69 years and an African-American teenager in Saint Louis, Missouri (let’s call him Robert R) died of this pneumonia with weird symptoms. 7 years later a Norwegian sailor (with ties to Africa) died, 4 months after the death of his daughter and 8 months before the death of his wife. The next year a Danish doctor, also with ties to Africa, also died – as did several other people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and (in the case of the adults) occupations.

By the late 70’s, children were being born with this pneumonia that some doctors then thought was a form of cancer. By the 1980’s, researchers and major American news outlets were publishing news about a “gay cancer” – which it is not – and people without any medical knowledge were guessing at how the disease is spread. And it was spreading, globally.

“If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

It took a playwright and activist – that some people called “the angriest man in the world” and others considered to be a man “with a golden heart” – to really sound the alarm and lead the charge. Lawrence “Larry” Kramer started consolidating information, resources, and people. He started organizing. Mr. Kramer held a meeting in New York City with over 80 gay men and a doctor. In addition to gaining critical information from the doctor, the group raised over $6k towards research and efforts to raise awareness about the growing pandemic. That first meeting was the impetus for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (now known as GMHC Health Services), whose mission is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” Mr. Kramer, who died in May of this year, was also one of the co-founders of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Because yes, we’re talking about AIDS which, along with HIV, currently affects over 38 million people (including over 1 million children) worldwide. Yes, we’re talking about AIDS, because today is World AIDS Day. Designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), today is simultaneously an international day of mourning and remembrance as well as a day to raise awareness. As is the case with other epidemics and pandemics, fact-based awareness and testing are essential to prevention, treatment, and support. About 81% of people with HIV (worldwide) have been tested and know their status. Unfortunately, that means 19% (approximately 7.1 million people) have not been tested, do not know their status, and therefore risk infecting others. (In the United States that statistic translates to 1 in 7 people.) Additionally, HIV and AIDS still disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people designated as “male” at birth, and gay and bisexual men.

One critical thing to remember about HIV and AIDS is that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are now life-saving treatments which make it possible for people to live a long and healthy life. It is also possible to go about your life without a high risk of sexually transmitting HIV to others.

The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact.” There will be virtual displays of memorial quilts (in places that are still actively battling the COVID-19 pandemic), symposiums, access to rapid self testing kits, and information about how the disease is transmitted and how it is treated. That last part is a key element of the story and it’s moral, because when we look at the timeline of COVID-19 in other countries, we find that countries that learned from their response to previous epidemics – like AIDS and Ebola – have had better success rates of containing COVID-19. You may wonder why everyone in the world isn’t publicizing those facts…. Sadly, again, it may have something to do with optics.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?”

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will see how the practice “evolves.” 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.

Tuesday’s playlist (revised at 2:30 PM) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

A beautiful version of the “23rd Psalm,” which Claudette Colvin prayed in her head during her arrest.

“‘I know that segregation isn’t dead – just look at schools and neighborhoods and workplaces, and you can see that it’s still all over America. And yes, we are still at the very beginning economically. But at least those degrading signs, “White” and “Colored,” are gone. We destroyed them. There are laws now that make segregation illegal. We forced white people to take a different view. They had to change their attitudes toward blacks. The civil rights movement cleared the way legally so we could progress.’”

– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

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