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For Those Who Missed It: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

 

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Please join me today (Monday, December 27th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist 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.)

 

“Umoja (unity) — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) — To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose) — To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity) — To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith) — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

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.)

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

Celebrating What Supports the Practice (the Sunday post) December 28, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

[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.)]

 

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Umoja (unity) — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) — To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose) — To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity) — To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith) — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! This Friday (January 1, 2021) is the First Friday Night Special in 2021! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2 ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart (the Saturday post) December 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephens Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

[This is the post for Saturday, December 26th (and a prelude for Sunday the 27th). 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.)]

 

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! This Friday (January 1, 2021) is the First Friday Night Special in 2021! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2 ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

Exploring the Wren Cycle on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020 March 17, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Religion, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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“So listen people what I tell you now
Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on
Listen people what I can tell you straight
It’s not too late to

Try and get through
I’m just trying to get through”

– from “Trying to Get Through” by Hothouse Flowers

 

All of my in-studio classes are officially cancelled for at least 2 weeks.

When I taught what turned out to be my last few in-studio classes for a bit, I ended by explaining that one of the reasons I was doing my regular March 15th theme, based on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “American Promise” (aka “We Shall Overcome”) speech, was because I recognize that sometimes we step on the mat to help us deal with what’s going on off the mat and, also, sometimes to just have a moment away from what we’re dealing with off the mat. It is a few minutes, or hour, where the practice requires us to be fully present, right in the here and now – without getting sucked into what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Those much needed respites … they are part of how we get through all this. So, keeping that in mind…

Beannachti na fėile Pádraig, dia dhui. Mise Myra. Conas ata tu? Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone. My name is Myra. How are you? OK, since it doesn’t seem like anyone else speaks Gaelic, I’ll stick to English and Sanskrit for the rest of the practice.”

– My usual introduction on March 17th

The physical practice of yoga features a lot of bird poses. I mean, there are a lot, a lot, a lot of poses inspired by birds. Ergo, on Saint Patrick’s Day I usually guide a practice that tells the story of how the wren became the King of the Birds. The legend is usually associated with the Saint Stephen’s Day (instead of Saint Patrick’s Day) and the wren is the villain. However, I first heard about the legend in relation to “wren singers” singing in the round and the idea that it’s great “craic” for the music to never end at a “ceili.” So, when I tell the story, the wren is the heroine…and there are lots and lots of bird poses. (Not all of them, but a lot.)

You can read more about the ideas behind the physical sequence in a post from 2012. At some point on Tuesday, I will record a class for people who would normally attend on Tuesdays at Nokomis. (I apologize for not having it together in time for you to practice at your regular scheduled time.) If you’re not on my Tuesday list (you can message me) or you want to practice now, you can use the poses and playlist below to create your own sequence.

FEATURED BIRD POSES IN THE WREN CYCLE:

  1. The Ruddy Goose: There are two (2) so-called “Ruddy Goose” poses or sequences. Today we’ll just do the first. Come to your hands and knees – or into a standing squat if you need to modify. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. This is a good place to do a little cat-cow. Balance the weight in all form limbs, even as you curl your right toes under and stretch the right leg back. Use your core to lift the back leg up and then, if it’s accessible to you, lift the left arm up. Now, to turn your 2-Legged Table into Ruddy Goose, bend your lifted knee as if you are standing on the ceiling. Hold here for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side (including the cat-cow).
  2. The Wren: My so-called Wren Pose doesn’t really exist, except in the Wren Cycle and maybe in some kids yoga classes. From standing or Downward Facing Dog, make your way into a standing forward fold. Look up and lengthen into a “Half-Lift, Flat Back” position. Find that place where your spine is long, shoulders are relaxed, and core is engaged. On an inhale, stretch your arms back behind you, so wrists are beside the hips. In “Wren Pose” you can wiggle your fingers to “shake your tail feathers.” In a vinyasa practice, “Half-Lift, Flat Back” is one of the repeated poses so whenever you inhale into the half-lift on Saint Patrick’s Day, simultaneously extend your heart-gaze forward and your arms backwards. To release, exhale into a Standing Forward Fold. (NOTE: You can also turn a low lunge into a modified “Flying Wren.”)
  3. Flamingo: Yes, yes, I know, you’re unlikely to see a Flamingo in Ireland outside of a zoo. That said, it’s in my version of the story and comes courtesy of my first teacher, Robert Boustany. It’s a big hip pose, so be warned. If you are not familiar with the sequence, just stick to Standing Splits (from a Standing Forward Fold), which is the beginning of the sequence.
  4. Eagle: Come into Chair Pose, knees over ankles, shoulders over hips, big awkward smile on your face (just cause). Take a deep breath in and the exhale your right arm under your left, taking the double bind or the single bind. Lift the bound elbows up and the move the bound hands away from your face. As you inhale, step your right leg over your left (taking the double bind or using your right toes as a kickstand). Squeeze the thighs together and press the right hip back. Hold the pose for several breaths and then make your way through any additional (2 – 3) standing poses on the right.
  5. “Flying Eagle”: From Warrior I on the right side, making sure hips are balanced (right hip back, left hip forward), stretch up as you inhale and then cross LEFT arm under the right for “Eagle arms.” Exhale and bring elbows to the right knee so that back is flat. Shift your weight forward as you inhale. Engage your core on the exhale and then use your inhale to soar into Warrior III with Eagle Arms. Stretch the arms out on an inhale (as the Eagle spreads out its wings and turns around to claim its crown). On an exhale, sweep the arms backwards into “Flying Wren” and hold. I usually add a Tree Pose here or before the first Eagle (so the other birds can watch the end of the competition). Repeat the Eagle/Flying Eagle/ Flying Wren section on the other side.
  6. Pigeon and Royal Pigeon: These are fully puffed-up Pigeon poses (not one of the One-Legged Royal Pigeon variations). These are big heart openers, so if they are not in your practice modify with the prep pose. For Royal Pigeon, set yourself up for Floor Bow (prep pose) and then bring your head and feet together. For Pigeon, come into Camel Pose and then, if this variation is in your practice, work your head and elbows down to the floor behind you. Bind off with the feet and shins.
  7. Heron: Come into Staff Pose, sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee to the left, with the knee on the ground, if you need more support. Hug your right knee into your chest and then use your hands (or a strap) to hold onto your arches or ankles. In Heron Pose, it is more important for your back to be straight (spine long) and for your to be balanced on your sit bones (fully upright, not leaning back) than it is to have your leg straight. So, first align your head, neck, and trunk. If you can keep your back straight, shoulders over the hips, use an inhale to straighten out your right leg. If it’s accessible to you, you can bring your shin to your chin. Hold for a few breaths, then release into a twist to the right (prenatal is to the left) before repeating on the other side.
  8. Crow: Here’s one of the poses everyone expected. If it’s in your practice, use your Crow for one final vinyasa into Savasana.

Below is a playlist that features Irish artist and tells the story in 65 – 90 minutes (with or without the featured bird poses). Some songs on my in-class playlist are not available on YouTube so I’ve left them out. Also, you can easily skip a few towards the end to fit a shorter time frame. The HemiSync track is the last Savasana track. Garth, of course, marks the after party!

(This is freely given and freely received. I do not own the rights to these songs, but highly encourage you to buy them!)

 

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