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A Simple Truth (the “missing” Monday post) January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post related to the Monday, January 10th practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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.

“Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.”

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

Born January 10, 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, poet Philip Levine was the second of three sons (and the first identical twin) born to Jewish immigrants just as the Nazi party was getting a foothold in Germany. He had the unfortunate experience of watching anti-Semitism rise in is own (proverbial) backyard and to also witness how racism (and other -isms) created a schism between the different people who made up the working class. Following in the tradition of Walt Whitman, he started giving voice to America’s voiceless and – even after he left the “mitten state” – he wrote poems about the plight of regular people in his hometown.

In some ways, Mr. Levine followed in his parent’s footsteps. His father, Harry Levine, owned a used (car) parts store; his mother, Esther Priscol (Pryszkulnik) Levine, sold books; and, starting at the age of fourteen, the poet worked in auto factories as he pursued his literary degrees. After graduating from Detroit Central High School, he earned his Bachelor of Arts, in literature, from Wayne (State) University and then “unofficially” attended classes at the University of Iowa. He earned a mail-order master’s degree and then returned to the University of Iowa to teach and pursue a Masters of Fine Arts, which he completed in 1957.

By the he graduated from the University of Iowa (1957), he was beginning to gain significant recognition as a poet. In addition to teaching at a plethora of major universities around the country, he was lauded and recognized with national literary awards, including the two National Book Awards (1980 and 1991), Guggenheim Foundation fellowships (1973 and 1980), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1995, for the collection The Simple Truth), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1987). He served on the Board of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1000-2006) and as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (also known as the U. S. Poet Laureate) from 2011-2012. In collaboration with saxophonist and composer Benjamin Boone, Philip Levine created a collection of jazz poetry, “a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music” – which was released in 2018, almost exactly three years and a month after his death. As a writer, he not only protested the Vietnam War, he kept speaking for the disenfranchised using simple truths… truths that could not be denied.

“Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.”

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

The sixth chakra, which is located around the third eye (and about in inch into your forehead, half an inch above there), is symbolically associated with big “T” Truth, and our ability to seek it, perceive it, and recognize it when we encounter it. The energy of this area is a curious energy, in that it continually pushes us to question everything. It supports healthy self-inquiry when the energy is balanced; however, when out of balance, it can manifest feelings of doubt or an inability to “see the truth” when it is right in front of you.

In Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith, Ph.D., connects the sixth chakra to “knowledge, understanding and transcendent consciousness,” as well as to intuition. In Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, Caroline Myss, Ph.D. further connects it to the Christian sacrament of Ordination and the sefirot (“emanations” or Divine attributes) of Binah (Divine “understanding”) and Hokhmah or Chokmah (Divine “wisdom”). Similar to the love described in the sixth mansion of Saint Teresa of Ávila‘s El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas, ordination distinguishes and elevates the faithful. Note, also, that in the Kabbalah-inspired system I have previously mentioned, the “higher” or mind-related sefirot are not included in a physical practice of the Divine attributes.

My standard summary of how the energetic and symbolic elements manifest in our lives goes something like this: Consider how where you come from determines the friends you make (or don’t make); how where you come from and the people around you play a role in how you see yourself; and how where you come from, the friends you make along the way; and how you see yourself, play a part in how (or if) you embrace yourself (or others), embrace a moment, and extend your gifts out into the world – or not. Consider also how where you come from, the friends you make along the way, how you see yourself, and whether you extend what’s in your heart connect to how you express yourself, how you know (or don’t know) the truth when you perceive it, and how all of that contributes to your experience of this present moment.

That summary can be extrapolated and applied to a variety of scenarios, including how we cultivate new habits and achieve our goals, dreams, and desires. Consider, for instance, that the first chakra is related to physical survival and physical form – which means it is the matter. It’s the plan. Friends are our support system, cheering us on and/or providing guidance, while also providing accountability. When I think of the third chakra, the solar plexus, as it relates to our self esteem, our personality, and our sense of self, I think of the idea that we have “fire in the belly.” We can think of this idiom literally, in terms of digestive juices – which is a whole other conversation – and we can think of it as the internal element that keeps us physically motivated. To continue the metaphor, it’s what makes us hungry for more.

Then there is the heart, which connects the physical with the mental and emotional. It’s the energetic-emotional connection between the mind and the body. Here, it is the connection between the idea (the pattern) and the manifestation (the matter). This is also the idea of purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (elemental, unformed matter or substance). When we get into the throat chakra – related to mental determination and willpower – we are starting to move into the intangible. Those parts of our lived experiences that are “barely describable” and can only be indicated (lingamatra) and those things that are “absolutely indescribable [because they are] beyond any point of reference” (alinga).

Consider that last bit a moment. As you think about that last part, also think about the idea that your goals and desires, your wishes, hopes, dreams (and yes, even your fears), are fully formed somewhere in your heart… and maybe the back of your mind. Somewhere out in the ether, that possibility is real. But there are a lot of steps between conception and manifestation. And until we take the first step, they all feel like giant leaps.

To make life even more challenging, anybody can give anyone a metaphorical road map about physical survival and what it takes to sustain the body. We know the bodies basic necessities and there are people who are dedicated to breaking that down into what different body types need to survive at a peak level. On a certain level, people can also create road maps for the mind – and we do, all the time, which is why the self help industry is so massive. But, there’s still a part of the journey that can only be experienced by the person taking the trip. There’s a part of the journey that is barely or absolutely indescribable. It’s the part of the journey that can never be duplicated. It’s the journey between what’s in a person’s heart and what’s in their head.

Even if someone explained how they got from point A to point B – and even if that explanation came with a Jean-Paul Sartre nauseous-level breakdown of how they felt and what they thought along the way – the only thing the rest of us could completely replicate would be the physical aspects of the journey. But, that part in between, it’s like getting lost, stuck in a traffic jam, and not knowing where you’re going – all while on a schedule.

“The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart.”

*

– possibly a Sioux statement, although it is often attributed to “Anonymous”

*

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Did you see yesterday’s surprise? It’s the first step in a journey (that we’ve already begun)!

*

### Get Into The Habit ###

Getting Things Moving on Day 12 (the “missing” Tuesday post) February 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Food, Health, Hope, Lent, Mirabai Starr, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy New Year! Many blessings to those observing Lent!

[This is the post for Tuesday, February 23rd. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.]

 

“Some could think that if turning back is so bad it would be better never to begin but to remain outside the castle. I have already told you at the beginning – and the Lord Himself tells you – that anyone who walks in danger perishes in it and that the door of entry to this castle is prayer. Well now, it is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves, coming to know ourselves, reflecting on our misery and what we owe God, and Him often for mercy.”

 

– quoted from “The Second Dwelling Places” of The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Ávila (Translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, O. C. D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O. C. D.)

 

If you spend any amount of time with me – on or off the mat, even on or off the blog page – I think it becomes very clear that I am fascinated by human commonalities. I love the way different cultures and different people’s ways of being in the world overlap. Anthropologically speaking, I am fascinated by the things that (I think) come from being human: like the desire for a deeper connection with more than ourselves. It is interesting to note that when it comes to existential questions – that is to say, questions related to our existence – philosophies and religions (even the physical sciences) end up down the same rabbit holes, racing or strolling down the same paths… just sometimes coming at the path from different directions.

It’s kind of like when you walk through a labyrinth with other people, as many of us did on retreat in Minnetonka a little over 4 years ago. In some ways, everyone was on the same path; but, because we were on different parts of the path – walking in different directions, entering and leaving at different times – one’s perspective could easily be that we were on vastly different paths. Also, the perspective was different when you were on the inside versus the outside and/or when you were looking at the practice before you walked the labyrinth versus after you walked it. Then there was the fact that we all came to the retreat and came to the practice from different places and came with different experiences so that our understanding and processing of the shared experience was, in some ways, different. And yet the same.

And yet the same. Because if we learn nothing else from the ancient yogis and mystics from various traditions around the world, it is this: that the deeper you go inside of yourself, the more parallel your journey and experience is to someone else. This is why Joseph Campbell could codify a cycle/journey after studying a hero with a thousand faces. It is why so many philosophical, spiritual, and religious paths have similar elements – and why those paths work after hundreds and thousands of years.

“Remember: If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”

 

– quoted from “The Fourth Dwelling .1.” of The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Ávila (New Translation and Introduction by Mirabai Starr)

We all know that if we eat something or drink something, we are going to have to digest that something. We may not understand how physical mechanics, but at an early age we start learning that the body processes what we consume. It absorbs the nutrients it needs and discards the waste/toxins; and when the body doesn’t absorb what it needs and/or doesn’t get rid of the waste/toxins in an efficient manner, we experience physical pain, discomfort, and disease. We know this about what we eat and drink – and, when we think about it, we recognize that this is also true about what we inhale and/or absorb through the skin/tissues.

What we may not always realize is that we are continuously consuming things that we don’t eat, drink, inhale, or absorb through the skin/tissues. The principle of consumption, digestion, absorption, and elimination also applies to things we consume with our minds. In other words, everything we experience (i.e., everything we see, hear, say, think, and do) is something we are consuming and therefore something that must be processed and digested so that we can absorb what we need – what serves us – and eliminate the waste/toxins (that no longer serves us). When we fail to appropriately process what we consume mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually, we can experience (physical) pain and (mental/emotional) suffering – which can be just as excruciating as when we are physically constipated or otherwise debilitated by the things we consume.

The mind-body is designed to find balance. It is designed to convert food into energy and even to store the fuel for those times when we are depleted. It is designed to eliminate toxins and anything that could cease our existence. While the mind-body does so much of what it does to keep us moving without any involvement or conscious thought on our part, there are ways in which we can assist the processes. One way we can assist these processes is to be mindful of what we consume. Of course, since we can’t always control every little thing that we consume, it’s important to keep three key elements in mind: water, rest, and movement.

“Rest and digest,” as well as create, are associated with the parasympathetic nervous system, which is often referred to as the mind-body’s brakes. Of course, the only reason a system needs brakes is if it is in motion (or could be in motion). One of the many reasons movement is important is because the engagement of our muscles serves as the pump for the lymphatic system – which provides nutrients for healthy cells and brushes or washes away dead cells. A combination of tissues, vessels, and organs, the lymphatic system is a crucial part of our immune system – and on the first line of defense against disease.

So, it makes sense that after 11 days of celebrations that involve rich, heavy food and drink, people who celebrate the 15-day Spring Festival as part of the Lunar New Year celebrations need a break before the Lantern Festival that concludes the celebrations. Day 12 is that day of cleansing and resting – and also for getting ready for what’s to come. Under “normal” (i.e., not pandemic) circumstances, most businesses have opened back up and people are back at work. There will still be prayers, offerings, and a remembrance of elders. There might even still be some leftovers. However, for the most part, this is a day when people rest, relax, eat light… and process/digest all that’s happened before.

“… and our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter X” of The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Ávila

Throughout our physical practice of yoga, we either break up the movement with stillness and quiet (as we do in vinyāsa) or break up the stillness and quiet with movement (as we do with Yin Yoga) – and, even though that looks and feels very different, the path is still about processing, digesting, absorbing, and eliminating what has been consumed. This applies to what has been consumed physically, as well as mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. While any movement can help someone process what they have consumed, the physical practices of yoga can allow us to be very deliberate and very intentional in the way that assist the digestion process. Again, when I say “digestion” here, I mean the processing of what has been consumed by all the aforementioned methods.

From the outside looking in, the way we move through our vinyāsa practice can seem mysterious, odd, or even magical. However, the deeper we go into the practice (and into ourselves) the more we recognize that there is a science and a system to the movement. We move in a way that exaggerates the mind-body’s natural tendencies while, at the same time, moving through the mind-body-spirit’s symbolic manifestation of our biography. Thus, the poses and the sequences are very intentional on a physical-mental level, as well as a psychic-symbolic level, and an emotional-energetic level. Each practice is, in some ways, intended as a non-alcoholic apértif and digestif; simultaneously something to increase your appetite (for life) and to help you digest what you’ve consumed.

“Before fully uniting himself with her, he fills her with burning desire for him. He does this in such a delicate way that the soul doesn’t understand where her longing comes from, nor could I successfully explain it except to those who already know from experience what I’m saying. These impulses rise from so deep inside that the soul and are so subtle and refined that I can’t find a fitting metaphor to describe them.

 

This experience is far different from anything we can taste in the world. It is even different from the spiritual delights we have talked about so far.”

 

– quoted from “The Sixth Dwelling .2.” of The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Ávila (New Translation and Introduction by Mirabai Starr)

 

Tuesdays playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “March 28th Dogs & Castles 2020”]

 

DON’T FORGET! The next “First Friday Night Special” is March the 5th – at which time, I will encourage you to “give something up” / “let someone go.” Time and additional details are posted on the “class schedules” calendar!

### MOVE YOUR (OWN) SELF ###

 

 

An “All Will Be Well” Wednesday May 13, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“We are kept all as securely in Love in woe as in weal, by the Goodness of God.”

 

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and (in) all manner of thing(s) shall be well.”

– from Chapters 1 and 27 Revelations of Divine Love (Revelations of Love in 16 Shewings) by Julian of Norwich

Hurray! It’s finally here; one of my favorite days, devoted to one of my favorite people: the Roman Catholic feast day for St. Julian of Norwich. (Her Lutheran feast day is May 8th.) Julian (which may or may not have been her given name) was a 14th century anchoress who is always going to make my Top 10 list of favorite mystics/contemplatives. Scratch that, she always makes my ever-changing Top 5. Let’s be honest; she’s always in the Top 3. And her life and writing are very relevant – and very similar – to what we are experiencing today.

Julian is noteworthy not only because she is the author of the oldest surviving book written in English by a woman, but also because she lived an extraordinary life – most of it in seclusion. As an anchoress (sometimes referred to as anchorite or anchoret) she withdrew from the secular world, for religious reasons, and spent the majority of her life in a tiny cell in the “corner” of a church in the city of Julian. You can think of her as a hermit-in-place. Taking a vow of stability, as anchoresses did, and even being given a symbolic funeral – as anchorites would be considered “dead to the world” – were very common practice in the Middle Ages. Julian’s experience, however, was a little atypical.

While we typically think of anchorites as living in seclusion, with even more isolation than people who retreat into an abbey or convent, Julian lived in the bustling city of Norwich. As a spiritual counselor and model of devout life, she was permitted to engage with the populace through the window of her cell and provide people with what they needed, whether that be clothing for the poor, spiritual advice, and/or prayers. She could also accept alms, food, and other gifts as she served the community. We have it on great authority that not only did the locals take advantage of Julian’s spiritual guidance, but that she was sought out by mystics and others, like Margery Kempe, who would be remembered in their own right. Additionally, the city of Norwich was full of poverty, famine, social conflict, religious schism, and disease during her lifetime so, we can conclude that, for a hermit, Julian was quite busy.

“These Revelations were shewed to a simple creature unlettered, the year of our Lord 1373, the Thirteenth day of May. Which creature afore desired three gifts of God. The First was mind of His Passion; the Second was bodily sickness in youth, at thirty years of age; the Third was to have of God’s gift three wounds.”

 

– from Chapter 2 of Revelations of Divine Love (Revelations of Love in 16 Shewings) by Julian of Norwich

At some point in her life, Julian asked God for three gifts. At 30-and-a-half, Julian became so ill that she believed she was going to die. Her conclusion was based, in part, by the fact that in her short lifetime Norwich had experienced the Black Death three times – the first time when she was 6 years old and at one point resulting in the death of a third of the population. Also, she was very, very sick. She was so sick that she was given last rites on May 8, 1373. During these very scary and traumatic moments – moments all believed would be her last – Julian received her three gifts from God: (1) to experience the Passion (“suffering”) and love of Christ; (2) to experience personal suffering/illness in youth; and (3) to receive the spiritual wounds of true contrition, genuine compassion, and a sincere longing for God. She received her gifts in the form of 16 “shewings” and, when she recovered wrote them all down.

“He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.”

 

“In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, — I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.”

 

– from Chapter 5 of Revelations of Divine Love (Revelations of Love in 16 Shewings) by Julian of Norwich

There are two official copies of Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love (A Revelation of Love in 16 Shewings), a short version (“short text”) and a longer version (“long text”). The Short Text is believed to be the one she initially wrote after her recovery and the Long Text is believed to have been written over time, and with some encouragement. Both versions were copied over time, during Julian’s lifetime, and sometimes given as gifts.

One might expect that Julian’s writings were scary and filled with doom and horror, but they are not. In fact, both versions are full of hope and trust in God’s goodness. Additionally, Julian comes across as intelligent, sensitive, and very much grounded in reality. Even though she includes theological points, like presenting God as Father and Mother, which were not authorized by the Church, Julian was neither sanctioned nor criticized as a heretic. In fact, like Saint Teresa of Ávila, another remarkable Christian mystic who happened to be a woman, Julian was encouraged by the church to write and distribute her work. Both women, within their texts, downplayed their intellect and influence and yet are remembered while some of the religious leaders of their time have been forgotten. Another curious thing to note is that, unlike other scholars and religious authors of the time, Julian wrote in English (not Latin).

“We shall suddenly be taken from all our pain and from all our woe, and of His Goodness we shall come up above, where we shall have our Lord Jesus for our meed and be fulfilled with joy and bliss in Heaven.”

 

“I saw that God rejoiceth that He is our Father, and God rejoiceth that He is our Mother, and God rejoiceth that He is our Very Spouse and our soul is His loved Wife. And Christ rejoiceth that He is our Brother, and Jesus rejoiceth that He is our Saviour. These are five high joys, as I understand, in which He willeth that we enjoy; Him praising, Him thanking, Him loving, Him endlessly blessing.”

– from Chapters 1 and 52 of Revelations of Divine Love (Revelations of Love in 16 Shewings) by Julian of Norwich

 

Over the years, my friend Lori and I have discussed Julian and her work, and the circumstances within which she worked her spiritual magic. We have, over the years, craved the ability to retreat while simultaneously still serving a purpose in the world. We have also, over the years, wondered at the mindset and fortitude required to not only ask for the gifts Julian requested, but also to receive them and utilize them as she did. This, to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault (a modern day contemplative and mystic), is not for sissies.

Now, here we are, and Lori and I recently discussed – via the wonders of technology – that we are all experiencing some of Julian’s circumstances. The whole world is experiencing some of Julian’s circumstances and, while we may not request or even want her gifts, we can definitely appreciate her lessons and what they have to teach us. Regardless of our spirituality or religiosity, we can definitely benefit from her “shewings” of divine love.

“It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.

 

I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal.

 

With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.”

 

– from Chapter 59 of Revelations of Divine Love (Revelations of Love in 16 Shewings) by Julian of Norwich

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM, if you are interested in seeing what may be “shewn.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### SHEW ME THE LOVE! (BUT SHOW IT GENTLY) ###