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Nom de Destiné, Part “Deux” (mostly a surprise) January 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 9-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Japa-Ajapa, Life, New Year, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This video is actually related to the last two Sunday practices and is, in it’s own right, the beginning of a separate practice. I hope you will join me for the experience!

You can request an audio recording of either of the regular Sunday practices 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.

### Be You Now ###

Introducing….You (the “missing” Sunday post) July 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 11thYou can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

[English translation: Wisdom often is under a filthy cloak.]”

– Latin proverb (associated with Socrates, Diogenes, and Cicero)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are meeting someone for the first time. It is also the very first time you’ve seen them – and maybe you are meeting them in a cold place during winter or a rainy place during the rainy season. Either way, you are both wearing overcoats. You’re also both of a certain age, whatever that means to you at this moment. So, you’re meeting not at the beginning of your stories but in the middle, maybe even at the end.

We may not think about it, but this is how we most often meet – in the middle of our stories and without being able to see what’s inside.

We exchange names and, if we know someone else with said name, we start seeing this new person through the layers and layers of previously formed ideas, impressions, and opinions. That’s just the way the mind-body works. If, however, we are each the first person either of us has met with said names, we start forming ideas, impressions, and opinions about a person with said name. That’s just the way the mind-body works.

We may not even be consciously aware of it, but there it is. Our first sense of someone is based on an overcoat, samskaras (mental impressions), whatever is happening in the middle of the story, and a name – that may or may not be their given name (or, under certain circumstances, may or may not be the name by which most people know them). The overcoat in this case is, literally, an article of clothing – and also all the external factors like the samskaras, the name, and anything else we may know or assume based on the situation (like occupation, vocation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age range).

Over time, the overcoat comes off, literally and figuratively. We make more mental impressions, maybe we learn another name, and as we move through the rest of the story we also learn (in a backwards sense) about the beginning of a person’s story: why they are the way they are; think and do the things they think and do. Over time, we go deeper.

“Pleased to meet you
But I’m quick to judge
I hope you drop the grudge
I know I’m not what you want from me”

– quoted from the song “Pleased to Meet You” by Rynx (featuring Minke)

Every practice is an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) you to yourself. Every pose, every sequence, allows you to remove the layers and layers of overcoats until you reach the heart and core of who you are. That’s svādhyāya, “self-study.”

Sometimes, I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to different philosophical aspects of the practice – as I did this time last year and/or to various rituals and traditions. I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to some of my favorite people. People like two writers who share a birthday and, obviously, an occupation. Both of these writers just happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners; have ties to The New Yorker magazine; and are mostly recognized by (first) names that are not on their passports and birth certificates.

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

Elwyn Brooks White was born July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri was born July 11, 1967, in London, England. While very different in some ways, their books prove that anyone can be the hero (or heroine) of a great story; that situations we’ve never personally encountered can be highly relatable when related by a good storyteller; and that fiction (like yoga) can be a great way to process difficult emotions.

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Place yourself in the background; do not explain too much; prefer the standard to the offbeat.”

– quoted from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Even though most readers know him by his initials, E. B. White was known to friends and professional colleagues as “Andy.” Ostensibly, the nickname came about because of a tradition at Cornell University whereby students with the last name “White” are renamed after the university’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s birth name is not known to many of her readers – and for a similar reason: her name was also “changed” at school. However, in her case, the change came because her name was unfamiliar (rather than so familiar). Dr. Lahiri’s parents migrated from West Bengal, India to the United Kingdom. When the author was three, the family migrated to Kingston, Rhode Island – where at least one teacher was unfamiliar Bengali names and unwilling to learn how to pronounce them. According to an August 19, 2003, USA Today article by Bob Minzesheimer, “[A kindergarten teacher] said something like ‘That’s kind of a long name’ and decided it was easier to pronounce ‘Jhumpa’” – her nickname.

Remember, names are part of our overcoats. What we call each other makes a difference in how we see and understand each other.

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

– quoted from the messages in the web in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (illustrated by Garth Williams)

When Charlotte (the spider) comes up with her plan to save Wilbur, she says, “Why, how perfectly simple.” She then goes on to use her experience (as a master weaver) to introduce (and reintroduce) her friend (the pig) in a way that makes him more valuable alive, rather than dead. Her plan is, in fact, perfectly simple: write what you know… and change the overcoat. Even through their details are different, the stories written by both E. B. White and Jhumpa Lahiri are about their own personal experiences… and what happens when we get underneath the outer layers.

E. B. White is remembered as the author of beloved (and sometimes banned) children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but he started off as a journalist. He also worked for an advertising agency (and in some non-literary jobs) before submitting manuscripts for the then newly-founded The New Yorker. He eventually became a writer and contributing editor for the magazine. It was during his tenure at The New Yorker that he got a blast from his (Cornell University) past when he was asked to update work by one of his former professors.

The Elements of Style (sometimes called White & Strunk’s Elements of Style) was originally composed and self-published by William Strunk Jr. for his English students at Cornell University. It contained what Dr. Strunk Jr. considered the fundamentals: “Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused [and/or misspelled]….” When it was published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1920, it included eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” In the late 1950’s, Macmillan Publishers commissioned Mr. White to expand and modernize “the little book” (partially based on a 1935 edition by William Strunk Jr. and Edward A. Tenney). Since its 1959 publication, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style has been reprinted three times, illustrated, and served as the inspiration for an opera and a comprehensive history.

Mr. White won a Newberry Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, a Presidential Freedom Award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a National Medal for Literature, and a L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for Letters, an award that actually recognized all of his work. In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) even established an award in his honor for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by [his work].” You might think all of those accolades meant that Mr. White always followed his own advice. But, let’s be real: talking farm animals, airplane-flying mice, and Public Relations specialists who just happen to be spiders wasn’t very standard in 1945 and 1952.

“No, I have never encountered any story plot like Charlotte’s Web. I do not believe that any other writer has ever told about a spider writing words in its web. Perhaps I should ask some of the children’s book ladies who go back even further in time than I do, but I am sure nothing even remotely like this has been written.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to “Andy” (E. B. White), from Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief, Department of Books for Boys and Girls (dated April 2, 1952, as it appears in Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom)  

“It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

 

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago…. Spiders are skilful [sic], amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

 

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.

– quoted from a letter addressed to Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief (Department of Books for Boys and Girls), from  E. B. White (dated September 29, 1952)

The January 1948 issue of The Atlantic contained an essay by E. B. White entitled, “Death of a Pig,” which described the short life and “premature expiration of a pig” – as well as the burial and how the whole community mourned the occasion. In the essay, Mr. White said, “I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs.“ While there is no mention of a spider in the essay – and he doesn’t specifically mention a pig dying in his September 29, 1952 letter to Ursula Nordstrom, his publisher / editor – many believed that the essay wasn’t enough and that he felt the need to write more in order to express his sorrow and regret, to process his feelings about his experiences. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a letter to an editor (or a fan) to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has also used fiction to process personal experiences.

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called, by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Despite having conflicted feelings associated with her name and schooling, Jhumpa Lahiri went on to earn a B. A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University and four degrees from Boston University. A few years after completing her doctorial thesis, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies became the seventh collection of short stories (in 82 years) to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. (There have now been only nine collections to win the award in over 100 years.) Several years after her award-winning debut, The New Yorker published her short story entitled, “The Namesake.” It was the story of a Bengali boy living in a strange land with a strange name.

The story became a book and then a movie and, in the process, “Jhumpa Lahiri” became a household name.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades include a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Frank O’Connor International Story, and the National Humanities Award. She has also been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at number one on The New York Times best seller list – an achievement one book editor associated with her “newfound commercial clout,” but an achievement (I would humbly suggests) actually rests on the beauty and clarity of her storytelling. As one critic put it, “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Unaccustomed Earth was also named number one by the editors of The New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2008.” Perhaps, even more telling is the fact that when the collection won the Frank O’Connor International Story award that same year, there was no shortlist because, as reported by The Guardian on July 4, 2008, “The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner….” The Frank O’Connor award was one of the world’s richest awards for short story collections and normally had a longlist of approximately 60 books and a short list of three or four.

“In so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another…They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a polyglot who speaks Bengali, English, and Italian. She, undoubtedly, also understands a little bit of Spanish (and maybe Greek). Not only has she written and translated work in (and out) of all three of the languages she speaks, in 2015 she wrote an essay for The New Yorker stating that she was now only writing in Italian. Since 2015, she has published two books in Italian and edited and translated at least two collections of work by Italian writers.

Dr. Lahiri’s love of language is obvious not only in the languages she speaks and writes, but also in the connections that she makes through her writing. Both The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth have ties to two of her literary predecessors: Nikolai Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some people might be confused by her success with the “masses,” because she is so clearly erudite. However, above and beyond anything else, what a reader finds in Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are regular, everyday people navigating the spaces between two worlds and two identities – just like she does. (Just like E. B. White’s characters do.)

“Writing was also an escape [for Jhumpa Lahiri]. Growing up brown and ‘foreign’ in a town where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly reporting to their Indian friends that they’d moved into an all-white neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents — her mother would often retort to these friends, ‘What do you think you are?’ — she said, ‘I was never into any sort of denial.’”

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled, “The Writer Who Began with a Hyphen” by Teresa Wiltz (dated October 8, 2003) 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

”His family name was Bashmachkin. It is evident from the name, that it originated in bashmak (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not known. His father and grandfather, and even his brother-in-law, and all the Bashmachkins, always wore boots, and only had new heels two or three times a year. His name was Akakii Akakievich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but he may feel assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give him any other name; and this was how it came about.”

– quoted from “The Overcoat” (as it appears in The Overcoat & Other Short Stories, Dover Thrift Editions) by Nikolai Gogol (story translation by Isabel F. Hapgood)

[Last year’s post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

### “Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;” WS ###

The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. 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. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

Being, the Habit (a 2-for-1 post) January 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, January 10th and Monday, January 11th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.]

I. Being, the Habit – Recognizing “That”

 

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not the same blood or birth, but of the same mind and possessing a share of the divine. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We are born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

 

– quoted from Meditations (Book 2) by Marcus Aurelius

Bring your awareness to who you are and what you’re all about. Or, as I put it on Sunday, bring your awareness to what you are. This is an inquiry into who and what you are in the habit of being. Remember that a habit is cultivated through repeated behavior that hard-wires the brain and also creates samskaras (“mental impressions”). One could argue that Western scientists and the ancient yogis were talking about the same thing; but, either way you look at it there comes a time when we have repeated certain behavior so much that we no longer realize (if we ever even knew) that said behavior was a choice. Furthermore, at some point our behavior locks us into a pattern – a pattern that is almost free of choice – and the only way to change the pattern is to break the habit of doing… which is the habit of being (a certain way).

One of my favorite mantras, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is “So Hum, Ham Sa” – Sanskrit for “I am That, That I am.” I have heard that the ancient yogis said it was the sound of the breath coming into and out of the body. It is also, in English, a phrase that comes up again and again in sacred and popular text. For instance, in the story of Exodus, when Moses asks how he should identify the voice that speaks to him in the form of the burning bush, he is told, “ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh,” which is often translated into English as “I Am that I Am.” In this context, the mantra becomes a whisper from the Divine; a reminder, if you will. I often explain that the “That” in the mantra is with a “capital T,” indicating “all that and a bag of chips.” The only problem with the mantra, from a modern day perspective, is that we all too often focus on the “That” as being something positive, life affirming, and wholesome. In fact, the “That” is everything – even things we don’t like and/or see as negative, destructive, and evil.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “That’s not who we are” or “That’s not what we’re about” – and it recently that refrain has been repeated so many times it’s like an old record that has been warped from so much usage. I could point out, in great detail, that the phrases above are almost always used in the context of bad or misguided behavior that has existed since the beginning of time – or, in the most recent case, since the beginning of the United States, but that the speaker either didn’t recognize was happening before; finds abhorrent; and/or wants to create some distance between themselves and the people engaged in said behavior. Both variations of the phrase are also used as a kind of shaming, in the same way that a parent teaches a child that certain behavior is unacceptable. In the current context, however, we are not parents teaching our children. And, rather than go into a history lesson here – or run the risk of sounding overly judgmental – let me just pose a couple of philosophical questions (with really practical implications): How does the habit (of denying what is) serve us and how do we change a habit of bad behavior if we don’t acknowledge our connection to it?

As a side note, thinking about our lives and the way we engage our lives (i.e., our way of being) as a habit, brought my awareness to several Christian authors who adamantly reject the idea that “you are what you do.” Obviously, since I’ve only recently become aware of this rejection, I have not read all the books and theological expositions. A quick survey, however, seems to indicate that these writers and speakers, coming from a religious perspective, are focusing on the religious concept of being and the practical applications of spiritually being. In other words, they are looking at each person as being inextricably connected to the Divine and offering guidance on living a spiritual life in a world that focuses on so much profane doing. Here we see the same power that is in the mantra (“So Hum, Ham Sa”) – that you already are something amazing and you don’t have to do anything to be that. Just as is the case with the mantra, the power is in the realization and the lesson seems to point to people rethinking the way they show up in the world by placing their spiritual/religious beliefs as a priority in all that they do.

 

II. Being, the Habit – Of Cultivating Spirit

 

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. He felt, at times, abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

How Do You Respond? September 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. Such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered samskaras in the yoga philosophy. While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know, is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including those deeply embedded habits known as samskaras.

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

For months now, we have been developing habits we may or may not have intended to cultivate. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 14th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice, where we will consider the process of forming (and changing) habits.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###