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The Importance of Feeling/Being Safe June 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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May we all be safe and protected, especially if we find ourselves seeking asylum.

“This startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe points out the gap between what we say and what we do. On the one hand we publicly pronounce the equality of all peoples, discarding all racialistic theories; on the other hand, in our immigration laws, we embrace in practice these very theories we abhor and verbally condemn.”

*

– United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) speaking to the Senate about immigration quotes in 1948

Beware, ya’ll, I’ve got my hammer out; because I feel like some things need to be hammered home.

I could say that that this feeling started when I re-read the quote above and started thinking about how much it (unfortunately) still applies. However, the truth is a little more complicated than that. The truth is that I’m always thinking about “the gap between what we say and what we do” – in any situation – but that I especially started thinking about in relation to refugees when Russia invaded Ukraine towards the end of February. That invasion, and the escalation of a war that began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea at the end of February 2014, highlighted the fact that refugees can come from anywhere and look like anyone. However, that heightened awareness of who can be a refugee, also reinforced the fact that many people in the world have stereotypes and biases that make life harder for people who are already facing horrific challenges.

Some people, at various points along Ukraine’s border, said they saw no discrimination happening as people fled the conflict. Others witnessed and/or experienced racial bias which resulted in people being stranded in a volatile situation. We can all believe what we want – or believe what we must to sleep at night – but if you were paying attention as the events unfolded, you saw and heard newscasters attributing value based on race, ethnicity, and nationality. If you were paying attention, you witnessed countries and local governments setting policy based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender.

Even if you weren’t paying attention to any of those things, you could look inside of your own heart and mind and observe how you felt about refugees fleeing Ukraine versus refugees fleeing Afghanistan… or Syria… or Vietnam… or Venezuela… or South Sudan… or the Congo….

“Whoever. Wherever. Whenever.
Everyone has the right to seek safety.”

*

– the 2022 theme for World Refugee Day 2022

Today is World Refugee Day.

The United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th as World Refugee Day in December of 2000. The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defined a refugee as “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to ‘a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognizes that “many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.” Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Stateless Persons, and Returnees all fall under the Refugees category. Although they are granted certain rights and protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, because we often say one thing and do something completely different.

World Refugee Day is an internationally observed day to honor the humanity of all refugees. It is a day to celebrate the strength, courage, and resilience of people who have held onto their families, cultures, languages, and dreams despite being forced to flee their home country either to escape war, famine, pestilence, persecution, or all of the above. It is also a day to raise awareness and solicit support, while cultivating empathy, compassion, and understanding. Finally it is a time to recognize the generosity of host countries. So, ultimately, it is a day to engage and honor those powers “unique to being human.”

“We will continue to represent the best of American values by saving lives and alleviating suffering, working with our partners at home and abroad to assist the forcibly displaced in their time of need – no matter who or where they are, on World Refugee Day and every day.”

*

– quoted from the 2022 World Refugee Day statement by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken*

As I have mentioned before, I can be skeptical of the idea that only humans can cultivate the six siddhis (“attainments” or abilities) that are described as being “unique to being human” in the Sāmkhya Karika. Similarly, I question the idea that certain values can (or should be) described as if they only belong to a certain group of people – especially since so many different groups share the same values. I strongly encourage us, however, to look at our own personal values and what we each (individually) believe to be true. In the process, I also strongly encourage us to look at whether or not what is in our hearts is also in our minds and reflected by our words and deeds. When we do this, we give ourselves the opportunity to look at whether or not our affiliations reflect what’s in our hearts and in our minds. This is one way to practice svādhyāya (“self-study”).

Svādhyāya (“self-study”) is the fourth niyama or internal “observation” in the Yoga Philosophy. And, I want to emphasis that it is an exercise in OBSERVATION. I often place it in the same category as discernment and contemplation, as those practices appear in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola – meaning, these are ways to note the “interior movement” of one’s own heart, especially in certain contexts. Like discernment and contemplation, svādhyāya can be in our judgment toolbox, but it’s not about making or passing judgments; it’s about making good, virtuous, choices.

By “good,” I mean it is something that has meaning and purpose. By “virtuous,” I mean something that is generous in it’s ability to alleviate suffering (i.e., something that does the least amount of harm to the most amount of beings and/or over the longest amount of time).

“According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;

  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;

  • The right to work;

  • The right to housing;

  • The right to education;

  • The right to public relief and assistance;

  • The right to freedom of religion;

  • The right to access the courts;

  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory;

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents.

Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.”

*

– from the United Nations

According to the United Nations, refugees are entitled to certain rights that are, theoretically, human rights. The United States is NOT on the top 10 list of countries who receive the most refugees, however, according to U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The United States is the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance….” Within those statements, there is a huge contradiction. I’m not talking about the fact that many people believe the U. S. myth and talking point that “people are always coming here,” I’m talking about the fact that the United States doesn’t even guarantee all of the aforementioned rights to it’s citizens. When you look at how that contradiction (and, some could argue, hypocrisy) plays out in real time, it’s easy to see how we end up with a conflict between theory and practice. Another way to look at that is: This is one of the reason’s there’s a “gap between what we say and what we do.”

So, today, I think it’s important acknowledge that gap and why it’s here (inside of each of us as well as in the world). Also, given this year’s theme, I think it’s important to contemplate what “safety” means to us. The UN has five points that define “seeking safety” means:

  1. Right to seek asylum
  2. Safe access
  3. No pushbacks
  4. No discrimination
  5. Humane treatment

Even with those five points (and the descriptions outlined by the UN), we can only define what it means to us individually. We can only define what finding safety would look like to us if we were forced from our home and from our homeland. Once we do that, however, once we define it, we are one step closer to being able to extend it.

“Once you’ve woken up to the understanding that vulnerable people literally die for their lives

There is no alternative but to decide to care.

So you resolve to care.

You realize that vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness

That all of us are vulnerable in some way. / That some days we’re weaker than most / and that some of us don’t have that option.

So you grieve for those who lost their lives / and you grieve for the ones that you lost too. / Not just during this crisis / but during every one before it….” 

*

– from the poem that begins “The Seven Stages of Grief during Coronavirus: Acceptance.” (see end of post) by Emi Mamoud (@EmiThePoet)

Please join me today (Monday, June 20th) 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 classYou can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06202020 #WorldRefugeeDay”]

NOTE: One song is no longer available on either streaming platform. It is still listed, but will not play.

Emi Mamoud, an incredible poet

Some elements of the above post were included in my 2020 World Refugee Day post, which philosophically focused on Yoga Sūtra 2.25 and the connection between avidyā (“ignorance”) and suffering. Click here to read that post.

*NOTE: Since I made a point, yesterday, of mentioning my certain aspects of my own legacy, please note that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine, his maternal grandparents were Hungarian Jews, and his step-father was a Holocaust survivor (and refugee). 

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.)

### May we all be peaceful and happy / May we all be healthy and strong / May we all have ease and wellbeing ###

When the Heart Opens May 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Yoga, Changing Perspectives, Philosophy, Music, Books, Suffering, Hope, Faith, Healing Stories, One Hoop, Life, Wisdom.
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Nobly love.

“‘So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’”

*

– King Solomon’s request in Melachim I / 1 Kings 3:9 (NIV)

As I mentioned in some of the practices this week and in the last “9 Days” video, we live in an ever-changing past. Maybe if we thought about it that way, more often, we would live more fully in the present. Maybe we would live more open-hearted lives. Maybe we would even pay attention to how things are changing, every time we inhale, every time we exhale.

By “things,” I mean everything: we change, the world changes, our words change, our expectations change…. Or, at least that’s the way we often perceive it and discuss it. However, when we pay attention, we start to notice that very little is changing. We may even notice that we are like the person in the giant bamboo story, who headed into a new season with the same old problems, the same old wishes and desires. The story is a reminder to dig deeper – or, at least, to look beneath the surface. When we do that – when we look beneath the surface, personally and in society – we start to notice that for things to change on the outside, they have to first change on the inside.

Perhaps you are tired of hearing that every policy change begins with a change in society. Perhaps you are one of those people (or politicians) who thinks your time is better spent on changing policy and that it’s a waste of time to focus on changing hearts and minds. Perhaps you haven’t really given much thought to how change has happened in the past or how it might happen in the future. But, just for a moment, I want you to think about it.

Think about how unjust laws are broken by people whose hearts and minds will not allow them to stay silent in the face of great horror. Think about how the most basic of laws never get passed when people’s hearts are hard and their minds are narrow. Think about how the siddhis (or powers) “unique to being human” are more connected to the heart than to currency. Think about King Solomon, who did not ask for wealth and power when he was told he could have anything.

Consider the courage it takes to do and say the things people are telling you are dangerous – or not your place – to say and do. Yes, it really comes down to courage. Perhaps our problem, though, is that our understanding of courage has “changed” and so, therefore, we don’t actually know what it means or from where it comes. Perhaps we are too busy calling someone a coward, which is the exact opposite of having courage, to recognize their fearlessness or the placement of our own “tail.”

“We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them”

*

– quoted from the “A New Vision” – 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Acceptance Address by Ted Sorenson (written for The Washington Monthly as “the speech of his dreams”)

For the record, the word “courage” comes to the English language from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English, meaning “to live with the whole heart.” In Middle English, it was associated with “speaking one’s mind” – which could, of course, have fatal consequences when speaking truth to power in a feudal society. Going back to Old French, at least to the 14th century,  it is associated with discernment and knowing the inner workings of one’s own heart – which was viewed as “the seat of emotions.”

The word “coward” follows the same etymological path – coming to English from the Latin, by way of old French and Middle English – and was related to the image of an animal with their “tail” between their legs. Think about how this is the exact (physical) opposite of being open-hearted.

Now, go deeper still. How do you embody the original meaning of “courage?” What does it mean to physically look like a “coward?” The physical practice gives us an opportunity to do this, to embody these attributes and to consider what comes up for us physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically. Our time on the mat, allows us to consider how we want to show up off the mat. You could even think of today’s practice as a portrait – or, a profile. Keep in mind, however, that there is more to opening your heart than simply bending over backwards.

“For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

*

So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future – and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

*

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver to the Texas Democratic State Committee in Austin, Texas, in the evening, on November 22, 1963

*

The following is an excerpt from a June 2021 post related to Yoga Sutra 3.22.

May 29th is the anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in 1917, President Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery during his tenure as a United States Senator. He even won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, despite the fact that the book was not included in a list of finalists. The short book features profiles of eight United States Senators who spoke up for what they believed to be right, even though their actions, words, and deeds were not necessarily popular with their constituents and/or party. They spoke for what they believed to be right even when they found themselves under attack and without a position. Heart openers and the idea behind the book are usually my focus on President Kennedy’s birthday, and might even seem to be a good point of entry for Yoga Sūtra 3.22 – except for that really inconvenient part of the story people don’t often mention.

At the beginning of 1953, Ted Sorenson became the chief legislative aide to the then-freshman Senator John F. Kennedy. Eventually, he would become President Kennedy’s special counselor, adviser, and primary speechwriter. Along with Georgetown University professor Jules Davids, he was initially (and publicly) recognized as someone who aided the Senator in writing Profiles in Courage. He even received some remuneration for his “research” and assistance. These days, however, many historians acknowledge that while the idea was Kennedy, the final product was almost all Sorenson. Likewise, a poem featured in the miniseries 11.22.63 is almost always credited to Stephen King, who wrote the book of the same name – even though the poem does not appear in the book. The original poem was, in fact, written by Bridget Carpenter and then edited by Stephen King as he reviewed her script.

It is nice to get credit where credit is due, but these examples are also a good reminder that we all have a voice – even if we are using sign language, even if we are using a computer – we have a way to be “heard,” to share the power of our words. So remember, you have been invited in and honor what you have to say, and honor what those around you are saying.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

*

– a poem by Bridget Carpenter and Stephen King, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 29th) 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.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Click here to read the 11/22 post.

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.)

### Big Fat Heart ###

FTWMI: The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Twosday post about movement and expressions) February 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s 22222! That makes this Twosday a universal palindrome date (“universal” because it’s a palindrome in all the major dating notation systems)! In thinking about common “threads,” here’s the 2021 post for this date. It has been updated with additional embedded links (to related posts). Class information has also been updated for today.

“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 22nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

*

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.)

### PEACE (PEACE) PEACE ###

Thinking About “Love” (Monday’s post-practice post) February 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival! Happy Lantern Festival” to those who are celebrating.

This post-practice post for Monday, February 14th. 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.

And, [L]ove – True [L]ove – will follow you forever.”

*

– “The Impressive Clergyman” (Peter Cook) in the movie The Princess Bride by William Goldman

No one can be surprised that “words” are one of my favorite supernormal powers. In fact, śabda (or shabda), ranks as one of my top six siddhis or “powers.Yet, there’s also no denying that words are not only one of our super powers, they are also a form of kryptonite – especially when we’re dealing with English. The English language seems to have as many rules as exceptions and as many homonyms that are homographs as homophones. And if the homonyms that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings (homophones) and the homonyms that are spelled the same but have different meanings and/or pronunciation (homographs) aren’t confusing enough there are words that just have different meanings to different people – or different meanings based on the context. The word “love” is a prime example of a word that can mean different things to different people and at different times.

If you mention love on February 14th, a lot of people in the West will automatically think of “romantic love” – which is kind of ironic since Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic saint’s feast day and that saint may or may not have had anything to do with romantic love. The fact that the African American abolitionist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass celebrated his birthday on this date is, loosely, connected to it being Saint Valentine’s Day. However, the fact this year’s date overlaps the fourteenth day of the Lunar New Year – when some people that are preparing for the Lantern Festival are also getting ready for some romance – is purely coincidental… or, maybe it’s synchronicity.

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than erosAgape is more than philiaAgape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

*

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

In the song “Gravity,” Jamie Woon sings of loving “a girl who loves synchronicity” and who “confided that love, it is an energy.” We humans (in general) have a tendency to block and/or limit that energy instead of “passing it on,” as the girl in the song does. And, we often use words to limit that energy. Some languages have different words for different kinds of love. Ancient Greek, for example, has érōs for sensual or passionate “love” or “desire;” storgḗ instinctual “love,” “affection,” or familial love (which can also extend to friends and pets); philía, which can be translated as “friendship” or brotherly love and was considered by some to be the “highest form of love;” and agápē, which is also described as unconditional love and “the highest form of love.”

Early Christians co-opted the Greek agápē and added to it their own understanding of the Hebrew chesed, which is sometimes translated into modern English as loving-kindness; stems from the root word (chasad) meaning “eager and ardent desire;” and includes a sense of “zeal” (especially as related to God). However, even in the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament), chesed has been translated (in different places) as “mercy,” “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “kindly” “merciful,” “favour,” “good,” “goodliness,” “pity,” and even “steadfast love.” There’s also a couple of places where it is used with a negative connotation. Judaism (and, particularly Jewish mysticism) also have words like devekut (which might be described as an emotional state and/or an action that cultivates a state related to “cleaving” or clinging to the Divine). Additionally, there is an understanding of a fear/awe of God (that also migrated into Christianity).

In English, we have a tendency to just use the same word for multiple things. Sometimes we add qualifiers like “brotherly” or “romantic;” but, sometimes we just use “love” – which, again, comes with different meanings and associations. On Monday night, when I asked people for a word or phrase that they associate with love, I got some really phenomenal answers: acceptance and compassion, bravery (specifically as it relates to social change), trust, all the people that [one] cares about, and giving. To this list, I added earnest.

The “Valentine’s Day” portion of the following is partially excerpted from a 2021 post about Being Red,” which includes a story about red and the Lunar New Year.

“EARNEST, adjective

  1. Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain; having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

They are never more earnest to disturb us, than when they see us most earnest in this duty.

  1. Ardent; warm; eager; zealous; animated; importunate; as earnest in love; earnest in prayer.

  2. Intent; fixed.

On that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes were fixed.

  1. Serious; important; that is, really intent or engaged; whence the phrase, in earnest To be in earnest is to be really urging or stretching towards an object; intent on a pursuit. Hence, from fixed attention, comes the sense of seriousness in the pursuit, as opposed to trifling or jest. Are you in earnest or in jest?”

*

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People premiered on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London. It is a love story (or love stories) of sorts, but it is also a comedy of errors and a social satire full of love, love triangles, double entendres, double lives, mistaken identities, the dichotomy of public versus private life in Victorian society, and so many trivialities that one can hardly be blamed for questioning that about which one should be serious… or earnest. Like his other plays, Earnest was well received and marked a professional high point in Wilde’s life. However, it also marked a personal low point: Wilde’s trial, conviction, and imprisonment for homosexuality – which was illegal in Victorian England. Earnest would be the last play written by Oscar Wilde and, some would argue, his most popular.

While English speakers around the world might not come up with the same definition of “earnest” that was known in Victorian England, I would expect there would be some consensus around it meaning “serious” and “true.” On the flip side, the color red means something different to everyone. Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines it as “a simple or primary color, but of several different shades or hues, as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, orange red etc.” – but even that doesn’t begin to address the fact that, on any given Sunday, the color signifies different things to different people all over the world. I say, “on any given Sunday,” but just consider last year’s Sunday the 14th[see link above], when red was associated with Valentine’s Day, The Lunar New Year celebrations (in some countries), and even the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with red hearts, cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dates, and romantic love – a very commercial endeavor – but it didn’t start out that way. The day actually started as (and to some still is) the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, in the Western Christian tradition. There are actually two Christian martyrs remembered as Saint Valentine, but the most well-known is the 3rd-century Roman saint (who is honored on July 6th and 30th in the Eastern Christian tradition). According to the legends, Valentine was imprisoned for practicing Christianity during a time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Before and during his incarceration, Saint Valentine had several conversations with the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Throughout these discussions, the emperor tried to convert the priest to the Roman pagan religion (ostensibly to save the priest’s life) and the priest tried to convert the emperor to Catholicism (theoretically to save the emperor’s soul, and the souls of all that followed him and his decrees).

Around this same time, Valentine had multiple interactions and conversations with the daughter of his jailer. Julia, the daughter, was blind and one of the last acts Valentine reportedly committed (before he was executed) was to heal Julie’s sight. After he was martyred (around 269 A. D.), Julia and her household converted to Catholicism in honor of Valentine. His feast day was established in 496 A.D. and around the 18th century, many additional details of the story started cropping up. One such detail was that Valentine married Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry (possibly because it would divide their focus and loyalty). Another detail was that he left Julia a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.”

“For this was on Seynt Velentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,”

*

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,”

*

– quoted from the poem “The Parliament of Fowls” by Geoffrey Chaucer, translation by A. S. Klein  

As to why red became associated with Valentine’s Day, there are lots of theories and they all come back to those embellishments (some of which are attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer), which focused on Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers – and love was associated with the heart, which people associate with red. Additionally, a red stain is traditionally viewed in the Western world as the sign that a woman came to her marital bed as a virgin (and so there’s some very suggestive, subliminal messaging going on).

But, let’s go back to the idea of the heart being red. Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, use green to symbolize the heart chakra (i.e., the energetic or spiritual heart), but of course, these systems also recognize that the physical heart is red when exposed to the air – or it’s being depicted by an artist, which is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted as red.

Speaking of the energetic or spiritual heart: Swami Rama of the Himalayan tradition taught that we all have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left; an emotional heart, which for most of us is on the left; and that energetic or spiritual heart of the middle. That “heart center” includes the arms (also fingers and hands) and connects the hearts within us and also connects our hearts with all the hearts around us. Chinese Medicine and their sister sciences of movement, including Yin Yoga, also map the vital energy of the heart through the arms.

Going back to Jewish mysticism: In the Kabbalah, the sefira (or Divine “attribute”) of chesed is related to the right arm. It is balanced by gevurah (“strength”), which is the left arm, and tiferet (“balance”), which is the upper torso and includes the physical heart. These energetic paradigms really reinforce Robert Pirsig’s statement that “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“Indeed, some have called me a traitor…. Two things are necessary to make a traitor.  One is he shall have a country. [Laughter and applause] I believe if I had a country, I should be a patriot. I think I have all the feelings necessary — all the moral material, to say nothing about the intellectual. But when I remember that the blood of four sisters and one brother, is making fat the soil of Maryland and Virginia,—when I remember that an aged grandmother who has reared twelve children for the Southern market, and these one after another as they arrived at the most interesting age, were torn from her bosom,—when I remember that when she became too much racked for toil, she was turned out by a professed Christian master to grope her way in the darkness of old age, literally to die with none to help her, and the institutions of this country sanctioning and sanctifying this crime, I have no words of eulogy, I have no patriotism.[…]

*

No, I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard, on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightening scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.”

*

– quoted from the 1847 speech “If I Had a Country, I Should Be a Patriot” by Frederick Douglass 

Frederick Douglass was born somewhere in Eastern Maryland in 1817 or 1818. If you’re wondering why I can name the exact time and place that Oscar Wilde’s play premiered a few years later (not to mention the exact time and place of that illustrious playwright’s birth), but cannot the time and place of one of the greatest speakers and writers of the 19th Century, it’s because Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. So, there is no heritage birth site you can visit (Covid not withstanding) as you can visit 21 Westland Row (the home of the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in Dublin). You could visit Cedar Hill, the Washington, D. C. house that Mr. Douglass bought about forty years after he escaped from slavery. But, the historical marker related to his birth is at least four miles from where it is assumed he was born.

By all accounts, he was born on the Holme (or Holmes) Hill Farm and most likely in the cabin of his grandmother, Betsey Bailey – which is basically where he lived for the first part of his life. His mother, on the other hand, lived twelve miles away and died when he was about seven years old. Some of his vague memories, as he recounted in his third autobiography, included his mother calling him her “Little Valentine.” Ergo, he celebrated his birthday on February 14th.

Most of what we know about the abolitionist, statesman, and activist, comes from his speeches and his writings, including three autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American SlaveMy Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. In some ways, each book is an expansion of the previous books, with the third being the most detailed about his escape and activism*. As he explained his the final book, he left certain details and facts out of the first two books in order to protect himself, the people who helped him escape, and some of the people associated with him.

Since slavery was still active in the United States when his first book was published on May 1, 1845, Mr. Douglass also relocated to England and Ireland for two years in order to ensure he would not be recaptured. While he was in Europe, his supporters paid ($710.96) for his emancipation. That’s about $26,300.66 in today’s economy, that went to his former owner.

“This is American slavery; no marriage—no education—the light of the gospel shut out from the dark mind of the bondman—and he forbidden by law to learn to read. If a mother shall teach her children to read, the law in Louisiana proclaims that she may be hanged by the neck. If the father attempt to give his son a knowledge of letters, he may be punished by the whip in one instance, and in another be killed, at the discretion of the court. Three millions of people shut out from the light of knowledge! It is easy for you to conceive the evil that must result from such a state of things.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC  RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

According to his first autobiography, the wife of his second owner, Mrs. Sophia Auld, started teaching a young Frederick Douglass the alphabet. When the lessons were discovered and forbidden, he overheard Mrs. Auld’s husband telling her that an educated slave would be unfit for slavery. This motivated Mr. Douglass to teach himself to read and write. The more he learned, the more he was motivated to be free. He was further motivated to escape when he fell in love with a free Black woman named Anna Murray, who was also a member of the Underground Railroad.

The success of his autobiographies changed the way some people – specifically, white abolitionists – viewed him and treated him. It expanded his audience and also uplifted his platform. While some pro-slavery advocates still saw him as a puppet and a parrot, abolitionists realized that he was actually an intellectual capable of giving very vivid (and compelling) first-hand accounts of the atrocities of slavery. Critics persisted in doubting him, but again and again, he dismantled their doubts and defamation. Furthermore, as he advocated for the civil rights of Africans in America, their descendants, and for all women, he lived a life that had been previously denied him.

“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one-sixth of the population of democratic America is denied its privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?—what must be the condition of that people? I need not lift up the veil by giving you any experience of my own. Every one that can put two ideas together, must see the most fearful results from such a state of things as I have just mentioned.”

*

– quoted from “APPENDIX, CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM SPEECHES, ETC – RECEPTION SPEECH AT FINSBURY CHAPEL, MOORFIELDS, ENGLAND, MAY 12, 1846.” in My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray married on September 15, 1838 – just twelve days after his escape from slavery. For a while, they lived under an assumed surname. Frederick Douglass made a living as a public speaker, writer, and publisher. He traveled the world, served as a diplomat, and also served as an Army recruiter. Throughout his lifetime, he influenced people like Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. He was the first African American to be nominated for vice president (in 1872); the first African American person to receive a vote for president during a a major parties roll call (in 1888); and, if we want to get technical, one of the first person to publicly protest Civil War era statues. (He specifically objected to the way former slaves were depicted.)

Frederick Douglass started the first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, whose motto was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” He was also the only Black person to (officially) attend the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the only Black signer of the Declaration of Sentiments.

Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass had five children. Rosetta Douglass worked on her father’s newspapers and eventually became a teacher, an activist, and an founding member of the National Association for Colored Women. Lewis Henry Douglass worked as a typesetter at The North Star and The Douglass’ Weekly before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Frederick Douglass Jr. was also an abolitionist and journalist and who, along with his father, recruited for the Union Army during the Civil War. (Lewis and the two Fredericks would also co-edit The New Era.) Charles Redmond Douglass was also a publisher, is remembered as the first African American to enlist in the Union Army in New York, and was one of the first African Americans to serve as a clerk in  the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau). He also worked for the United States Treasury and served as a diplomat (as did his father). The fifth Douglass child, Annie, died as an adolescent.

Anna Murray-Douglass died in 1882 and, in 1884, Frederick Douglass married a white abolitionist and radical feminist who was two years his junior. Helen Pitts Douglass co-edited The Alpha and eventually worked as her husbands secretary. After her husband’s death in 1895, the second Mrs. Douglass purchased Cedar Hill from the Douglass children (because her husbands bequest to her was not upheld) and worked to establish the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. After her death in 1903, the properties reduced mortgage was paid off by the National Association of Colored Women and is currently managed by the National Park Service.

“Believing that one of the best means of emancipating the slaves of the south is to improve and elevate the character of the free colored people of the north, I shall labor in the future, as I have labored in the past, to promote the moral, social, religious, and intellectual elevation of the free colored people; never forgetting my own humble origin, nor refusing, while Heaven lends me ability, to use my voice, my pen, or my vote, to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER XXV. VARIOUS INCIDENTS. NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE—UNEXPECTED OPPOSITION—THE OBJECTIONS TO IT—THEIR PLAUSIBILITY ADMITTED—MOTIVES FOR COMING TO ROCHESTER—DISCIPLE OF MR. GARRISON—CHANGE OF OPINION—CAUSES LEADING TO IT—THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHANGE—PREJUDICE AGAINST COLOR—AMUSING CONDESCENSION—”JIM CROW CARS”—COLLISIONS WITH CONDUCTORS AND BRAKEMEN—TRAINS ORDERED NOT TO STOP AT LYNN—AMUSING DOMESTIC SCENE—SEPARATE TABLES FOR MASTER AND MAN—PREJUDICE UNNATURAL—ILLUSTRATIONS—THE AUTHOR IN HIGH COMPANY—ELEVATION OF THE FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR—PLEDGE FOR THE FUTURE.” of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

*

“But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

*

– quoted from “CHAPTER V.” of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

*NOTE: The full title of the third autobiography of Frederick Douglass is Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including His Connection with the Anti-slavery Movement; His Labors in Great Britain as Well as in His Own Country; His Experience in the Conduct of an Influential Newspaper; His Connection with the Underground Railroad; His Relations with John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry Raid; His Recruiting the 54th and 55th Mass. Colored Regiments; His Interviews with Presidents Lincoln and Johnson; His Appointment by Gen. Grant to Accompany the Santo Domingo Commission–
Also to a Seat in the Council of the District of Columbia; His Appointment as United States Marshal by President R. B. Hayes; Also His Appointment to Be Recorder of Deeds in Washington by President J. A. Garfield; with Many Other Interesting and Important Events of His Most Eventful Life; With an Introduction by Mr. George L. Ruffin, of Boston.

Showing the Love (part of my Nine Days series)

Curious about why I referenced romantic love related to the Lantern Festival or why women’s suffrage will keep coming up this week? Check out the video above and stay tuned for tomorrow’s practice.

*

### “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.” ~ OW ###

Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s 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.)

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

*

When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

*

– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

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– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

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– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

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– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

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

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– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

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“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

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The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

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– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

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– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

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### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###

Creating: Music for This Date II (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, January 26th. You can request audio recording of Wednesday’s 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.)

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

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– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) 

Yesterday, I said that we all are creative. I didn’t say it as a platitude. I said it because it’s true. We can go back century after century and find people telling us this same fact, sometimes even in similar ways. Patanjali talked about the power that comes from focusing on the space/ether between an object, our sense organs, and our mind-intellect. Marcel Proust described the way our sensory perception can be like an index of our memories. Drs. Gerald Edelman and Oliver Sacks studied the way the mind creates the story. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has explained how the body tells the story. Just by being alive, we create.

Creativity is an aspect of the divine that is inside all of us – and yet, there was a time when I didn’t think of myself as creative. Or, more specifically, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. This was during a time when I worked with a lot of really talented artists and, even though what I did required a similar kind of finesse as their work did, I saw my work as being more technical than artistic – which completely negated the technical aspects of their craft and was (frankly) reductive. Truth be told, I carried that mindset forward so that even when I started teaching and others saw me as a storyteller, I didn’t quite see it.

Now, of course, I am very intentional about the way I tell stories – on the mat (and the blog). Now, I use all the technical (and artistic) tools I used in theatre, all the literary and symbolic tools I learned in school, and all the philosophical and energetic wisdom I’ve gleaned from life and from my practices. Now, I tell the story with the poses, bits of information, and the music… ah, yes, the music. There’s always a message (or two) in the music – even when there’s no lyrics.

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

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

Sometimes I pick music because of the tempi or the tones of the music. Other times I pick music for the message in the lyrics. And while I almost never pick music I don’t like, the playlists are definitely a reflection of what I love. That said, I recognize that we all have different relationships with music. Some people never notice the music. Some people vibe to it. Others find it distracting. My goal is that if/when someone notices the music, it is a consistent part of the overall experience. It is a reminder to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate on the theme of the day.

I also remember that everyone is going to feel the music. They may just feel the vibration and the vibe. They may be really tuned into the tempi or the tones or the lyrics. However, some will also feel it because of what it brings up for them. Western science has shown that hearing music we haven’t heard in a long time “awakens” the body. Similarly, it can awaken memories, reminding us of days gone by.

Of course, most of the time I’m really transparent about all of this. The fact that the music is part of the story is also part of the narrative in the practice.

But, what happens if I leave out one (or two) pertinent facts? What happens if I leave out names and dates and maybe just allude to a few trivial facts?

Then the story becomes a bit of a puzzle (or a riddle). And the mind loves puzzles (and riddles). It loves to fill in the gaps. It loves to get creative. It loves seeing if/when you will figure out that I was never really telling you the story. It was always you.

“In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers the reader so that he may discern in the book what he probably would not have seen in himself. The recognition of himself in the book by the reader is the proof of the its truth and vice-versa, at least in a certain measure, the difference between the two texts being often less attributable to the author than to the reader.”

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– quoted from Time Regained, Volume 7 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Wednesday’s playlist was inspired by people and things related to this specific date in history. Tracks #2 – 15, plus Track #17 are (mostly) related to someone who was born on January 26th. There are two tracks in the before/after practice music that are actually related to an artist (Alicia Keys, b. 1981) whose birthday was the 25th, but that’s a whole other story. The earliest birthday year is 1925; the latest is 2009 – but the tracks are not in birthday order. Finally, I will admit that there are some historical (and current events) that influenced why I picked these songs rather than all the other similarly relevant songs.

The clues I gave out in class are below (mostly in the order they were given). If you highlight the space to the right of the “A,” you will find the pertinent name(s) and years.

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Clue #1: Sometimes our bodies don’t feel the way we’re use to them feeling. They seem a little off and we can’t play the way we’re use to playing. We have to adapt, modify, or step back. A: Jacqueline Mary du Pré OBE was born in 1945, in Oxford, United Kingdom.

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Clue #2: In the first pose, when they body really hasn’t had a chance to warm up, just offer yourself a little love, sweet love – or, as Bryan Kest says, “… some sweet touches.” Just a little tenderness, a little kindness, a little compassion. If you get in the habit of offering yourself a little love (sweet love), tenderness, kindness, and compassion, then you have the skills to offer the same to others. A: Anita Baker was born in 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #3 – #4.5: When you give yourself, just a little bit, you also have what you need to give to others. You can tap into that sixth siddhi or “power” unique to being human, the power of generosity. If you were blessed with good looks, gorgeous blue eyes, and a lot of talent, it seems like giving back is something you might do. Maybe you give back to kids – really sick kids. Or, maybe you realize that other people – people who like to eat well – would appreciate giving back too… while they eat. (In Downward Facing Dog, you can alternate bending your knees like you’re riding a bicycle… as raindrops keep falling on your head.) A: Paul Newman was born in 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #4.5 & #5: Some people are known what they do and for their sense humor. Some people even credit their wit and sense of humor for their successful marriage. (Some of those people were always up for a seventh inning stretch.) A: Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecker was born in 1934, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.

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Clue #6: Remember, one things I was thinking of today (thinking of, fondly) was an actual thing – a living, breathing, thing. Even if it’s broad to say it was born, it might be more accurate to say that it’s American cousin was “born” today. A: After a couple of weeks of previews, The Phantom of the Opera officially premiered on Broadway in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre.

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Clue #7: There’s a point in every practice where someone, not every one, starts trying to calculate what comes next. But, it’s important to remember that the practice is fluid, we’re flowing – and sometimes fluid calculations are complicated. A: Dr. Susan Friedlander (née Poate) was born in 1946.

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Clue #8: There are several people on this birthday-inspired playlist that only be described as disrupters and erupters. They erupt on the scene and disrupt the status quo. They make a name for themselves because of what they do and how they do it – which has the power to blow you away. Sometimes they even name the things they do. A: Eddie Van Halen was born in 1955, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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Clue #9: Some of those erupters and disrupters are told that they can’t be who they are or do they things they want to do (or love the people they love), but they just keep on being, doing, living, and loving. Maybe they even shrug their shoulders and tell the naysayers, “I was born this way.” (They might also say that while they dance, in their seat, and smile.) A: Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #10 – #11.5: Everyone on the list was born into different circumstances. Some were born into different cultures (and even different countries) and those circumstances, over which they had no control, became part of their story. Sometimes their circumstances were also why people told them no or couldn’t imagine them being, doing, living, and loving the way that they did. But, by disrupting the status quo – by living their Truth – their very existence allows other people to imagine themselves living their best lives. A: Kirk Franklin was born in 1970, in Dallas, Texas, United States.

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Clues #11 & #11.5: There’s one thing about all the people on this list, that’s also true about everyone in the world: They were born to be loved. We are all born to be loved. The twisted, upside down, and backwards thing is that sometimes we have to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need someone to remind the naysayers of that. Yes, there are people on this list who were abandoned (at birth), forsaken, mistreated, and misguided. There’s a least one person who was treated like a slave; at least one person who was disgraced; and at least one person who was abused. But, all of them were born to be loved. A: Lucinda Williams was born in 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #12 (– #19): So far as I know, most people who inspired this list were born on their own. But some were born with seven other people. A: Noah Angel Solomon, Maliyah Angel Solomon, Isaiah Angel Solomon, Nariyah Angel Solomon, Jonah Angel Solomon, Makai Angel Solomon, Josiah Angel Solomon, and Jeremiah Angel Solomon were born in 2009, in Bellflower, California, United States.

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Clues #11.5 & #20: Despite their circumstances, despite sometimes feeling less than free – despite not always being (legally) free – at least one person has dedicated their life to liberation and education.   A: Dr. Angela Davis was born in 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, United States.

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Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: I remixed the YouTube playlist after the 4:30 practice, because I had erroneously used the extended version of a song. The YouTube playlist also includes extra videos, which are not available on Spotify.)

Errata: As I was closing my browser tabs, I realized that I overlooked a birthday (and I’m kicking myself for it)! I’ve updated the playlist so that the before/after music includes a track for Maria von Trapp, born January 26,1905, in Vienna, Austria.

Yoga Sūtra 3.48: grahaṇasvarūpāsmitānvayārthavattvasaṃyamādindriyajayaḥ

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– “Through samyama on the sense organs’ process of perception, essential nature, identification with I-am-ness, constitution and purposiveness, mastery over them is acquired.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.49: ato manojavitvaṃ vikaraṇabhāvaḥ pradhānajayaśca

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– “Thence comes about quickness as of the mind, the state lacking sense organs and mastery over pradhana.”

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### Embrace Your Creativity ###

Sitting, Breathing… in a Room [the “missing” Tuesday post] January 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Warning: This post references to mental health and a person who experienced severe emotional distress.

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, January 25th. Links in the 4th paragraph of the “Coda” will connect you to other websites. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Coda:

Do you ever think about what yoga and Virginia Woolf have in common? No? Just me? Ok, that’s fine; it’s not the first time – and will not be the last time that I make what, on the surface, appears to be a really random connection. It’s not even the first (and probably won’t be the last) time this week. However, in circling back to this practice and this theme, I found myself thinking a little more about mental health and the implications of having space, time, and the other resources to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate. 

Last year, this practice fell on Monday, 12521 (making it a palindrome practice). While I waited until the following day to reference Carl Jung’s thoughts on yoga and mental health, those thoughts are always hovering in the back of my mind. And yes, that is the second time this week I’ve mentioned the psychiatrist and psychoanalysis on the blog. However, he and his work have come up at least three times this week. Starting with a conversation I had with my brother.

As some of you know, my youngest brother is one of the coolest people I know. He is cool on a lot of different levels, including being pretty Zen in temperament. But, he doesn’t have a regular practice yoga or meditation practice and he doesn’t really talk about those things with people who do (except me). Over the weekend, he asked me about something he read regarding yoga, meditation, and people who have experienced trauma. Our conversations, as they often do, oscillated between the experiences of real people and the experiences of a certain Marvel comic book character. We talked a little about the emotional ramifications of sitting and breathing… and the things that come up when one is essentially alone with their thoughts. It’s a double-edged sword, as Dr. Jung pointed out – as Patanjali, Vyasa, and other early yoga scribes pointed out. So, we talked about the importance of practicing with care and awareness.

Today there is trauma-sensitive yoga, trauma-informed yoga, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), HeartMath®, and people who just practice yoga with an awareness that stuff comes up. I mean; we’ve all been through something and when you’ve been through something, stuff comes up. The more intense the trauma-related experience was, the more intense it can be when stuff comes up. Every practice doesn’t work for every person (even Patanjali pointed this out at the beginning of the fourth section of the Yoga Sūtras); but every person needs some way to process what they have experienced – whether they consider it traumatic or not.

Journaling is helpful. Talking to someone is helpful. Connecting with nature is helpful. Sitting and breathing is helpful. You may not need (or want) a “trauma-” label associated with your method of processing, but if you find yourself being overwhelmed by emotion, do something: Ask for help! Maybe a teacher engaged in mindfulness-based practices can help you. Maybe you have a spiritual and/or religious guide who can help you. Maybe you need a mental health professional. Either way, remember that sensation is information; it’s the way the mind-body tells our stories.

Matthew Sanford, the founder of Mind Body Solutions, talks about “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves (and each other) to explain our experiences. Those stories are one of the ways we process our stuff. Dr. Toya Webb reminds us that we are “always listening [to the story we tell ourselves] – whether it is destructive or productive.” Maty Ezraty, a master yoga teacher, said that every practice is like a good story.

Consider all of this as you read the following revised version of last year’s post entitled, “Who’s Afraid of Breathing?”

“surājye dhārmike deśe subhikṣhe nirupadrave |
dhanuḥ pramāṇa-paryantaṃ śilāghni-jala-varjite |
ekānte maṭhikā-madhye sthātavyaṃ haṭha-yoghinā || 12 ||

The Yogī should practise [sic] Haṭha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“… a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

In October 1928, Virginia Woolf gave two speeches to two different student societies at Newnham College and Girton College, which at the time were two of the all-women colleges at the University of Cambridge. (NOTE: Newnham is still an all-women’s college. Girton started accepting men in 1971 and started allowing men to be “Mistress,” or head of the college, in 1976.) The speeches were about women and fiction – and specifically detailed why there were so few women writers who had earned acclaimed (and, to certain degree, why those that did often did so anonymously or with “male” names). She also highlighted the absurd trichotomy between the two wildly archetypical way women are portrayed in literature and the reality of the very different types of women in the room, let alone in the world.

Born Virginia Stephen in Kensington, England, Janaury 25, 1882, Ms. Woolf speculated about the works that might have come from a woman (say, in Shakespeare’s time) who had a helpmate to take care of the cooking, cleaning, children, and other household business. She also talked about the social constraints that not only prevented a woman from devoting copious time to the practical application of her craft, writing, but also the social constraints and inequalities that could result in what would amount to writer’s block. All this, she detailed, even before she addressed the issue of a market place predisposed to highlight male writers – and she introduced her ideas by establishing two (really three) of the things a woman would need to overcome the obstacles of society: (time), space, and money.

When I first started going deeper into my physical practice of yoga, I looked into some of the classic texts within the tradition. One of those texts was the Haţha Yoga Pradipika (Light on the Physical Practice of Yoga), a 15th Century text that focuses on āsanas (“seats” or poses), prāņāyāma (breath awareness and control), mudrās (“seals” or “gestures”), and Samādhi (that ultimate form of “meditation” that is absorption). Throughout the text, and in particular in the chapter on mudrās, there is a breakdown of how energy, power, or vitality moves through the body and the benefits of harnessing that power.

I would eventually appreciate how the text is almost a summary of the earlier Yoga Sūtras, but (as an English lit major), what struck me first was how similar these early instructions – related to a practice that can be used to cultivate clarity and harness the power of the mind – were to Virginia Woolf’s advice to women writers.

“athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||

Posture becoming established, a Yogî, master of himself, eating salutary and moderate food, should practise [sic] Prâṇâyâma, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow.”

 

– quoted from “Susan” in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Just as Virginia Woolf addressed misconceptions about women in her essays and fiction, the translator Pancham Sinh addressed some misconceptions about people who practice yoga and the practice of prāņāyāma in an introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika. Part of the introduction is an admonishment to people who would study the practice, but do not practice it, stating, “People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practicing [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

Siddhis are the powers or “accomplishments” achieved from continuous practice. They range from being able to extend peace out into the world and understanding all languages; to being able to levitate and know the inner workings of another’s heart and mind; to the six “powers unique to being human.” Bandhas are “locks” and refer to internal engagements used to seal sections of the body in order to control the flow of prāņā. The three major bandhas referred to in the text are the same engagements I encourage when I tell people to “zip up” and engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominal cavity (mūla bandha), the mid and upper abdominal cavity (uḍḍīyana bandha), and the throat (jālandhara bandha). I typically refer to a fourth – pada bandha – which is a seal for the feet; however, in classical texts the fourth bandha is the engagement of the three major bandhas (root, abdominal, and throat) at the same time.

Before anyone gets it twisted, let’s be clear that this introduction is not advice to grab a book and follow instructions without the guidance of a teacher. In fact, Pancham Sinh specifically advised people to find a teacher who practiced and indicated that while one could follow the directions from a (sacred) book, there are some things that cannot be expressed in words. There are some things that can only be felt.

This is consistent with Patanjali’s explanation that the elements and senses that make up the “objective world” can be “divided into four categories: specific, unspecific, barely describable, and absolutely indescribable.” (YS 2.19) That is to say, there are some things that have specific sense-related reference points; some things that can be referred back to the senses, but only on a personal level; some things that have no reference points, but can be understood through “a sign” or comprehension of sacred text; and some things which cannot be described, because there is no tangible reference point and/or “sign” – there is only essence.

One of the things we can feel, but not touch, is emotion. Emotions can come with visceral experiences and, in that way, can fall into the “unspecific” category. More often than not, however, what we feel is “barely describable” (or even indescribable) – and yet, writers are always trying to describe or capture the essence of what is felt. As the author of nine novels (including one published shortly after her death), five short story collections (most of which were published after her death), a hybrid novel (part fiction, part non-fiction), three book-length essays, a biography, and hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays, Virginia Woolf constantly endeavored to describe what she felt and what she felt she saw others feeling. Even more salient, she often focused on the disconnection between what her characters felt and what they could describe about what they felt.

The author’s efforts were hindered, or aided (depending on one’s viewpoint), by the fact that she experienced so much trauma and heartbreak; much of which led to emotional despair. She was possibly (probably) abused by one of her half-brothers from an early age. Then she suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 13, after her mother died. Then she had to deal with the death of her half-sister and a maternal role model just two years later. When her father he died, in 1904, she had another breakdown, the severity of which landed her in the country for a period of convalescence. It was during this period that she began to write in earnest (even though the doctors had recommended that she only write letters) and that she would meet Leonard Woolf, the author whom she would marry in 1912. The writing helped, in that she seemed to find some mental and emotional stability for about 15 years. But, she would experience another breakdown after correcting the proofs of her first novel, The Voyage Out. The novel was published by her half-brother’s publishing company (yes, that aforementioned half-brother) and introduced the world to “Clarissa Dalloway,” the protagonist of her fourth novel.

“evaṃ vidhe maṭhe sthitvā sarva-chintā-vivarjitaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa yoghameva samabhyaset || 14 ||

Having seated in such a room and free from all anxieties, he should practise [sic] Yoga, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

– quoted from The Hours: a novel by Michael Cunningham

It is interesting to me that while the instruction for the Haţha Yoga Pradipika instructed a person to practice when they were “free from…disturbances of all kinds” (HYP 1.12); “free from dirt, filth and insects” (HYP 1.13); and “free from all anxieties” (HYP 1.14), the vast majority of people practicing in the modern world do so in order to free themselves from the various maladies that plague them. Additionally, I find it interesting that historians, teachers of literature, and even psychiatrists spend a lot of time (theoretically) diagnosing a young woman (Virginia Woolf) who may have been experiencing (and working through) the most natural of emotions; natural, given her circumstances.

Were her emotions extreme and potentially dangerous? Yes, by all accounts – including her own words and her death – her emotions were extreme and dangerous; as were her circumstances. Initially, she was able to work through her distress because she had the support of those to whom she was connected. In the end, however, she was left alone and feeling disconnected.

The Air I Breathe, one of my favorite movies, was released in the United States Janaury 25, 2008. Inspired by the idea that emotions are like fingers on a hand, the main characters are known to the audience as Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers – and their stories are interconnected, even though they don’t necessarily realize it. In fact, some of the most desperate actions in the movie are motivated by fear and a sense of isolation. Promotional materials for the movie proclaimed, “We are all strangers / We are all living in fear / We are all ready to change” and in the movie Happiness asks, So where does change come from? And how do we recognize it when it happens?” Happiness also says, “I always wondered, when a butterfly leaves the safety of its cocoon, does it realize how beautiful it has become? or does it still just see itself as a caterpillar? I think both the statement and the questions could be applied to so many, if not all, of Virginia Woolf’s characters. They could also be applied to all of us in the world right now.

“‘For,’ the outsider will say, ‘in fact as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ And if, when reason has had its say, still some obstinate emotion remains, some love of England dropped into a child’s ears… this drop of pure, if irrational, emotion she will make serve her to give to England first what she desires of peace and freedom for the whole world.”

– quoted from the novel-essay “Three Guineas,” as it appears in The Selected Works of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf

As I have mentioned before, I consider the 8-Limbed Yoga Philosophy to have very real-time, practical applications and I normally think of the physical practice as an opportunity to practice, explore, and play with the various elements of the philosophy. I will even sometimes use aspects of alignment as a metaphor for situations in our lives off the mat. Given this last year the last few years, however, I have really started to consider how āsana instructions from classic texts like The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali and the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, can be more practically applied to the most basic aspects of everyday life.

  • For instance, if we spend our time on the mat cultivating a “steady/stable, comfortable/easy/joyful” foundation in order to breathe easier and more deeply, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time cultivating the same type of foundation in our lives?
  • Going out a little more, if we do not have the luxury or privilege of practicing “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully,” doesn’t it behoove us to create that land?
  • Finally, what happens if we (to paraphrase yoga sūtras 2.46-47) establish a baseline for stability and then loosen up a little bit and focus on the infinite? Patanjali and the authors of the other sacred texts told us we would become more of who we are: leaner in body, healthier, brighter, more joyful, “clearer, stronger, and more intuitive.” In other words: peaceful and blissful.

“lōkāḥ samastāḥ sukhinōbhavantu”

– A mettā (loving-kindness) chant that translates to “May all-beings, everywhere, be happy and be free.”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“vapuḥ kṝśatvaṃ vadane prasannatā
nāda-sphuṭatvaṃ nayane sunirmale |
aroghatā bindu-jayo|aghni-dīpanaṃ
nāḍī-viśuddhirhaṭha-siddhi-lakṣhaṇam || 78 ||

When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, Anâhatanâda manifests, and eyes are clear, body is healthy, bindu under control, and appetite increases, then one should know that the Nâdîs are purified and success in Haṭha Yoga is approaching.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“Realize that there is freedom in telling your story and that there is power in your words.”

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– quoted from the November 2018 TedxDelthorneWomen talk entitled, “Change Your Perspective and Change Your Story” by Dr. Toya Webb 

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### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTHI OM ###

For Those Who Missed It: Appreciate the Power by Using the Power, Wisely December 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Vairagya, 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 meaningful observation if your focus is on the Innocents.]

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. Class details have been updated.

 

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al (August 1962)

 

I can’t help it. I’m sorry (not sorry), but I. Just. Can’t. Help. It! When I think of responsibility one of the first things that pops into my head is that famous line from the 1962 introduction of Spiderman. Then I start thinking about Stan Lee…

Born today in 1922 (as Stanley Lieber), Stan Lee did not invent the phrase or the sentiment many associate with Peter Parker and his uncle Ben Parker. He did, however, make it wildly popular and combined it with the awareness that everyone can do something to help alleviate the struggles and suffering of others. After all, for the most part, Lee’s characters in the Marvel Universe were not and are not (initially or typically) perfect alien humanoids without a care in the world. They were not sent to Earth to save humankind. No, they were making their home a better place.

And, Lee’s characters were just like his readers: people with very human fears, flaws and insecurities; people with bad tempers, impatience, fits of melancholy and vanity; people who bickered, worried about paying their bills, worried about impressing a love interest; and people who got bored or even sick. They were people – like the Fantastic Four (1961), Spiderman (1962), X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, the Avengers (1963), and Black Panther (1966) – who had to reconcile their abilities, their sometimes suddenly discovered powers, with all the need in the world… and the fact that people often thought they were freaks … and the fact that they couldn’t always solve every problem. But, neither, could they look away.

We are all able to do something. Sometimes we think what we are able to do is not much – which can be a self defeating attitude. Sometimes that attitude comes from not think about people who are not able (physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or energetically) to do what we can do. Nor do we always think about the importance of doing things the special way we do them. In neglecting to appreciate what we have to offer, we run the risk of missing an opportunity to make the world a better place.

“‘Nevermore shall men make slaves of others! Not in Asgard — not on Earth — not any place where the hammer of Thor can be swung — or where men of good faith hold freedom dear!’”

 

– quoted from the end panel of “Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: Trapped by the Trolls” in Journey Into Mystery Volume I, with the Mighty Thor #108 (1964) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Art Simek, et al (1964)

Ultimately, each Marvel character is charged with doing “what they can, as much as they can, for as long as they can” in order to help the people around them. While that description fits two of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, today I’m mostly going to focus on today’s principle, the third principle; 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. Ujima is connected to the first green candle on the kinara (special candelabra), which is a symbol of the future and prompts celebrants to consider a future free of some of our current struggles, suffering, and plights.

We may not be able to travel through time and change the future like Dr. Strange, Rina Patel, or Iron Lad, but each of us has the power to consider cause-and-effect. We can take a look at how our past actions are reflected in our current circumstances and how our actions in this moment are the seeds that blossom into “tomorrow’s” circumstances. In fact, in the Yoga tradition such abilities are included in a list of siddhis, supernormal “powers” or abilities.

Some siddhis very much seem like Marvel Universe powers or Jedi Knight Tricks. However, there are six that are described as being “powers unique to being human.” We not only find these specifically human powers (as described in the Sāmkhya Karika) in every Marvel comic book, we find them in every one of ourselves:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., intuitive knowledge);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

In addition to being the Stan Lee’s birthday and the third day of Kwanzaa, today corresponds with the third or fourth day of the “12 Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); and “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Finally, as many Christians (and in particular Catholics) observe these days between  Christmas and Epiphany as “fast free days,” I will mention that one of the feast days associated with today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas or Innocents Day. This is a day devoted to the remembrance of young children killed in Bethlehem when King Herod the Great learned that the Magi, at the suggestion of an angel, had tricked him and would not lead him back to the newborn Jesus. This day (today in Western Christianity, but December 29th in some Eastern traditions) has been observed as a fast day and was even, at one time, associated with practices considered a mockery of the faith and religion. However, today some consider it a day for children to be children… and do the things that children do (especially when they do not fear persecution, oppression, hunger, famine, or disease).

“All six of these stories – nearly half the stories in the book – speak to me of a longing in our human condition, a desire for more life (either here or in the hereafter) or a desire to turn regrets around to something joyous….

 

None of the characters in this collection are more powerful than a locomotive, none are faster than a speeding bullet, but what they are able to do, I believe, reveals something of our desires, something of our humanity – the best and worst in us.”

 

– quoted from the introduction to able to…: a literary look at super powers by…, edited by Neil Ellis Orts

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 28th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me 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

### You’ve Got the Power! ###

The Power and Responsibility of Cultivating a Good Heart (the Wednesday post) November 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, November 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“You can read about [other] countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

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“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly.”

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

Some of the word’s and sentiments from Sunday’s class have really resonated with me this week. What has stuck the most are Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s lessons on friendship and, in particular, friendship that transcends the trivialities we often cycle as adults. Obviously, being an extrovert and (presumably) a parrot, I’m big on friendships and being in community – all of which I have found especially priceless throughout my lifetime of moving around and during the pandemic – and this is not the first time I’ve focused on friendship. Still, this week’s focus keeps coming back to friendship because Indian philosophies identify it is one of the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) unique to being human.

As you may recall, the philosophy of yoga is one of six major Indian philosophies or darśana in Sanskrit, which means “point of view” or “ways to see.” One of the other six philosophies is Sankhya (or Sāṁkhya), which is the one most closely related to Yoga. Sankhya is the oldest Indian philosophy and focuses on the way in which one thinks/reasons and understands purusha (“pure consciousness”) and prakriti (unmanifested, primordial “matter”), and how everything and everyone manifests/exists as a result of these two elements combining with the forces of three “energies” (gunas) inherent in matter.

Yoga and Sankhya are so closely related that certain philosophical question arise at all times: (Once you are aware of yourself, doing whatever you are doing) are you practicing yoga or sankhya? And is there a non-subjective way to measure, qualify, or quantify the degree to which you are doing one versus the other? For that matter, is there a non-subjective way to measure the interior movements of the heart and how practicing can shake us to our core?

In an 1881 British translation of Ishvara Krishna’s Sāṁkhya Kārikā, one of the earliest surviving texts from this foundational philosophy, eight “perfections (or means of acquiring perfection)” are translated as  “the proper use of reasoning, word or oral instruction, study or reading, the suppression of the three kinds of pain, acquisition of friends and liberality.” Similar to commentary for Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it is noted that these achievements can also be “checks” as well as obstructions or hinderances – meaning that the ability to engage these “powers” is a sign of good and balanced vitality, but focusing only on achieving these goals can also become an obstacle to overall enlightenment and/or an end to all suffering. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, of the Himalayan Institute, combines the middle siddhis; refers to them as “the powers and privileges unique to humans;” and explains them as follows:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., “’knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge’”);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

We can debate whether or not humans are the only beings on the planet capable of these abilities, but I think our time is better spent considering the immense power of this siddhis… and the great responsibility that comes with these great powers.

“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

As I mention on his birthday, the 14th Dalai Lama was selected as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet at 2 years old;  publicly presented at 4 years old; and assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5. On November 17, 1950, at the age of 15, he assumed his full political duties. Think about all that power and responsibility… in the hands, head, and heart of a 15 year old! Then add in the fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had invaded Tibet at the end of 1949, just a few months before His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 15th birthday. And, sure, he hadn’t reached his majority – so there was a regent, his guardian Ngawang Sungrab Thutob, acting as the head of the Tibetan Government – but the Dalai Lama still carried the weight of the nation’s future.

Four years later, in November of 1954 the Dalai Lama was several months into a visit to China, during which he engaged in peace talks with Chairman Mao (Zedong) and other Chinese officials. Two years later, in November of 1956, the 21-year old holding the highest spiritual title in Tibetan Buddhism was visiting India in preparation for the Buddha’s 2,500th birthday celebration. He was forced to flee his homeland at the age of 23, but still continued to serve as the leader of his people. He still taught the lessons of the Buddha: that there is suffering and there is a way to end suffering.

As a refugee, the 14th Dalai Lama saw a need an opportunity to speak to the world. After several years traveling and teaching throughout, he made his first visit to the West. From September to November of 1973, he spoke in Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Austria. In those moments abroad, he spoke on things that would become a reoccurring theme in his teachings to the world, reoccurring themes in his gifts to the world: the purpose of life and matters of the heart.

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

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“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. The great changes that are taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we believe (or don’t believe) I think we could all benefit from walking a mile (or more) in someone else’s shoes. Long before modern scientists started researching and recommending various forms of role playing to cultivate empathy and cope with trauma, ancient philosophies like Yoga and religions like Roman Catholicism prescribed self-study and contemplation, respectively. Both svādhyāya, the fourth internal “observation” in Yoga, and contemplation in Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, are practices that involve putting one’s self in the situations of historical and spiritually significant figures. The thing is, these figures were just people in their own times. We can consider them extraordinary people and we can say that they lived in extraordinary times. And they really did. But, also, they and their times were just extra ordinary – no more and no less extraordinary than our times will appear to people decades and eons in the future.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; when we consider their experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds; and when we consider all the things that lead them to think, say, and do the things they think, say, and do, we are doing the same work a method actor (or dancer) does to get into a role. Konstantin Stanislavski developed the physically grounded rehearsal process officially known as “The Method of Physical Action” and most commonly known as “The Method” or Method Acting. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the method and many of those misconceptions stem from disagreements between Lee Strasberg (who was born Israel Lee Strassberg on November 17, 1901) and Stella Adler.  

Mr. Strasberg is remembered as the “father of method acting in America;” Ms. Adler has been called “the mother of modern acting;” and those misconceptions… they’re what happens when people get divorced and think that their former partner is the worst parent on the planet.

For example, some people think the method is all about a performer becoming so indistinguishable from their character that if their character is a jerk then they are a jerk to everyone around them – which is false (and super obnoxious, not to mention abusive). Some people don’t really understand the concept of “affective memory,” which is basically taping into the embodied experience one associates with a memory (that, it is recommended, is 7 or more years in the past) in order to deliver an authentic performance. People that misunderstand (and/or disapprove) of “affective memory” think it is all about trauma – which is false (and is a misunderstanding that can be dangerous).  As David Lee Strasberg has explained, “[The Method is about] behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” It’s about deep-rooted self-awareness and using that self-awareness to harness the embodied power of past experiences. It’s about sensation.

I often say, “sensation, that’s the information,” and emphasize that sensation is the way the mind-body-spirit communicates. In reality, sensation is the ultimate information. And the way we feel actually allows us to communicate with ourselves and with other people – even people who speak languages that are foreign to us. Sensation, the way something makes us feel, is the reason we respond to music, art, and dance. It’s part of the reason we get caught up in sports, as well as movies, plays, and TV shows in languages we don’t speak or read. It’s also why we respond to a smile.

What if all that it took to save our lives
Together was to rise up

What if I had your heart
What if you wore my scars
How would we break down (Break down)
What if I were you

What if I told your lies
What if you cried with my eyes
Could anyone keep us down
What if you were me
What if I were you

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– quoted from the song What If” by Five for Fighting

What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we belong to each other. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we all deserve love and freedom from suffering. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we’re all only human. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught to do the best we can and that others are going to do the best they can. Can you imagine? 

You may call me a dreamer, but can you imagine if we all showed up like children on their best days? That doesn’t mean that we don’t have bad days or that we don’t disagree or that we won’t be misunderstood. Neither does it mean that we suddenly, magically, all become the same on the outside. What it does mean is that life is better when we come together. What it does mean is that we are at our best when we recognize our (individual and collective) strengths and weakness and use that awareness to create balance and stability. It means we meet each day and we meet each other in a friendly way. We say, “Let’s play, let’s learn, let’s grow – together.”

I didn’t just make those things up. Those are all lessons that are in the world. They are all lessons I have been taught by people like Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Rag’n’Bone Man, my dharma buddy Stacy, John Lennon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nina Simone, Michael Franti, Patanjali, the “Dolly Lama,” and the 14th Dalai Lama (just to name a few).

Can you imagine if we were all taught such things?

“One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there to simply make you more clever, make you more ingenious. Sometimes it even seems as if those who are not highly educated, those who are less sophisticated in terms of their educational training, are more innocent and more honest. Even though our society does not emphasize this, the most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama quoted from “Chapter 3 – Training the Mind for Happiness” in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: There’s a message on the YouTube playlist that is not available on Spotify, so I substituted a prayer. You can find the message here.

“So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart – a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Dylan B. Raines left a lovely comment related to the Dalai Lama on the music post for this practice. You can find out what Dylan’s contemplating by clicking here.

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

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“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

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– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

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NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on Wednesday, November 24th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

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The Power and Responsibility of Cultivating a Good Heart (mostly the music w/*UPDATED& link) November 17, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Peace, Philosophy, Wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

Please join me today (Wednesday, November 17th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: There’s a message on the YouTube playlist that is not available on Spotify, so I substituted a prayer.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

 

You can find this year’s blog post here.

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### Suhrit-prapti ###