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Having A Say, redux (the “missing” post) November 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Hope, Life, Meditation, Men, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, November 11th. Some passages were previously posted. 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.)

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Almost every January, I ask the question “What is a woman?” Then, at various times throughtout the year, I offer different lives and perspectives that could be considered as answers. But, whenever I address the issue, I recognize that the “controversial” question Simone de Beauvoir posed in 1949, is no less controversial today. In fact, it can seem more controversial today, because it is often used as a “gotcha” question asked by people who have vastly different intentions than Simone de Beauvoir. Remember, she was asking and addressing the question for philosophical insight. And, here I am doing the same.

I know, I know, I’m just asking for trouble here, but please consider a couple of things before moving forward. First, as I just mentioned, this is not the first time – in class or on the blog – that I’ve referenced what it means to be a woman. Second, I’m referencing it here in relation to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. Specifically, I’m referencing the meaning of the word “woman” – or “women,” “wimmin,” “womyn,” “womban,” “womon,” and “womxn” – in relation to Yoga Sūtra 3.17, which indicates that “By making samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are ordinarily confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living beings.” [NOTE: “one’s reaction to it” is sometimes translated as “knowledge of it.”]

I absolutely could use a less “controversial” word – as other teachers do. I’ve heard a teacher reference a pencil and another teacher (Vyasa, perhaps) used a cow. In class, I actually cited Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition, who used the example of a table in his commentary on the sūtras. Those are all great examples, simple examples; because, if you know English (assuming you are reading this text in it’s original language), the sight/sound of each of those words is associated with specific objects, which immediately come to mind. If you don’t know a word, it is meaningless to you. Nothing comes to mind or you think of something that feels off, not quite right. But, you don’t know the word, so you need more information.

On the flip side, you can know the word and still need more information, because your perception of what I mean may not be the same as mine. We may not have the same object(s) in mind. However, by using our supernormal power of words, we can come to an agreement about the qualities that make up the concept that exists in the world (i.e., the pencil-ness, cow-ness, and/or table-ness of the thing). In other words, we can go deeper into our understanding of what makes something what we perceive/understand it to be.

While it seems like people have been going deeper into our understanding of what it means to be a woman since the dawn of time (or, at the very least, since recorded history), there’s always the possibility — not to mention the fear — that someone will completely miss the point.

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow in our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep to oursleves along, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.

quoted from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention (and birthday celebration for Susan B. Anthony), February 18, 1890

If we just stick with modern (Western) history, the question of what it means to be a woman is a question that contains multitudes. For instance, when we talk about Miss Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, the question becomes about their vocations. In a conversation about Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Oliver, the question becomes about upbringing and sex(uality). For Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zitkála-Šá, as well as for Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Erdrich, Nikki Giovanni, and so many others, the question becomes about culture, race, and behavior (including sex and sexuality). Then the conversation turns to health and well-being, especially mental health, when we focus on Bertha Pappenheim (“Anna O”). We can easily pickup all of those threads if we are discussion Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, or Ntozake Shange, because their lives prove that the question of what it means to be a woman is always about all of those things – and also about rights and responsibilities. We can start our conversation about what the word means, to us and to others, at any one of those intersecting points. However, since Saturday was the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, let’s start with the issue of rights and responsibilities.

Born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist, abolitionist, and suffragist. While she was one of the most influential leaders of the women’s rights movement, she does not fit the stereotypical image of a “women’s liber” or a “man-hating feminist.” She was, for example, no Susan B. Anthony. However, one could argue that there would have been no Susan B. Anthony — as she is remembered today — without Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While their backgrounds and life choices were different, they were united in their quest for equal rights.

“If I were to draw up a set of rules for the guidance of reformers, such as Franklin and other celebrities tell us they did for their own use, I should put at the head of the list: Do all you can, no matter what, to get people to think on your reform, and then, if your reform is good, it will come about in due season.”

– quoted from a diary entry dated “Cleveland, August 20 [1888]” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (as published in Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letterz, Diary and Reminiscences, Edited by Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Volume Two])

Elizabeth Cady grew up in a wealthy family with a conservative lawyer for a father (Daniel Cady) and and a very progressive abolitionist mother (Margaret Livingston Cady). Some biographers say that the Cady family had servants, at least three of whom were African American. At least one of those “servants” (Peter Teabout) was actually enslaved and it was in his company that she and her sisters sometimes attended church. 

It seems that it was just her and her sisters that sat in the back pews of the church. While she was the seventh of eleven children, six of her siblings, including all of her brothers, died before reaching adulthood. Her last brother died when she was around ten and she responded to her parents’ grief by stating that she would live the lives her brothers would not get a chance to live. Her father’s response, that he wished she were a boy, was the first time she felt there was a difference between her sisters and her brothers. 

Despite the perceived difference between the siblings, Elizabeth Cady was well-educated — for a girl of her time — and received high marks and recognition in her advanced classes. She even convinced her father to send her to Troy Female Seminary, where she became actively interested in the abolitionist movement. It was through the seminary and the abolitionis movement that she and befriended Frederick Douglass. It was also the way she met her greatest collaborators in life: Henry Brewster Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

“This can already be seen in the different reception given a new citizen of the world. If the father or someone else asked what ‘it’ was after a successful birth, the answer might be either the satisfied report of a boy, or—with pronounced sympathy for the disappointment— ‘Nothing, a girl,’ or ‘Only a girl.’”

– Bertha Pappenheim (b. 02/27/1859) as quoted in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Koultun

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (b. 01/09/1908)

Elizabeth Cady and Henrey Brewster Stanton met at the home of her  first cousin, Gerrit Smith (son of her maternal aunt), who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and one of the “Secret Six,” who funded John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, which initiated the revolt that was a prelude to the Civil War. At the time that they met, Henry Brewster Stanton was an attorny, abolitionist, and social reformer, who would go on to become a journalist and politician. Some say his support of the suffragist movement was tangential, but no one can argue that it was instrumental. It was instrumental on many levels, including the fact that he unconditionally supported his wife.

When they married in 1840, the couple omitted the word “obey” from their vows — which was a common Quaker tradition, although neither of them were Quakers. Elizabeth Cady took her husband’s surname, but she was never known simply as “Mrs. Henry B. Stanton;” she was always, in some way, recognized as “Cady Stanton.” But the exclusion or inclusion of a single word, did not diminish the couples union. Nor did it diminish her role in the household.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she recognized that healthy women had similar desires as healthy men; believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships; and proclaimed a man’s “drunkeness” as grounds for divorce (or, at the very least, abstinance). She also belived that a woman should absolutely have dominion over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. 

Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. While Henry Brewster Stanton traveled ten months out of the year in the 1850’s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” However, her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive. Whenever the family moved, they set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and the women figured out the best way to work towards their goals: 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote; Susan B. Anthony organized and spoke.

“Eventually Anthony supplanted Henry in Elizabeth’s affections. Both Henry and Susan moved in and out of her life and her household, but overall, Stanton probably spent more hours and days with Anthony than any other adult.”

– quoted from the “Methodological Note: Stanton in Psychological Perspective” section of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elisabeth Griffith

The collaboration between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not restricted to speeches. They co-founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society – after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was female – and the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863. The league, which used different iterations of the name, was specifically formed to lobby for the abolition of slavery. At one time they collected almost 40,000 signatures in support of abolition, which was the largest petition drive in United States history at that time. They also initiated the American Equal Rights Association (1866) and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).

On January 8, 1868, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started publishing the weekly paper The Revolution. The paper’s motto was “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In addition to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, the paper covered general politics, the labor movement, and finance. Ms. Anthony ran the business end of things. Mrs. Cady Stanton co-edited the newspaper with the abolitionist minister Parker Pillsbury. The initially received funding from the transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train – who shared their views on women’s rights, but not on abolition – but eventually transferred control of the paper to the wealthy writer and activist Laura Curtis Bullard, who toned “the revolution” down a bit.

The ladies that started it, however, did not tone down at all.

“He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies, which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.”

 

quoted from the The Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with Mary Ann M’Clintock

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was actively engaged in the fight for civil rights long before meeting Susan B. Anthony. Along with Lucretia Coffin Mott and Martha Coffin Wright, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention organized by women and was the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Frederick Douglass’s name on the Declaration of Sentiments was not an accident or random happenstance. He and Mrs. Cady Stanton met early in her crusade for universal suffrage and he was one of her staunch supporters during the Seneca Falls Convention. In fact, some historians note that it was his very vocal support that led to the acceptance of the Declaration. While his support for women’s suffrage did not wane, he, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony (with whom he would also eventually befriend) did temporarily break away from each other when the issue of suffrage was divided over race and gender. He also called out E. Cady Stanton for using racist terms about Black and Asian men, when it looked like they might get the vote before (white) women. 

That divide between the three friends is a great way to highlight the fact that the fight for voting rights has always marginalized already marginalized people. It has asked people to define themselves as one thing over the other. This, as many scholars have pointed out, is not something straight, white, Christian males in America have historically had to do. They can just be “men” and everything else is understood as a foregone conclusion.

Marginalized people, however, have had to “pick one” all the time. This was especially true in the 19th century, when the presence of Black women was desired by both sides of the suffrage movement. Yet, to deny one side of themselves meant that they could be excluded from voting; either because they were Black… or because they were a woman.

Susan B. Anthony forced this issue into the courts when she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, in 1872. She was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted during the very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial (United States v. Susan B. Anthony). The case hinged on the definition of a citizen (as it related to the 14th Amendment) and the definition of a woman. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

It’s unclear how, exactly, they determined that she was a woman on the date in question.

“U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Can I provide a definition? [Senator Blackburn confirms.] No. I can’t.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): You can’t?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): So, you believe the word ‘woman’ is so unclear and controversial that you can’t give me a definition?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Senator, in my work as a judge, what I do is, I address disputes. If there is a dispute about a definition, people make arguments and I look at the law and I decide….”

– quoted from the confirmation hearing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ketanji Brown Jackson (Tuesday, March 22, 2022)

Fast forward to the 21st century, where Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Janelle Monet sing lyrics that seem to be lifted directly from the Declaration of Sentiments or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s diary – and to that moment when then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was being interviewed to be the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. Fast forward to that moment, when two very different women faced the question about the definition (the meaning) of the word woman.

When I heard Senator Marsha Blackburn’s question, I heard it as so many people heard it: as that “gotcha” question some people like to ask these days. I also heard it, as so many others have heard it throughout history, as a pick-a-side question. The sides might be defined in different ways now, versus in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it still marginalizes people who are already marginalized. What I did not hear was a question asked with a sincere interest in the inquiry. What I did not hear was a question posed with an interest in how any of us decides on our answers.

Many people, Senator Blackburn included, have said that Supreme Court Justice Brown Jackson did not answer the question. Others have pointed out that she absolutely answered the question – she just didn’t answer the question with either/any of the answers they wanted to hear. It doesn’t help that many media outlets only reported a portion of her answer. In fact, most major outlets only quoted her as saying, “I’m not a biologist.” 

Which, I think we can all agree is true.

I also think, though, that the issue isn’t whether or not Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a biologist. And, despite the way the exchange was reported, the issue isn’t even whether or not being a biologist is relevant. The relevant part,in that case, was how a judge, or justice, defines things (i.e., words) as it relates to the law and specific contexts related to the law. As then-Judge Brown Jackson pointed out, the role of judges, or justices, is to look at the differing definitions (when there is a dispute),the arguments behind the definitions, and the law. In other words, they focus-concentrate-meditate on the word, people’s understandings of the word, and the related (or relevant) qualities (as they apply to the law).

Take a moment, to think apply the tool of samyama to the word “woman” (or any of the other aforementioned variations of the theme)*:

  • What, or who, comes to mind? 

  • What’s your “standard” for a woman? 

  • How many women do you know that don’t fit your exact standard? 

  • What are the overlapping qualities that apply to your “standard” and also to those outside of your standard?

  • How do you know you know if someone has those overlapping qualities?

*NOTE: This is a deliberately simple rubric, so that you can decide on attributes. If your only attribute is “sex/female,” you could skip the first two questions or you could layout a biological definition of female.

Yoga Sūtra 3.35: hṛdaye cittasaṃvit

– “By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the contents of the mind.”

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: YouTube features several extra videos that are not available on Spotify. Some are speeches worth hearing. Some are music videos worth seeing. To make up the difference, the Spotify playlist has its own Easter egg.

ERRATA: The original post linked to the wrong YouTube playlist. My apologies for the inconvenience.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas (b. 08/03/1902)

### LET’S GET LOUD ~JL ###

Nom de Destiné, Part “Deux” (mostly the music w/ a link) January 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

*

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, January 9th) 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 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01102021 Being, The Habit”]

Click here for 2021 post related to this date.

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.)

### 🎶 ###

Who Is Minding the Store? (the Saturday post) January 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 9th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

 

“Man’s unhappiness, says Descartes, is due to his having first been a child. And indeed the unfortunate choices which most men make can only be explained by the fact that they have taken place on the basis of childhood. The child’s situation is characterized by his finding himself cast into a universe which he has not helped to establish, which has been fashioned without him, and which appears to him as an absolute to which he can only submit. In his eyes, human inventions, words, customs, and values are given facts, as inevitable as the sky and the trees….

 

From childhood on, flaws begin to be revealed in it. With astonishment, revolt and disrespect the child little by little asks himself, ‘Why must I act that way? What good is it? And what will happen if I act in another way?’ He discovers his subjectivity; he discovers that of others. And when he arrives at the age of adolescence he begins to vacillate because he notices the contradictions among adults as well as their hesitations and weakness. Men stop appearing as if they were gods, and at the same time the adolescent discovers the human character of the reality about him. Language, customs, ethics, and values have their source in these uncertain creatures. The moment has come when he too is going to be called upon to participate in their operation; his acts weigh upon the earth as much as those of other men. He will have to choose and decide. It is comprehensible that it is hard for him to live this moment of his history, and this is doubtless the deepest reason for the crisis of adolescence; the individual must at last assume his subjectivity.”

 

– quoted from “II. Personal Freedom and Others” in The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

 

“What is an adult? A child blown up by age.”

 

– quoted from The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Do you ever take note of yourself? In particular, do you take note of who you are and what you are all about – and how you got in the habit of being you? That last part may seem weird, because you’re thinking that you just are you and that being you is a state, not a habit. However, philosophically speaking, we become who we are – more and more, every day – and, as we become who we are we less and less likely to deviate from a certain pattern of behavior. In other words, who we are in this moment is a habit.

Simone de Beauvoir, born today in 1908, was (along with her longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre) one of the founders of existentialism; the philosophical and literary idea that freedom and the expression of personal freedom should be the foundation of and motivation for everything. Despite the fact that the couple, individually and collectively, sought to define themselves regardless of social conventions, there was a point when de Beauvoir had not considered how her sex and gender (and people’s ideas around her sex and gender) limited her freedom of being. In fact, she specifically told Sartre that she had not experienced any oppression or marginalization because she was a woman. (A comment I always find astonishing since one of the reasons the couple didn’t marry was because she had no dowry and said that made marriage “impossible.”)

Sartre basically told de Beauvoir to go deeper, and she did. The result of that deep dive was The Second Sex.

Published in 1949, the two volumes of The Second Sex (Facts and Myths and Lived Experience) provided a history of the treatment of women; made a distinction between biological sex and socially-constructed gender; and became the foundation for modern feminist theory – although its author was reluctant to call herself a feminist. One of the bottom lines from The Second Sex is that men (and in particular in certain cultures, white men) are seen by society as the “norm” and that everyone (and everything associated with everyone) else falls is defined (on a scale beneath men) in a way that “Others,” fetishizes, and demeans them. Additionally, she pointed out that to deviate from the “norm” and the resulting hierarchy can be detrimental.  

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

 

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

 

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

 

We may think nothing of the way we think and the way our brain process stimuli, until there is a problem – a fracture in our understanding of “reality” – or we engage in a contemplative practice that requires us to question everything; including the way we think. The Yoga Philosophy continuously asks us to question… everything. As we must understand our selves and the way our mind understands the world (through the senses), the 8-limbed philosophy explores how everything we think, say, do, and experience creates a mental/psychological impression (samskara) through which we filter the next thing we think, say, do, and experience. We also look at how we repeat this pattern throughout every moment of our lives and how, unless we take note and do something to lift the “veil of impressions,” we become who we are because we are hardwiring ourselves to be a certain way.

Another way to think of this is purely neurological. Every time we do something new (so, everything we think, say, do, and experience) a neural pathway is created in the brain – a pathway that gets hardwired as we repeat a thought, word, deed, or experience. This is how habits are formed – whether it is the habit of eating or not eating certain food; drinking or otherwise imbibing to excess (or not at all); working out (or not); working 80 hours a week; procrastinating; not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much…. The list goes on, because once we repeat a behavior enough times, we do it without thought or consideration. And, when you think about it, this is how we become who are; who we are in the habit of being.

“Stendhal said: ‘All the geniuses who are born women are lost to the public good.’ To tell the truth, one is not born a genius: one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”

 

– quoted from “Part II – History: Chapter VIII. Since the French Revolution: The Job and the Vote” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

 

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

Using Simone de Beauvoir as an example, consider how her understanding of the world (as she had been taught as a child) meant that her lack of dowry prevented her from getting married. Yet, that same lack of dowry (that prevented her from getting married) allowed her to study an academic discipline she may not have been able to study had she been married with children. At some point and on some level, she decided to focus on the freedom she “gained” from not being married rather than on the limitations society placed on her because her family wasn’t wealthy. Freedom and expression of that freedom became everything! At various points throughout her life, there were situations (of oppression) that she was in the habit of ignoring, because she was in the habit (as her father said) of thinking “like a man” and acting accordingly.**

In some ways, the explanations above are overly simplified, because they barely touch all the layers. The reality is that all of our experiences are based around external sensations (whereby we receive information about an object through our sense organs) and the internal processing of these sensations (which is a mental engagement). Yoga looks at five senses, plus the mind: smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing, and thinking. These senses are physically and mentally (neurologically) tied to a sense organ; to the mind; and, also, symbolically and energetically tied to a chakra. That chakra connection means that each sense is also associated to a part of the body that is not directly (physically) connected to the sense organ. Additionally, each sense is tied to an action: eliminating, (pro)creating, moving, grasping/holding, speaking, and thinking. When Patanjali explains the practice and experience of pratyāhāra (which is literally defined as “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point”), he specifically mentions indriyāņām, which are the 5 expressions of the physical-mental sense organ engagement and the 5 expressions of the corresponding action – with thinking sometimes ranking as an 11th indriya.

To get the real “big picture” we must also factor in our (emotionally) feelings about what we are sensing and thinking, as well as whether that emotion is rooted in the presence or (as is more often the case) rooted in the past. In the commentary for this week’s sūtra (2.55), Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, points out that there is a point in the (continued) practice when, “The joy engendered by this union [between mind and prana] engulfs the mind’s roaming tendencies. The cortex, which is the seat of the manas, the thinking mind, stops brooding on the future. This leads to freedom from anxiety. The amygdale, which is the seat of chitta, the storehouse of memories [and the processing point for decision-making and emotional responses], stops interacting with emotions associated with past issues. This leads to freedom from sorrow.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah

 

– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.55: tatah paramā vaśyatendriyāņām

 

– “From that [pratyahara] comes the highest level of mastery over senses

Think back to the classic analogy of the senses being wild horses*; the mind/brain being the reins; the body being the chariot; the mind/intellect being the charioteer; and the Atman-Self being the passenger along for the ride. Think about how every experience involves a variety of sense objects which will attract the attention of the horses. Think how, if not controlled, the horses keep pulling in the direction of the sense object each one finds most appealing. Chaos reigns.

And we fear the chaos.

Now, think about what happens if the horses have been trained (though experience) to know which way is “the barn” and that “the barn” equals whatever appeals to the senses. Now, you could drop the reins and the horses would all go to “the barn.” The only problem is they are still pulling in a different direction – just now you know why and where. This is a more controlled form of chaos, because now the senses and the brain are in the habit of doing certain things given certain information (stimuli) and conditions.

What if, however, “the barn” is not where you are going? Now, you have to struggle a bit, to keep the horses on course – especially since each horse may be pulling towards a different “barn.” Maybe you hold too tightly to the reins, especially when you notice you’re going in the “wrong” direction; and then you go nowhere fast. The alternative, according to Patanjali, is to intentionally train the senses by drawing them in – almost like an American football huddle.

 Remember, this is not about suppressing or repressing natural abilities. Neither is this about becoming so “numb” you are sleep walking through life. No, this is about training – and/or retraining – the mind-body to process sensation/information in different ways. It’s not about being reactive, it’s about being responsive. It’s not about improving your sight, but rather about improving your vision (of yourself and the world). It’s not about denying or suppressing reality, but rather about believing in yourself. And, ultimately, it is about being in the habit of being your best self.

The beauty of this practice is that while it is not magical, and doesn’t happen overnight, it does happen.

“To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object: a woman in love is neither asleep nor dead; there is a surge in her which unceasingly ebbs and flows: the ebb creates the spell that keeps desire alive.”

 

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter III. Sexual Initiation” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

*NOTE: I decided to stick with the tried and true wild horse and chariot analogy, rather than the store analogy referenced in the title.

**NOTE: Sometimes Simone de Beauvoir’s behavior was so much “like a man” that had she actually been a man, I might put her in the same category as President Richard Nixon, born today in 1913, and not every focused a class on her contributions. A double standard? In this case, yes.

“The new feminism is radical, by contrast. As in 1968, its watchword is: change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

 

– quoted from After the Second Sex: Conversations with Simone de Beauvoir by Alice Schwarzer

 

### Riding with a Charioteer Named Purpose ###