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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 ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post related to the Monday, January 10th practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

*

### Get Into The Habit ###

The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Monday post about movement and expressions) February 23, 2021

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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Happy New Year! Many blessings to those observing Lent!

[This is the post for Monday, February 22nd. 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.

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 the center and its 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.]

“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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

NOTE: This is a “leftover” day for those celebrating the 15-day Spring Festivals. Some are finishing off literal leftovers. Some fathers are hosting their son-in-laws, but mostly people are getting ready for Day 15.

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

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