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Out of Our Worlds, redux (the “missing” Sunday post) November 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings to those observing Allhallowtide y Día de (los) Muertos!

This is a “missing” post for Sunday, October 30th. You can request an audio recording of a related 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.]


“Lt. Daniel Kaffee (portrayed by Tom Cruise): I want the truth!
Col. Nathan R. Jessup (portrayed by Jack Nicholson): YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

 

– quoted from the movie A Few Good Men, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner


How dedicated are you to seeking the truth? Actually, before you answer that, let’s establish how equipped you are at knowing the truth when you encounter it. How capable are you at recognizing the truth when you see it, hear it, and/or experience it? Most people might automatically say – or at least think – that they can easily tell the difference between something that is the truth and something that is not. But, is that even true?


Consider, for a moment, that our ability to identify the truth – and, therefore, our ability to identify what is not the truth – is predicated by how we feel and how we think (which is also partially based on how we feel). Additionally, how we feel and think is partially based on where we come from (i.e., where we started in life and how we were raised); the people that surround us (and who form our echo chamber); and how each of us feels about our self; as well as how we interact with the world and we find balance in the world. I often reference this paradigm when I talk about how the chakra system found in Yoga and Āyurveda can symbolically and energetically be a system through which we gain understanding about our lives and our lived experiences. It’s a system that allows us to see how things are connected and gain some insight about why, as Patanjali stated, we can only see/understand what our mind shows us:

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]


One way to look at Yoga Sūtra 2.20 is that the our subconscious and unconscious mind only shows us what it thinks we are ready to consciously comprehend – or at least consider. And, while all of the aforementioned elements play a part in what we are ready to comprehend or consider, there are times when how we feel, on a very visceral level, holds the heaviest weight.
For instance, let’s say you are deathly afraid of something and you think you are coming into contact with that something. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat and the emotion activates the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn prepares your whole being to do the thing(s) you need to do in order to survive. In that moment, when the the fight/flight/freeze (or collapse) response kicks in, it doesn’t matter if the threat is real: it only matters that the fear is real. And remember, there is some part of us that viscerally responds to fear of loss (especially as the result of a change in circumstances) in the same way we would respond to fear of physical death. So, the fear kicks in, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, and (for many people) that means our ability to know/comprehend the truth diminishes – especially if we are not actively dedicated to the pursuit of truth.


Classic texts from India philosophies often use the example of someone walking through the woods and seeing (what appears to be) a snake. The snake is humongous and appears to lying in the sun, directly in your path. If you have ophidiophobia and are deathly afraid of snakes, it may not matter that you also know giant snakes, like anacondas and pythons, are not indigenous to your region. You have no intention of getting a little closer – even in a mindfully safe way – to see if it really is a constricting snake. Similarly, it may not even occur to you to look through the binoculars hanging around your neck. After all, if there is one, there might be more, and you’re better off just fleeing the area.


According to sacred texts, however, the truth is that the “snake” is actually a giant hunk of rope. Of course, in this example, the way one feels and thinks, combined with one’s previous experiences and other factors (like if you are alone or with someone who also is afraid of snakes) means that you may never know the truth. Another example of this kind of phenomenon occurred on Mischief Night 1938.


“At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our mids as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regard this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth twentieth century came the great disillusionment.”

 

– quoted from “Book I: The Coming of the Martians – Chapter 1. The Eve of the War” in War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

“‘With infinite complacence, people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance or design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. In the 39th year of the 20th century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crossley service estimated that 32 million people were listening in on radios…'”

 

– quoted from Orson Welles introduction at the beginning of the radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds


On October 30, 1938, at 8 PM ET, The Mercury Theater on the Air started broadcasting its Halloween episode on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Radio and its affiliates. The show was a live radio series created and hosted by Orson Welles, who had recently turned 23 years old. Starting on July 11, 1938 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a company of actors had presented dramatizations of great novels, plays, and short stories accompanied by Bernard Hermann’s dramatic musical scores. The works selected were, by and large, already familiar to the people who tuned in. Maybe everyone hadn’t read all of Charles Dickens’s serialized novels or seen a production of John Drinkwater’s play about Abraham Lincoln, but the 1938 audience for sure knew about about A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, just as they knew about President Lincoln and his life. Similarly, people would have been familiar with the novel selected for the 17th episode of the radio show: H. G. Wells’s 1898 novel War of the Worlds, a story about Martians invading Earth.


Sunday newspapers ran charts of what was scheduled to air on any given day and, in this case, very clearly listed the title and author. The broadcast began, as those broadcasts typically did, with an announcement that the radio play was a fictional, dramatization of the novel – again, indicating title and author. Similar announcements were made, as the typically would be, before and after the intermission and at the end of the broadcast. In fact, at the end of the broadcast, Orson Welles even reinforced the idea that the broadcast had simply and innocently been a little bit of Halloween fun.


Alas, the announcements turned out to be like binoculars around a scared person’s neck. Some people apparently missed the first announcement. Maybe they were preoccupied, rushing to finish something before they sat down to listen. Maybe they were in the habit of listening first to The Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen, over on NBC Radio Network, and then flipping over to CBS during a musical interlude. Maybe they just weren’t paying attention because they were in the habit of tuning out the radio stations “commercials.” Either way, some people thought Martians really were invading. Others thought, given the timing, that the Germans were invading.


“Ham Radio Operator (portrayed by Frank Readick): 2X2L calling CQ, New York. Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there… anyone?


[SILENCE]


Radio Announcer, Dan Seymour: You are listening to a CBS presentation of Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre on the Air, in an original dramatization of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission. This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.”

 

– quoted from The Mercury Theater on the Air live radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds


It wouldn’t normally matter if someone missed the first announcement, ran to the bathroom during the intermission and missed the next two announcements, and also turned off the radio as soon as the final announcement was being made. Normally, there would be all kinds of clues to let the audience know they were listening to actors – who could be described as professional liars – creating a scenario that someone made up for their entertainment. Normally, they might hear the very words they had previously read about they favorite characters and scenarios and think, “Oh, this is my favorite part!” But, the broadcast on Mischief Night 1938 was not exactly normal.


One of the things that made the Mischief Night radio production different was that the adaptation by Howard Koch moved the alien invasion from the beginning of 20th century England to mid-20th century United States. Specifically, the radio play set the action in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, an unincorporated rural area in West Windsor Township. (NOTE: The townships total population on the 1940 census was 2,160 and Grovers Mill is a tiny portion of that.) Another change was that at the beginning of the novel, H. G. Wells kind of breaks the “fourth wall” and reminds readers that they are, in fact, reading… a book. The creators of the radio play actually went out of their way to reinforce the “fourth wall.”


A day and a half before the rehearsals began, Mr. Koch and his secretary Anne Froelick called the shows producer, John Houseman, to say that the adaptation wasn’t going to work. The three got together and reworked the script. Unfortunately, when Orson Welles heard a mock recording, he thought it was boring. He wanted the dramatization to sound like the evening news being interrupted by a “breaking news” report, complete with eyewitness accounts and remote correspondents.


Associate Producer Paul Stewart joined the original trio in another late night effort to re-work the script. The group added details to make the radio play more dramatic, more intense and more realistic. When the legal department reviewed the script, 2 days before the broadcast, they said it was too realistic and wanted some details tweaked and some deleted. Music and sound effects were added – and Orson Welles requested interlude music to be played in longer stretches, as if the station was stretching out the time in as they awaited more updates. All the change in format ended up meaning that the typical midway intermission break got pushed back a little; further convincing the audience that the broadcast was real news. Additionally, only the final act of the radio play sounded and felt like a radio play.


“Question: Were you aware of the terror such a broadcast would stir up?
Welles: Definitely not. The technique I used was not original with me. It was not even new. I anticipated nothing unusual.
Question: Should you have toned down the language of the drama?
Welles: No, you don’t play murder in soft words.
Question: Why was the story changed to put in names of American cities and government officers?
Welles: H. G. Wells used real cities in Europe, and to make the play more acceptable to American listeners we used real cities in America. Of course, I’m terribly sorry now.”

 

– quoted from the 1938 Halloween press conference regarding The Mercury Theater on the Air live radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds


According to John Houseman’s autobiography Run-Through: A Memoir, Executive Producer Davidson Taylor left the studio to take a phone call at 8:32 and returned at 8:36 – this was the first indication that something had gone wrong. They station was being ordered to halt the broadcast and announce, again, that it was all fake. They were so close to a break they decided to continue. Shortly thereafter, one of the actors noticed police officers arriving. More police officers followed, as well as radio attendants and executives. More phone calls came in. Journalists from actual news stations showed up and/or called the station and their affiliates.
When the actors left the The Mercury Theater on the Air actors left the theatre, they stood at the intersection known for the performing arts, 42nd and Broadway, and saw the headline ticker on the New York Times building proclaiming, “ORSON WELLES CAUSES PANIC.” They wouldn’t know, at the time, that an unrelated blackout in Washington state contributed to some people’s confusion. Neither could the know that Jack Paar, who would go on to host The Tonight Show and was the announcer for Cleveland’s CBS affiliate WGAR, was having a hard time convincing people that the show was just a Halloween “trick.” People were already convinced that they knew the actual truth – the aliens, or the Germans, were coming. Jack Paar, and anyone else who said otherwise, were all part of an elaborate cover-up.


“‘The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?'”

 

– Jack Paar, announcing for WGAR, October 30, 1938


Some people who have studied the events of October 30, 1938, have said that the journalists of the time exaggerated how many people were actually fooled and actually went into a panic. Some people have said that they degree to which “panic ensued” has become an urban myth. That, rather than millions, the number of people who actually thought the Martians, or Germans, were invading New Jersey (off all places) was a few hundred thousand… or maybe just a few thousand. Some people might even say that a post like this is part of the problem.


What no one disputes, however, is that some people did panic.


And, the truth is, I don’t know how much the number of people who were a little confused and/or who completely panicked matters. I’m not even sure I care if a (presumably) drunken resident of Grovers Mill shot at the water tower – that had been there all of his life – because he thought it was an Martian spaceship or if someone had to talk him out of shooting at the water tower. (That, again, had been there all of his life.) What’s important to me, in this moment, is how the human mind works and the fact that how it worked in 1938 is the way it works today, in 2022.


According to the Yoga Philosophy, suffering is caused by avidyā (“ignorance”), which is a afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras outlines different examples of avidyā and also explains that ignorance is the bedrock of the other four types of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking – including fear of loss/death. So, what’s important to me is that how we feel and think affects what we say and do and if what we feel and think leads us to untruths, we will say and do things that create suffering.


It’s easy to look at someone else, someone who believes something we “absolutely know is not true,” and pass judgement. It is easy to disparage their character and describe them in negative ways. It’s takes a little more effort to question why they believe what they believe what they believe; to go a little deeper. It takes even more effort to do a little svādhyāya (self-study) and question why we believe what we believe. Do the work.


Question 1: Is it true?
Question 2: Can you absolutely know its true?”
Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Bonus: Turn the thought around.

 

– Byron Katie’s “4 Questions” from “The Work”


Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10302021 Out of Our Worlds”] 

 

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.)

 

 

### “Seek Only The Truth” ~ Caroline Myss ###

The Angels (& Devils) Within Us (the “missing” post) October 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is a “missing” post for Saturday, October 29th. You can request an audio recording of a related 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.]

“Violence is clearly destructive. It springs from fear, one of the fundamental afflictions. According to this sutra, the practice of non-violence requires us to arrest our violent tendencies by cultivating thoughts opposite to violence.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

By all accounts, it started off simply and innocently enough. Just a few childish pranks at the end of Thanksgiving: knocking at the door that opened to reveal no one; random, unexplained noises, cabbage being uprooted and then tossed around; patio furniture inexplicably shifting and moving to a neighbor’s porch. You know, things that ghost, goblins, and devils might do when the veil between worlds was lifted. It was so simple and innocent, in fact, that in 1790, a headmaster at Saint John’s College in Oxford even ended a school play with a little encouragement: “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” 

Mischief Night, the night before Halloween, is also known as Hell Night, Cabbage Night, Gate Night, Moving Night, Devil’s Night, and a variety of other names throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. It was just supposed to be a little “trick” before the treats. References to Devil’s Night and Mischief Night in Michigan can be found as early as the 1910’s – when college students reportedly started bonfires and then handed cigars to the firefighters who came to put out the flames. However, the vandalism and arson increased in the 1930’s and 1940’s. By the 1970’s, the simple and innocent pranks in Detroit turned into criminal mischief and started extending into October 29th. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, there was serious vandalism and arson that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1983, over 550 fires were reported. In 1984, the number of reported fires was more than 800. Some officials started theorizing that some people were using the reputation of Devil’s Night to commit insurance fraud. And, speaking of that reputation, by the mid-1980’s, people were not only driving into town from other states to watch the fires, they were flying in from other countries.

“Fire buffs, newspeople and just plain gawkers came to watch Detroit burn Wednesday night.

They even came all the way from Tokyo.

Director Nobi Shigemoto was here with an eight-person crew from Asahi national TV network. The crew planned to follow fire trucks Wednesday night and do a live shot from in front of Highland park fire headquarters before returning to Japan.”

*

“Shigemoto said Detroiters ask him why he is ‘looking at bad things.’

His reply:

This is the truth. US (is a) most rich country. When you look at Detroit, it looks nothing like rich.’”

*

– quoted from the Detroit Free Press article “Keeping the watch – Reporters, fire buffs, gawkers come to track night’s events” by Bill McGraw (printed in the “Devil’s Night” section, dated 31 Oct 1985, Thu) 

In the mid-1980’s, then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young and city officials created the “No More Devil’s Night” campaign, which included a dusk-to-dawn curfew for teenagers, neighborhood watches, the opportunity to “adopt” empty properties, and a coordinated “patrol” effort by police officers, firefighters, and miscellaneous city workers. Over 11,000 volunteers participated that first year – and the number of reported fires was cut in half. Local cable television offered free access to premium channels so that more people would stay home. News outlets agreed not to air footage that might glamorize arson and/or encourage copycats – and the number of fires dropped. The number of volunteers rose (to ~17,000) in 1987, and again the number of reported fires dropped. 

Detroit’s “No More Devil’s Night” campaign was so successful that when Dennis Archer was elected mayor, in January of 1994, he decided his predecessor’s official campaign was no longer needed. People warned him he was wrong. Unfortunately, those people were right. According to a New York Times article (dated November 1, 1994), there were 40,000 volunteers working to combat the arson and other criminal mischief in 1993 versus 8,000 in 1994. That difference in volunteers reflected a trend well established in previous years: more volunteers resulted in less arson and criminal mischief; less volunteers meant more arson. While there were significantly less fires in 1994 than there had been in 1984, one of those fires – set on October 30, 1994, in the same suburb Nobi Shigemoto filmed nine years earlier – resulted in the death of 1-year old Destiny Wilson and the serious injury of several others, including Destiny’s mother, 3-year old sister Ivory, and two older siblings. Then-mayor Archer and other city officials rebranded the original campaign and got more serious about cultivating the opposite energy; being angels instead of devils.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The rebranded Angels’ Night(s) encouraged volunteers to do what they could to actively combat the violence with non-violence, from October 29th – 31st. It was based on the idea that if everyone cared, everyone could do something to make a difference. Some people volunteered to patrol their neighborhood with flashing amber lights on their vehicles. Others agreed to wear orange ribbons and participated in neighborhood watches – even adopting an “empty” property. Still others agreed to leave their lights on and to enforce – or honor – the curfew. Official activities were organized at recreation and community centers. Bottom line, there was a way for everyone, regardless of age or ability, to stay alert and stay connected. In 1995, 40,000 – 50,000 volunteers agreed to be “angels.” As before, arson and vandalism steadily declined. 

While there was a spike in arsons around Halloween 2010, the overall decline in “devilish” activity continued through the 2000’s and 2010’s. In 2005, official “Angels’ Night” activities were cancelled as the entire city mourned the death of Rosa Parks. In 2015, there were “only” 52 fires (with 24 appearing to be arson). Interestingly, this steady decline around Halloween was paralleled by a slight increase in fires around the 4th of July. In 2018, there were only three reported fires and the city officially ended the campaign. Citizens, however, continue to be angels.

“The earliest recorded instance of someone saying ‘Hurt people hurt people’ appears in the Feb. 26, 1959, edition of a local Texas newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-Times, in its review of a lecture program put on by the Parent Teacher Association of Fannin Junior High School. The Globe-Times attributes the line to a speaker named Charles Eads, who, judging from the article’s description, spoke in the manner of vaudeville satirist and cowboy Will Rogers:…’”Hurt people hurt people.’ So, maybe before I wound someone next time, I’ll stop and think if it’s because I’ve been hurt, myself.’”

*

quoted from the article “The History of ‘Hurt People Hurt People’ – The adage has been credited to everyone from pastors to self-help gurus to Andrew Garfield. It’s much older.” By Matthew Phelan (posted on slate.com, Sept 17, 2019) 

We’ve all been hurt. We all suffer. According to the Yoga Philosophy, dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns create suffering. The question – which is also addressed in philosophies like Buddhism, and even in the major religions – is, “What do we do with our own suffering?” Do we alleviate it? That’s the next question, because the philosophies say that we have the ability to alleviate our own suffering? Of course, there’s always the flipside, where our hurt/suffering becomes the foundation for more suffering and “devilish” behavior?

To answer the questions, take a moment to do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) or discernment – what some might call “metacognition.” Consider your own reaction to the aforementioned Devil’s Night, especially with regard to the arson and vandalism. Consider, who you think was responsible – not only for the problem, but also for the solution. Are you keeping in mind that the initial fires, even in Detroit, were set by college students? Have you thought about what was happening in the world when the arson first increased? Did you remember that the Wilson family lived in the suburbs? 

Consider how you feel when you take it all in and then consider how those feelings translate into thoughts that precede your words and then your deeds. Given the opportunity to counteract violence and destruction, would your active response to the “devilish” behavior be functional and skillful – or would it be just another form of damage?

In the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, there are several different ways in which we can achieve transparency of mind. One way is to focus on the breath. (YS 1.34) Another way is to “focus on someone who is free from all desire.” (YS 1.37) This is what people are ostensibly doing when they ask themselves, “What would … do?” Of course, the commentary indicates that in the absence of resonating with some great figure – from religion, philosophy, or mythology – we could focus on the best version of ourselves: What would we do/say if we were free from desire? What would we do/say if we were not attached to a particular outcome?

“Then concentrate upon [the] heart. Try to imagine how it must feel to be a great saint; pure and untroubled by sense-objects….”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.37 from How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood  

Another method for achieving clarity of mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, is to offer friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are suffering, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference/non-judgement to those who (we consider) are non-virtuous. (YS 1.33) I personally love this idea, but I also know it can be challenging. Different parts may be challenging for different people – and under different circumstances – but the part that is usually challenging for me is the last part: offering indifference/non-judgement to someone (I consider) non-virtuous – or whose actions are not virtuous. Sure, ideally, we could ignore those non-virtuous people/actions and they would go away or stop their “devilish” behavior; but, life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we have to directly engage and actively combat the violence in a non-violent way.

My non-violent way is logic. While I often believe that (my) logic will resolve conflict and/or get people to do what I think is right, that is not actually how the world works – because that’s not how the human mind works. Remember, according to Yoga Sūtra 2.20, we can only see/comprehend what our mind-intellect is ready to show us. This is not an idea restricted to the people we think are wrong in their thinking; this also applies to each and every one of us. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that logic doesn’t work. I’m saying that if someone we consider to be non-virtuous, or acting in a way that is non-virtuous, were to think (and feel) the way we think (and feel) they would speak and act the way we do. So, applying our own logic on someone else does not work. They have to apply their own logic. While we may be able to help someone apply their own logic, we can only do so with a clear mind. 

In other words, to truly alleviate suffering, we have to turn inward. We have to understand our own feelings and thoughts and how those become our words and deeds. In turn, we have to understand the impact/effect of our words and deeds. It is only then that we can effectively, as Patanjali said in Yoga Sūtra 2.44, be in the company of angels.

“No, don’t give up

I won’t give up

‘Cause there must be angels”

*

– quoted from the song “Angels” by Tom Walker (written by Emma Davidson-Dillon / James Eliot / Thomas Alexander Walker)

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: The Spotify playlist contains one track that may not play without a subscription. My apologies for the inconvenience.)

*

### Be safe, y’all! ###

FTWMI: Introducing….You July 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted in July of 2021. Class details have been updated.

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.)

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

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

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

*

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

*

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

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

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

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

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

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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

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

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

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

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

*

― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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

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

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

*

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

Please join me today (Monday, July 11th) 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 class. You 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 previously used playlist for this practice is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

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

*

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

*

[The 2020 post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

*

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

Svādyāya II: Omar’s Strait Road, Comes (and Goes) Through the Same Door (a 2-for-1 “renewed” post) May 18, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Celebrate the times when endurance, humility, and gratitude go hand-in-hand!

The following is an amalgamation of date-related posts from 2020 and 2021. Class details and some additional year-related information has been updated.

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.]

“I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think only God really knows”

 

– quoted from the song “The Wind” by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Imagine that you are one of the most influential polymaths of the Middle Ages. You are a phenomenal mathematician, astronomer, and scientist who wrote treatises on algebra and astronomy and you were able to calculate a year so accurately (so precisely) that, over 800 years after your death, a calendar based on your calculations is still used by millions, even billions of people.  Just imagine that level of accomplishment; soak up the feeling of being that accomplished.

Now, imagine that over 800 years after your passing, most people in the West – possibly in the world – don’t remember you for your accomplishments in math or science. Instead, imagine that what most people remember is that you were a poet – a poet known for a vast collection of poems you may or may not have written (some of which appear in the public sphere 43 years after your death). What if you wrote some or all of the poems attributed to you, but you wrote them as a diversion; a way to relieve stress and relax your mind between calculations, a little brain candy before going to sleep?

While you’re imagining all that, you may as well imagine that you were deeply religious, deeply committed to your faith and your Creator – so much so that your scientific work and philosophical essays (on existence, knowledge, natural phenomena, and free will and determination) all start off praising Allah and the Prophet Mohammed and end with blessings to the same. Yet, some people claim you were a nihilist, an agnostic, and/or purely a humanist. How would you feel if some people viewed you as the most divine (and Divinely inspired) poet in your faith and culture – yet, during your lifetime you were viewed as a heretic, your poems as blasphemy?

Practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”) and go a little deeper into how you might feel if all of that were true of you – as it is true of Omar Khayyám.

“Every line of the Rubáiyát has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature.”

 

“The inner spiritual message is for all mankind, no matter what form it is contained in. The message is greater than any sect’s way of understanding it and goes out to all, just as the Sun shines on everyone, sinner and saint.

 

Fitzgerald’s first translation of the Rubáiyát was inspired for the benefit of all mankind. Allah works in mysterious ways. Whenever he wants something to come through in a pure way, it will happen in spite of everything.”

 

– from Who is the Potter? A Commentary on The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Abdullah Dougan (based on translations by Edward FitzGerald)

Given what we know about Omar Khayyám, who was born May 18, 1048, he might be equal parts amused and disgusted everyone doesn’t think cubic equations or Euclidean geometry and the parallel axiom when they hear his name. But, he also might not care. (After all, if all he is dead; so what would matter to him what we think?)

He might not mind that when people hear his name today, especially in the West, most people think of quatrains: complete poems written in four lines. Again, he might not care that some people consider his words (or words attributed to him) as their personal mantras. Then again, he didn’t care very much for people who claimed to have the answer to everything and, therefore (if he were alive), he might be annoyed that some people wave his words (or words attributed to him) completely out of context – or, even in support of things in which he didn’t believe.

“And do you think that unto such as you
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew
God gave a secret, and denied it me?
Well, well—what matters it? Believe that, too!”

 

– quoted from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám, translated by Richard Le Gallienne

Khayyám’s popularity in the West is primarily due to a collection of translations by Edward FitzGerald. FitzGerald, an aspiring English poet and writer, was a contemporary of William Makepeace Thackeray and Lord Alfred Tennyson, but but his literary aspirations never met with the acclaim of his friends. His friend and professor, Edward Byles Cowell (a noted translator of Persian poetry and the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge University) sent FitzGerald the quatrains in the form of two manuscripts: the Bodleian (containing 158 quatrains) and the “Calcutta” manuscript. While the initial pamphlet of the Rubáiyát, didn’t receive much fanfare, it would eventually become so popular that FitzGerald approved four editions of the “collection of poems written in four lines” and a fifth would be publish after his death.

Edward FitzGerald was a Christian skeptic and his skepticism comes through the translations loud and clear, as if he found a kindred spirit in the Persian poet. On the flip side, some see Omar Khayyám as a Sufi mystic – even though, he was reviled by prominent Sufi leaders during his lifetime. Lines like “Who is the Potter, pray, and who is the Pot?” further the confusion as they can be seen as a very definitely acknowledgement of a Divine Creator or as a philosophical question posed by a writer who believes God is a construct of man. Those religious and spiritual contradictions, the sheer volume of poems, and the lack of provenance are some of the problems critics have with all of the quatrains being attributed to Omar Khayyám – and why there’s such a wide range between estimates. 

“Be happy for this moment.
This moment is your life.”

*

– Omar Khayyám

While a 2009 article in the book review section of The Telegraph indicates that the Rubáiyát has been published in at least 650 editions, with illustrations by 150 artists, and translated into 70 languages – and set to music by no less than 100 composers – there’s a distinct possibility that some of the poems were not actually written by this particular Persian mystic. 1,200 – 2,000 quatrains are often attributed to Khayyám, but some didn’t appear in the public sphere until 43 years after the poet’s death. Furthermore, prominent scholars have estimated that the actual number of verified lines is 121 – 178, or as little as 14 – 36.

In addition to some poems, and his work in math and astrology, Omar Khayyám wrote several philosophical essays about existence, knowledge, and natural phenomena. One such essay, on free will and determination, is entitled “The necessity of contradiction in the world, determinism and subsistence” – which puts a whole other spin on the poems if, in fact, he wrote them as a kind of brain candy.

“This cycle wherein thus we come and go
Has neither beginning, nor an end I trow,
And whence we came and where we next repair,
None tells it straight. You tell me yes or no.

***

We come and go, but bring in no return,
When thread of life may break we can’t discern;
How many saintly hearts have melted here
And turned for us to ashes who would learn?

***

The Skies rotate; I cannot guess the cause;
And all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
Surveying all my life, I find myself
The same unknowing dunce that once I was!

***

Had I but choice, I had not come at call,
Had I a voice why would I go at all?
I would have lived in peace and never cared
To enter, stay, or quit this filthy stall”

 

– selections from The Rubáiyát, quoted from The Nectar of Grace: Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works by Swami Govinda Tirtha

Given the quatrains quoted above and the fact that I initially mis-dated both playlists (and only caught the mistake once on my own), you might be surprised that today’s Tuesday’s title is not a type-o. It really is intentionally “Omar’s Strait Road,” because (Euclidean geometry aside) Omar Khayyám shares a birthday with the “King of Country”: George Strait.

Born May 18, 1952 (in Poteet, Texas), George Strait is considered one of the most influential and popular recording artists of all time. He has 13 multi-platinum, 33 platinum, and 38 gold albums and has sold over 100 million records worldwide (making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time). He was elected into Country Music Hall of Fame (in 2006, while still actively recording and performing) and named Artist of the Decade (for the 2000’s) by the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Additionally, he was named Entertainer of the Year by Country Music Awards (CMA) in 1989, 1990 and 2013 (making him the oldest entertainer so designated and the only person to win in three different decades) and by the ACM in 1990 and 2014 – making him the most nominated and most awarded artist for both Entertainer of the Year awards. (I’m not even going to try to tally his total awards count or how often he’s been on the Billboard charts, because that just gets ridiculous.)

“King George” is known for his blockbuster tours and has performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 30 times, over almost 40 years. However, his first performance was a bit of a fluke – he went on as a replacement for Eddie Rabbit, who was sick with the flu. Ironically, Strait – who retired from touring with his 2013 – 2014 record-breaking “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour” – came out of retirement to perform on the final night (03/20/22) of the Rodeo when it returned after being shut down by COVID.

2022 Update: George Strait’s concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was reportedly the largest crowd of the season (79,452 people) and featured “29 songs played over the course of two-plus hours, 20 of those covered at his last rodeo show.” Ashley McBryde opened and Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett made guest appearances during a show that, naturally, included “The Weight of the Badge” and a video tribute to first responders.

A United States Army veteran, with a degree in agriculture, George Strait’s philanthropic endeavors include co-founding the Jenifer Lynn Strait Foundation (which is named for his daughter and supports children’s charities in the San Antonia area); serving as spokesman for the VF Corporation’s Wrangler National Patriot program (which raises awareness and funds for America’s wounded and fallen military veterans and their families); and co-founding and hosting the Vaqueros Del Mar (Cowboys of the Sea) Invitational Golf Tournament and Concert with his business partner Tom Cusick (in order to raise money for David Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, benefiting wounded servicemen, servicewomen and their families).  Additionally, he continuously supports agriculture and land and wildlife management programs and scholarships at his alma mater (Texas State University) and variety of disaster relief efforts.

Also worth noting, the King and his Queen (Norma) will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this past December.

“There’s a difference in
Living and living well
You can’t have it all
All by yourself
Something’s always missing
‘Til you share it with someone else
There’s a difference in living and living well”

 

– quoted from the song “Living and Living Well” by George Strait

So, Omar Khayyám and George Strait share a birthday and a tendency to succeed in their endeavors. And they are also thought of as poets. The thing is, if you really pay attention to the lines of the poems and the songs, it seems like they also share a bit of the same philosophy. It’s a philosophy found in Khayyám’s essays (as well as the poems attributed to him) and centers around the idea that (for some reason) one day we are here and one day we will not be here and that, prior to dying, everyone suffers, but we decide what we do with all that time in between. Given these “givens,” we can (in the words of these two poets):

  • Have “a nice little life,” “let [ourselves] go” spending the time we are given “living well” and, at the end of the day say, “My life’s been grand” or
  • Just feel “grief, which in me gnaws;” have a heart “as hard as that old Caliche dirt,” and “just wanna give up.”

There is, of course, a third option: Join the “maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew” that dogmatically believes they are the only one with all the answers. (“Check yes or now.”)

“The world will long be, but of you and me
No sign, no trace for anyone to see;
The world lacked not a thing before we came,
Nor will it miss us when we cease to be.”

 

– quoted from (quatrain 132) Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Ahmad Saidi (with preface by Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 18th) 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 “05182021 Omar’s Strait Road”]

 

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

 

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d–
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

 

– XXVII and XXIX from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám

 

“Even if a man had lived for a hundred years and had changed his religion, philosophy, and beliefs twice a day, he could scarcely have given expression to such a range of ideas.”

 

– commentary by Sadegh Hedayat in In Search of Omar Khayyám by Ali Dashti (translated by L. P. Elwell-Sutton)

 

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.)

Errata: This was originally posted with the wrong anniversary timing for the Straits and an incorrect spelling of Robert Earl Keen’s middle name. My apologies to email subscribers.

### 22 ###

How You Use Your Power Matters (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Men, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Passover, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, April 13th, which focuses on the Wednesday of Holy Week or Passion Week and highlights elements of Maundy Thursday. You can request an audio recording of any of these 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.)

“When the audience and the performers become one, it is almost nearly divine, where this oneness can actually meet in some, not physical place, but in some spiritual place, in the middle, not the performers performing, not the audience receiving, but all of a sudden that contact is made and it becomes wonderful.”

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– Bill Conti (b. 04/13/1942)

Throughout the year, I tell people stories. The stories are an opportunity to do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) and there are certain stories that I tell every year. They’re all great stories, divine and sublime stories. They’re overlapping stories that weave concentric circles which also overlap our lives and they’ve been told generation after generation. Some are easily recognizable as true stories and some are only believed by a few (million people). So, if you join a practice, on any given day, you may hear a story with which you are very familiar. Or, you may hear a story for the first time. You may also, on any given day, hear a familiar story told in a new way.

The thing to remember is that in any good story – and definitely any great story – there’s going to be conflict and drama. There’s going to be challenges and suffering (or passion). Since I’m very Chekhovian in my literary inclinations, everything and every one has a purpose – which means there’s always going to be a villain. The proverbial “bad guy” may not always be a guy. It may not even be a person. There is some element, however, that you could point to and vilify.

The thing I want you to remember, when you hear (or read) today’s story, is that just as there is no story without the hero, there is also no story without the villain. It is not my intention to glorify the “bad guy” or bad behavior. Neither is it my intention to put the “villain” on the same level as the “hero”… except in one area. It’s an important area… and it’s the area that almost always gets me in a little hot water.

A small portion of the following was excerpted from a related 2020 post.

“For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

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– Shemot – Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

In the Eastern philosophies (like yoga) and religions (like Judaism) arms and hands are recognized as extensions of the heart. They are how we reach out to others, embrace others, embrace ourselves, and even embrace a moment. We use our hands and arms to build the world around us. We also use our hands and arms to love one another, or not, and to defend or support what we love (or not). Two of the aspects of the Divine (found on the Tree of Life) are love (chesed) and strength (gevurah). Furthermore, Jewish mysticism identifies these elements of the Divine as being embodied by the right and left arms, respectively. It is no accident then, nor is it only an element of good hygiene, that hands are washed before handling sacred food. In fact, in the Hasidic tradition, “Water represents the healing power of wisdom. Water flows downward, carrying its essential simplicity to each thing. It brings them together as a single living, growing whole. We pour water over our hands as an expression of wisdom pouring downward passing through our heart and from there to our interaction with the world around us.”

Of the 613 commandments within the Jewish tradition, at least 21 – 27 are directly related to the observation of Passover, the Seder, the Counting of the Omer (which begins on the second night of Passover), and Shavuot (which begins at the end of the Counting of the Omer). The Last Supper (or suppers, depending on who you ask) is acknowledged as Jesus’ last meal and the source of the Eucharist or Holy Communion in Christian faiths. While the one of the four Canonical Gospels (John) places Passover after Jesus’s death, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) present The Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Therefore, it would make sense that Jesus – recognized as a rabbi, a teacher, long before he was considered by some to be the Messiah – would make sure everyone washed their hands, twice during the Seder. It’s part of the Law, part of the Commandments. What is interesting is that before the Seder, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This is one of the events commemorated by some Christians on Maundy Thursday.

But, before we get to Thursday, we have to get over the hump that is Wednesday.

“[[Jesus]] answered and said to them, ‘I’m not laughing at you. You’re not doing this because you want to, but because through this your God [will be] praised.’”

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– quoted from The Gospel of Judas, translated by Mark M. Mattison

The Wednesday of Holy Week, Passion Week, or Great Week is also known as Spy Wednesday. A spy is a person inside a group, organization, or country who collects information so that others can attack, ambush, or otherwise ensnare the group, organization, country and/or the leaders therein. In the Passion story, Judas Iscariot is the spy and the event that led him to betray his rabbi and friend is related in all four canonical gospels.

In the Gospel According to Luke (7:36 – 50), Jesus was having what might be described as a luxurious dinner (because he was “reclining”) when a woman who had a sinful past washed his feet with her tears and hair. Then, she poured expensive oil from an expensive alabaster jar onto his feet. This incident took place in the home of a Pharisee named Simon and the woman is not identified by name. In the Gospel According to Matthew (26:6 – 13) and the Gospel According to Mark (14:3 – 9) the incident – or a similar incident – took place in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper and the oil is poured over his head (but there there is no mention of tears and hair). Here, again, the woman is not identified; however, all three synoptic gospels indicate that the woman “came,” which could be interpreted as meaning that she did not live in the home.

The indicated timelines, as well as the different locations, also lead some to believe that these may be different events. Some traditions identify the woman (or women) as Mary Magdalene – and that misrepresentation never ends well – but the Gospel According to John (12:1 – 8) is the only account that identifies the woman as someone named Mary. According to John, “Mary” poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. The account does not, however, indicate that she “came” to the home, leading many to believe that she was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Either way you look at it, the woman’s actions really pushed the buttons of some of the disciples. Judas, in particular, was particularly incensed by the money. He was the one who held the purse strings – sometimes, too tightly and too personally – and felt that the cost of the oil and the jar could have gone to the poor (or, into his own pockets). He was so upset that he decided to betray Jesus. [Insert villain music here.]

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”

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– The Gospel According to Matthew (26:14 – 15, NIV)

When it comes to Judas’ betrayal there are also different accounts. Most people are familiar with the idea that Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver. In the Gospel According to Mark (14:11), the chief priests promised to pay Judas and this is often referenced as a few pieces of silver. In two accounts, however, Satan possessed Judas. Yes, that’s right, in the Gospel According to Luke (22:4) and the Gospel According to John (13:27), the devil made him do it. Or, you could look at the devil as a euphemism for his own anger, jealousy, and hubris. It’s also important, I think, to note that in a few places – including at least one gnostic gospel, Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus told him (Judas) to do so. Which, if you look at it that way, means God gave both men a purpose.

Regardless of why he did it, Judas’ betrayal means that for generation after generation his name is mud. His reputation is smeared. One action made him the ultimate villain, the devil incarnate, and… one of the reasons we have the story. Remember, there is no Easter without the Resurrection. There’s is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion and the Passion. There is no Crucifixion and Passion (or Suffering) without the betrayal. And there is no betrayal without Judas of Iscariot. Again, I’m not saying that he is equal to Jesus. What I am pointing out is that they are both an important part of the story and they are both “sacrificed” because – according to the teachings – “God so loved the world….”

Very few people talk about what happened to Judas and the money after the betrayal, even though the Gospel According to Matthew (27:1 – 10) and The Acts of the Apostles (1:16 – 18) give explicit, albeit slightly different, details. Additionally, there is some difference in notation about when Judas left the last supper or if he even attended. Either way, it was at the Last Supper – which some accounts depict as the Passover Seder – that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. When Simon Peter objected, Jesus told him three particularly noteworthy things; things that remind us that none of this is about the money.

“’Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.’”

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– The Gospel According to John (13:12 – 15, KJV)

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“’If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:8, KJV)

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“’A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’”

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– The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, KJV)

The word “Maundy” comes to us, by way of Middle English and Old French, from a Latin word that means “command, order.” While it may be associated with the ritual of washing the feet of a saint, showing hospitality, or preparing a body for burial, the command or order associated with this Thursday before Easter is that “new command.” It is a command repeatedly reiterated in the Gospel According to John (15:12 and 15:17). It is also a sentiment that is echoed in one of the last things Jesus said on the cross, when he connected his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son. It is a lesson Jesus taught again and again. Yet, it is a lesson all too often forgotten; even though it is the whole point of the story.

“‘A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”‘”

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– The Gospel According to Matthew (22:39, NLT)

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Spy Wednesday 2022”]

Yes, Bill Conti turned 80 this Wednesday and if you are a fan, like me, you can absolutely consider it sacrilegious that there’s no Bill Conti on the Spy Wednesday playlist. If you’re interested in the composer, click here to check out a 2019 post or click here for the 2021 post, which (hint, hint) includes a Bill Conti playlist you can use for the practice.

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### “Forget about the price tag” ~ Jessie J ###

Doing: Lessons in unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable things (& “impossible” people) [the “missing” Sunday post] January 24, 2022

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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 23rd (and contains 2-for-1 information related to January 24th). 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.)

“The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning…. Although meaning is an anthropomorphic interpretation it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as “meaning” may be in itself we have no possibility of knowing. As an hypothesis, however, it is not quite so impossible as may appear at first sight. We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.”

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– quoted from “3. Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity” in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C. G. Jung

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“This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of the them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right….”

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– quoted from a letter addressed to Sir Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754, by Horace Walpole (The Right Honorable The (4th) Earl of Orford, Horatio Walpole)  

Causality, the principles of cause and effect, are a big aspect of the Yoga philosophy – and I am, without a doubt, a big fan. That said, I am also a big fan of synchronicity and serendipity. As much as I pay attention to cause-and-effect, I often delight in things that just seem to “randomly” fall into place and things (or people) that show up when I “need” them, but wasn’t looking for them.  Granted, there are times when I consider chaos theory and see if I can trace back to some little thing that started the domino effect; however, I’m also just open to being pleasantly surprised by “accidental goodness.”

Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? And how open are you to those kinds of things?

My guess, and it’s not much of a stretch, is that your open-ness, or lack thereof, is based on past experiences. I mean, on a certain level, everything is based on past experiences. We do something new and a new neural pathway is created, a new thin veil of saṃskāra (“mental impression”) is lowered over us. We do that same thing again and we start to hardwire that new neural pathway, the veil becomes more opaque. Over time, our behaviors and reactions become so hardwired, that our saṃskāras becoming vāsanās (“dwellings”) and we believe that our habits are innate or instinctive – when, in fact, they are conditioned.

This is true when things seem to randomly and luckily fall into place. This is also true when are not so fortunate or blessed; when things don’t seem to easily fall into place or when we don’t “randomly” get what we didn’t know we needed. And our physical-mental-emotional response to the so-called “happy accidents” is just as conditioned as our physical-mental-emotional response to things not going our way. We are as much like Pavlov’s dogs as we are like the one-eyed mule observed by the Princes of Serendip. To do something other than salivate at the appearance of certain objects and/or to eat on the other side of the road is “impossible.” But, little changes in the conditioning changes the outcome.

Also, remember that ad about “impossible….”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

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Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s practice revolved around two stories related to January 23rd and January 24th. They are lessons on doing (rather than not doing) and opportunities for a little svādhyāya (“self-study’). One of the stories was about an “impossible” person who had to deal with unexpected tragedy and “ridiculously inconvenient” situations and expectations. The other was the story of a person, some might consider impossible, who had to deal with an unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable piano. As I’ll explain a little (a little later), I encountered both stories serendipitously, but there was also a little bit of synchronicity related to the second story. 

Again, I’ll get to the backstory a bit later. For now, consider that the habitual conditioning I mentioned above also applies to our expectations of ourselves and of others. So, when we tell ourselves and/or someone else that something is impossible, it is partially because we have not been conditioned to believe that the thing in question is possible. We haven’t seen any evidence that something can be done and, quite the contrary, maybe we have seen someone else “fail” in their endeavors in the same area. Maybe we ourselves haven’t succeeded… yet; and, therefore have decided to give up. 

But, what happens if we don’t give up? What happens if we give our all and then let go of our expectations? What happens if we plan to trust the possibilities and focus on doing what we are able to do, in the present moment?

A version of the January 23rd story was originally posted in 2021. Click here for that philosophical post in it’s entirety.

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“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Yoga Sutras offers a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

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– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

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– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

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– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

If I remember correctly, I first dug into Ed Roberts’s story because someone on the internet mentioned him and his birthday. Maybe this was in 2017, when there was a Google Doodle to honor him. Or, maybe I made a note to myself when I saw the Google Doodle and then incorporated it into a class the following year. Either way, I had time to dig in.

Perhaps, since some of my themes are date-related and I do keep an eye out for such things, one might not consider my heightened awareness of Ed Roberts as being overly synchronistic or serendipitous. This is especially true considering that my annual participation in the Kiss My Asana yogathon is one of the many things that predisposes (or conditions) me to pay attention to stories about accessibility. If anything, I could kind of kick myself for not digging into his story sooner. 

But, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The odds are pretty high, though, that I would have eventually come across his story. What are the odds, however, that I would encounter the story of Keith Jarrett, Vera Brandes, and the unplayable piano mere days before the anniversary of The Köln Concert, which was performed and recorded on January 24, 1975?

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

If, like me, someone was creating date-related content, any time someone landed on their media, they’re very likely to come across a timely bit of information. But, what if the content is not date-related? Additionally, what are the odds if the person (in this case me) is late to the proverbial party and just starts randomly picking content? Without even going into the details of my adventures in podcast-listening (or how many I’ve very recently started picking through), let’s just consider the odds of me picking one out of, say, 40 non-date-related episodes and landing on the one that just happens to coincide with an upcoming date. 

I have no idea what the odds are, and maybe I haven’t provided enough information, but feel free to comment below if you are a mathematician.

My point is that all of this also happened around the same time that we are all dealing and sometimes battling with change. It happened during a time when the whole world is facing the conflict that can occur when our past and ingrained behaviors, habits, and responses bumps up against the desire for new behaviors, habits, and responses. What are the odds of coming across the historical version of what the comedian Seth Meyers calls, “The Kind of Story We Need Right Now”? What are the odds of coming across the story of a man who did what he considered impossible because of his past experiences, his preconceived notions, and other untenable circumstances?

Keep in mind, this is not only the story of a man who did something he considered “impossible,” it’s also the story of a man who did something that, on a certain level, he didn’t want to do.

You can, as I did, listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts. Had I listened to it just a few days sooner, it might have changed the January 8th playlist.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

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– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Like other musicians, he is also very particular about the instruments he plays – and this is where we meet “the unplayable piano.”

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”


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– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano). 

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

*

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

*

So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

*

As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

*

Good luck!”

 *

– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

*

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

*

### My Takeaway: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If there’s something in your life – in your field of experience – or something in your past that makes certain things seem impossible, in this present moment, then knowing that – understanding why it seems impossible to you, then pick something. Pick some really small thing that you can start doing – or that you can actually do right now – that changes your history moving forward. So that your field of possibility expands. So that tomorrow – maybe not 24 hours from now, maybe not even 48 hours from now, but at some point, what was impossible becomes possible…. Consider that we are doing things today that were considered impossible “yesterday.” ###

For Those Who Missed It: Music for This Date (“the post that almost wasn’t”) December 8, 2021

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This following was originally posted in December of 2020. 

I wasn’t 100% sure if I was even going to post it back then, but…here it is, again, for your pleasure and consideration. Class information has been updated and I did remix the playlist. (The original is still available if you go back to the original post.)

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Take a moment to notice how you feel – maybe even do that 90-second thing.

I mention all the time that what is happening in this moment, including how we feel, is the culmination of all the moments that have come before and that this moment is the beginning of everything that comes next – including how we feel in the next moment. But, take a moment to consider how what you think and believe about what’s happening (and what you’re feeling) directly impact this moment… and therefore all the other moments. What we think and what we believe impact not only what we are feeling, but also what we are doing and how we do it. So, go a little deeper into what you believe.

There was a time, when people within the Roman Catholic tradition referred to today as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today in 1854, however, Pope Pius IX issued a dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception – declaring her “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” – and making today the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is one of almost 20 Marian feast days on the Roman Catholic Calendar – not to mention the many local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. Eastern Orthodox Christian churches have a different calendar, as well as a different definition of Immaculate Conception, and celebrate tomorrow, December 9th, as the Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos or the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary.

“…what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.”

– quoted from Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX (“Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, in the eighth day of December, 1854, in the either year of our pontificate.”)

Pope Pius IX was pope from June of 1846 until February 1878 – and, for most of that time, he was also the (last) Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States, making him simultaneously “King” and “Pope.” Meaning, he was the last pope to serve as both a secular and spiritual ruler and therefore he was officially concerned with both secular and spiritual issues. Sometimes, there were obvious conflicts. At one point during his reign he was seen as liberal enough to appoint an enlightened minister; release religious political prisoners; and nullify the requirement for Jewish people to attend Mass. However, he also upheld the Church’s right to remove a child from their Jewish parents simply because the Church recognized the child as Catholic (it’s a long and sketchy story). Some people’s opinion of him changed after he released a very dogmatic encyclical, today in 1864, condemning what he defined as 80 errors or heresies of the modern age (including liberalism, modernism, and secularization, just to name a few).

If you are Catholic, or even some version of Christian, certain aspects of today’s practice may feel extra connected to the story and symbolism of the Virgin Mary. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, you may not even notice those elements – except when they feel good to you or not so good to you. This is true of every one of my practices. There is always a physical-mental element, as well as the emotional-energetic elements and psychic-symbolic. Sometimes I break down the meanings and the whys and wherefores of a practice. Every once in a while, however, I just put it out there – and then each element is significant to you based on what you feel, think, and believe. This happens not only with the sequence and the stories I choose to tell, but also with the music. Noticing how you feel about any and all of that (i.e., self-study) is a key element of the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Today’s playlist features a few of the many really amazing musicians who were born on this date (and one really amazing musician who was killed on this date). Notice how your prior connection to the music and/or the musicians changes your experience of the practice. Notice, also, the times when you don’t have a prior experience and yet you are still able to get something out of the moment.

“‘If I don’t work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn’t have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look – which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job.’”

– Phil Collen, quoted about his cardio, lifting, and Muy Thai kickboxing exercise regime and vegan diet in “Work-Life Balance: Get Fit, Lose Weight: What Happened When I Tried Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Fitness Program” by Jeff Haden, published on Inc.com (June 1, 2017)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 8th) 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.

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.)

“Music for the Date” features Sir James Galway (b. 1939), Sinead O’Connor (b. 1966), Sammy Davis Jr. (b. 1925), Jim Morrison (b. 1943), Gregg Allman (b. 1947), Phil Collen (b. 1957), John Lennon (d. 1980) – with references Nicki Minaj (b. 1982) and Sam Hunt (b. 1984). If I remix The remixed playlist it will also includes part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, which premiered today 1813.

“During the later war years, he had composed the Seventh Symphony in the Bohemian town of Teplitz in 1811 – 1812 and Wellington’s Victory, both of which were premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven conducted the concert himself and addressed the audience before the presentation, saying, ‘We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.’”

– quoted from Double Emperor: The Life and Times of Francis of Austria by Chip Wagar

### OM AUM ###

From Where Does Your Light Come? (the “missing” Sunday post) December 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, December 5th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

 

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

During the December “First Friday Night Special,” I mentioned that the light-related questions during this year’s Chanukah classes were prompts to get us thinking about our “field of possibilities” and then, on Saturday and Sunday, I revealed that the questions were partially inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s advice to the young office cadet and poet Franz Xaver Kappus. If you’ve followed along with the questions, it would be natural to expect that one of the questions would be, “Do you believe in miracles?” It’s an obvious connection when the connected to something like the Chanukah – which, according to the story is all about miracles.

There’s just one problem. Your answer, regardless of what it is, begs another question: “Why?” 

Why? Why? Why?

I could be like a three-year old, because all of your answers could lead to another question (albeit the same question), which all comes down to what you believe. The Chanukah story is full of a series of events that could be described or explained as miracles, serendipity, coincidences, and/or really good plot points. For those who believe in Abraham’s God, it doesn’t matter what you call the events, because “with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] For those who do not believe in God, well, anything is possible…but there’s probably a reasonable (and scientific) explanation. Either way, what you believe determines the probability of certain possibilities.

To be clear, this is not just about what you believe about miracles. This is also about what you believe about your light. Or, a better way to put it is that this is all about what you believe about yourself. Me asking you about the source of your light is really me asking about the source of your life. And what you believe matters, because what you believe bridges the gap between what you think about doing, achieving, and experience and what you actually do, achieve, and experience.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

 

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

 

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

 

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

There’s a moment that happens again and again in professional sports and sometimes in the performing arts. Sometimes it even happens when someone is walking across a stage after receiving their diploma. It’s a moment that happens when someone is doing their job – but it’s their dream job, one that many aspire but few achieve – and everybody’s watching. They’ve made mistakes, but they got up, brushed themselves off, and endeavored to win the game and/or take the audience’s breath away. Then they do! they succeed! And when they do, when they score – especially in a phenomenal way – or they receive a standing ovation, we witness a moment of faith. They’ll point a finger to the heavens or make some other gesture that signifies what they believe.

Whether it is a finger to the sky or prayer hands to the sky, it’s a moment that indicates an individual believes that the source of their life (and their light) is God. We may not witness that exact moment in other arenas, like when someone finishes a big project or lands a plum assignment. There may not be witnesses when a student aces a test or a parent gets their toddler to stop climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, but there may be a similar feeling. It’s that same surge of emotion that makes us do the happy dance (even if it’s just on the inside). It’s a combination of success and a feeling of gratitude. 

Of course, part of what I’m describing is a dopamine rush. It’s a feeling of greatness and it’s a heady sensation that we humans crave and chase. Here’s the thing, though: We can get that surge of feel-good brain chemicals without doing something at which we might fail. We can get it without taking any risk at all. In fact, to a certain degree, we can get if from watching other people take risks and win. We can get it from being part of a team… even if we’re the 12th man or 12th player.

So, why do some people take the risk? Why do some people do the things at which they might fail? Why do some people show up and shine (or show up and suck until they shine)? Why do some people give it all they’ve got, while others (just) watch?

It all comes back to what some one believes. Which brings us back to the Chanukah story.

Had some Jewish people not truly believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it’s possible that they would have started assimilating under Alexander the Great. Had Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that followed them not believed it’s probable that they would have become Hellenic Jews under King Antiochus. Had they not studied Torah or believed in the laws and commandments of God, it is possible that Matīṯyāhū would have broken the commandments and sacrificed to the idol – or maybe he would have just allowed the Hellenic Jew to do so in his stead.

Had the Maccabees not believed their history, their fate, and their destiny, perhaps they would have stayed in the wilderness and not taken on the mighty Greek army. Perhaps there would have been no battle cry. Maybe they would have fought and failed. Then, too, there’s always the possibility that they fought and won – despite the odds – and found that single vial of oil, but never considered using it because it wasn’t enough. Then, too, all these centuries later, if people didn’t believe we wouldn’t still be lighting the candles and telling an “impossible” story.

Take a moment, as we did on Sunday, and practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”). Put yourself in the shoes of the Maccabees. Consider how you might have felt and what you might have done given your current beliefs. How might the story be different simply because your beliefs might be different? Now, consider this week’s questions (see below) in that light. Consider how what is in your heart and mind determines your words, actions, and deeds.

“The Maccabees no doubt knew their options, yet decided to light the menorah in the most preferred way. This was done despite the fact that it entailed exhausting their entire supply of pure olive oil on the first day, leaving them with the probability of not being able to maintain the highest standard they so aspired to reach. But they decided to do their maximum with the resources they had, and let the Almighty take care of the rest.

 

There is a deep message here for us today. How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure, is failure by default. We can learn from the Maccabees that when there is a worthwhile goal to achieve, one should let go of immobilizing perfectionism, and instead capitalize on existing assets and do ones utmost under the circumstances.”

 

– quoted from the article “Give It All You’ve Got: The Maccabees taught us that immobilizing perfectionism leaves no room for God.” by Aliza Kramer (posted at Aish.com Dec 12, 2006)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Chanukah (Day 7-8) 2021”]

NOTE: All of the YouTube playlists (for Chanukah) contain extra videos after the practice music.

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

4. Friday: What’s at the edge of your light?

5. Saturday: How do you know brilliance? (this link will be updated)

6. Sunday: From where does your light come?

7. Monday: When do you feel free?

 

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, man, you’re down there.”

– “Tommy” (Kirk Acevedo) to “Vince” (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie Invincible

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th is International Volunteer Day. The 2021 theme was “Volunteer Now For Our Common Future. The Chanukah story is about people showing up and shining in a way that changed the future of their people. Remember: You too can make a difference!

### “Let me see [your] light / Give me something to live by” ~ Maccabeats  ###

 

First Friday Night Special #10: “Reflect + Remember” (a post practice post) August 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.]

“Your thoughts are happening, just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you’re doing is watching it. 

 

Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation. You allow your breath to run just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And the notice a curious thing about this. You say in the ordinary way, I breathe. Because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So, the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntary and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand I am doing it, and on the other hand, it is happening to me. And that is why breathing is a most important part of meditation, because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening.”

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

Our breath is a symbol of our life, a symbol of our life-force, and a symbol of our spirit. I say something to that affect almost every day. Yet, when that first part is combined with the perspective offered by Alan Watts, it takes on a slightly different (maybe even deeper connotation): Life is happening. Life is happening to us. Life is happening all around us. Life is a happening…whether we are engaged in it or not. But, before we start rushing off to do…life (or anything else); I just want to pause for a moment and consider the three parts of the breath.

Just breathe. Do that 90-second thing. Let your breath naturally flow in and naturally ebb out. Notice where you feel the breath; where it naturally goes – where there is awareness and presence, where it’s happening. Also, notice where there is resistance – where maybe you need to cultivate awareness, where something different is happening.

One thing you may notice, if you practice, is that pretty much every type of “breathing exercise” is an exaggeration of a natural breathing pattern. There are situations when we are breathing deeply, richly. The mind-body is focused and relaxed. Other times, we may find ourselves panting, short of breath. The mind-body may still be focused, but in this second case it is also agitated. There are times when our inhale is longer than our exhale and still other times when our exhale is longer than our inhale. There are moments in life when we find we are holding our breath – retaining the inhale or the exhale – and other times when we sigh a heavy breath out. And every one of these natural breathing patterns occurs because of something that happens in/to the mind-body.

Remember: What happens to the mind happens to the body; what happens to the body happens to the mind; and both affect the breath. In turn, what happens to the breath affects the mind and the body. In our practice, we harness the power of the breath in order to harness the power of the mind and body.

To actively and mindfully harness the power of the mind-body-spirit we have to cultivate awareness. The thing is, when you take a moment to focus, concentrate, meditate – even become completely absorbed by the breath – you may start to notice that just cultivating awareness changes the way you breathe (just as cultivating awareness can change the way you sit or stand, walk or talk). Bringing awareness to how you breathe in certain situations – or even when thinking/remembering certain situations – can give you insight into what’s happening to your mind-body. That insight provides better information for decision-making. So that you can respond in the most skillful way possible, instead of just reacting.

In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is pay attention to our breath – and figure out what we need to do to keep breathing. Because that’s what we do: We breathe.

Remember: As long as we are breathing, we are alive; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to live, learn, grow, love, and really thrive. So, the first question(s) to ask yourself in a stressful and challenging situation is: What’s happening with my breath and what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?

A key element to practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”) is to observe what happens to your mind, your body, and (yes) your spirit/breath when you are in certain situations. You may notice what thoughts and/or emotions come up when you hear passages from sacred text. You may notice how your body reacts to certain music/sounds. You may notice how your breathing changes in certain poses and/or sequences. You may notice how your mind-body-spirit reacts when you imagine yourself (figuratively) walking in the footsteps of a historical or fictional person. You may notice any other combination of the above. You can also practice this important niyama (internal “observation”) by bring awareness to what happens when you remember a moment in (your) history.

Maybe the memory is something that seems to randomly pop up in your mind when you’re practicing or maybe, like with Marcel Proust, when you bite into a biscuit. Or, perhaps, as happened in the August 6th “First Friday Night Special,” it’s a memory that is brought to your awareness specifically so that you can notice your breath, notice your body, and notice your mind. Perhaps, as we do in the practice, you observe what happens when you start watching yourself reacting to the memory. Finally, you ask the last half of the question: “… what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?”

Or, better yet, “What do I need to do, in this moment, to keep taking the deepest breath I’ve taken all day?” Because that’s the practice and that’s what we do.

“As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.”

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

Here are the “memories” (and associated contexts) I shared during the “First Friday Night Special” on August 6th. Before we reached this point in the (Zoom and recorded) practice, we spent some time using the senses to get grounded in the moment; did some gentle movement to prepare the mind-body to be still in an upright position (when accessible); and practiced a little 1:1 and then 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base).

For most people, reading through the list will be a different experience than hearing each one in turn. Still, take your time. Also, give yourself time to not only breathe, but to notice the breath in the mind and in the body.

This is not about thinking about these situations or creating/telling the story. It’s about noticing how you feel and how that translates into a breathing pattern. Then, the practice becomes about noticing what changes through observation. Yes, you can engage the breath (by controlling it, even sighing). However, I encourage you to just let the breath naturally flow in and freely ebb out – and just watch what happens as you watch it. Don’t force anything. Go with the flow. If you find yourself holding on (to anything), your breath and awareness are the tools you use to let go before moving on to the next item.

  • A year ago this weekend, my mother passed. Like so many other people who have experienced an unexpected loss of a loved one, the anniversary brings certain feelings, emotions, thoughts…vibrations. There is still sadness and grief – among other things/sensations that are part of life.
    • Take a moment, especially if you have experienced such a loss, to notice what happens when you continue to breath – to live. Consider that grief comes not because we loss someone (or something), but because we loved and were loved. Let all of that wash over you.

  • A year and a few months ago, George Floyd was killed and his murder was a watershed moment in the United States and in the world. Everyone had and continues to have a different experience around what happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 (just as many people had and continues to have different feelings around what happened in Central Park on the same day).
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel, right now, as your remember, the moments between then and now. Is there any tightness? Any resistance? What happens when you notice the tightness and/or resistance? What happens when you don’t notice tightness and/or resistance? Let any judgement wash over you.

  • Nearly a year and a half ago – almost 2 years ago for some people outside of the United States – the world started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel thinking about that? What’s happening with body, your mind, your breath? How does it feel to be where you are in the ever-changing process that is life given this global health crisis (and that fact that we are all in different places/stages related to it)? What do you need to do to keep breathing? Maybe, this is a good time to sigh a breath (or two) out.

  • 56 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The law came about after protests and marches – and so much violent resistance directed at those peacefully resisting. It also came about after private citizens implored President Johnson to take action and after he spoke, passionately, to Congress. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law. Yet, to this day, the Voting Rights Acts are still being challenged and still being defended.
    • What comes up for you when you think about all the efforts that led up to the Act and all that has transpired in the meanwhile? How are you breathing?

  • 76 years ago today, on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM (local time), the United States Army Air Forces’ Enola Gray dropped the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. Buildings and trees were destroyed. Approximately 80,000 people were killed on impact. Another 35,000 died over the next week and an additional 60,000 over the next year. Thousands more suffered for the rest of their lives. Three days later, at 11:01 AM (local time) on August 9th, the United States Army Air Forces’ Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb (designated “Fat Man”) on Nagasaki and thousands more died. You may have learned that the bombs were dropped in response to or retaliation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have learned that the U. S.’s attack on Japan helped to end World War II and the Holocaust, thereby saving thousands of lives. Around the world, these historical events are taught in very different ways. So, you may or may not have learned that some people say the war was already ending. You may or may not have learned that Nagasaki was not initial target for the second atomic bomb and that, in fact, the flight crews on the bomber and its escorts had already started the contingency plans that involved dropping the bomb in the ocean – which would have saved thousands of lives.
    • What happens when you remember what you already knew? What happens when you think of something you didn’t previously know or remember? What do you need to do, in this moment, to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out?

  • 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed Union forces to seize Confederate property during the Civil War. This “property” included slaves and one of the intentions of the act was to free slaves who were in any way attached to the rebellion. Freeing slaves was also part of the intention of the Confiscation Act that Congress passed on July 17, 1862 – which allowed the federal government to free the slaves of any member of the Confederacy (military or civilian) who resided in territory occupied by the Union Army but who had not surrendered within 60 days of the Act passing. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality or the ultimate effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, but he signed them into law anyway; thereby laying a foundation for the legal emancipation of all slaves within the Union.
    • What do you feel and/or think when you consider these Acts of Congress and President Lincoln? Is there any difference in sensation when considering the slaves and/or the Confederacy? Do you experience any tightness and/or resistance around this being mentioned? Is any of the tightness and/or resistance connected to thoughts that arose related to other steps taken to ensure emancipation? What are you feeling with regard to steps taken to deny emancipation?


Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. Spend some time just breathing and observing the breath. You can repeat the 1:1 and 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base), which is a great practice before, during, and after stressful encounters. Finally, take another few minutes to allow the breath to naturally flow in and freely ebb out.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

PLEASE NOTE: The playlists begin with music related to Reiki healing energy and they are in a very specific order. If you are uncomfortable using the first two tracks, you can use the Track #3 for your practice or you can loop Track #6 (to play ~3 times). The Spotify app may add extra music – so be mindful of that. As always, you can choose not to use music during this practice. Finally, there is no personal dedication specifically because I selected the Reiki chants for this practice. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or concerns.

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###