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Another New Year, Another New Season (a “renewed” post) March 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or completing the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast!

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

I mentioned in my last “9 Days” video that we all have patterns. One of my patterns seems to be falling behind at certain points in the year. Maybe you have noticed that same pattern in yourself. Maybe, like me, there are times when you can pinpoint reasons, explanations, stories about why your engagement in the world changes – e.g., those years when Februarys were extra challenging and the fact that my maternal grandparents and my mother all died during (different) summers. Then there are times when the pattern seems odd (i.e., when you forget that those extra challenging Februarys still have a hold on you). Either way, when you start noticing those patterns, you may also start noticing correlating patterns – like when you start catching back up.

The following is a revised, updated, and abridged version of a 2021 post. The original post included information about the March 6th and 13th practices. 

Today, Saturday, March 20th, is the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, today is the end of the Bahá’i 19-Day Fast and the beginning of the Bahá’i New Year is at sunset this evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178 179.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, however, Patanjali underscored the importance of paying attention to the transitions.

In fact, when detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali highlighted the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and referred to them collectively as samyama. Once he explained how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautioned against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineated the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible. However, there is also an aspect of the practice that transcends these arbitrary delineations: outside becomes inside.

Endings become beginnings.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 20th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “032021 New Year, New Season”]

NOTE: Due to artist protests, one song may not play on Spotify. As I support artists in their efforts to bring about change, I am not re-mixing affected playlists.

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.)

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###

When You Need A Good Hard Rain (the “missing” Sunday post) February 7, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those celebrating the Spring Festival.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, February 6th. 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.)

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

*

– quoted from “Part Two: Logotherapy in a Nutshell” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

I don’t know about you, but this morning I woke up and I was looking for something. It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking for was someone to give me answers; someone who could make sense of things that just don’t make sense; someone who could offer me a little comfort – reassuring me that every thing is going to be OK – and a little encouragement. I was looking for a little hope.

Do you ever find yourself doing that? Scroll through your browser or your email or pulling books off of your shelf and then putting them back? Do you ever find yourself looking for the music that will fit your mood, but then deciding silence is better… only to discover the silence is a little annoying? I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I do. And, I definitely did this morning.

As soon as I realized what I was doing, I also recognized that what I was looking for was (already) inside of me. I think it’s natural – human, even – to seek answers and solace. We all do it and, more often than not, we look at something we may consider to be an external source. However, all the major religions and philosophies instruct us to turn inward. As we are part of the natural world, even turning to science can involve turning inward.

Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

*

– 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

Before we go any further, let me acknowledge the elephant (or cow) in the room: God (or gods). God, is the elephant or cow in the room, because people of certain religions – even some atheists or agnostics – may view the (big-D) Divine as something external. Without getting into a big theological debate or explanation, I’m going to humbly disagree with that perspective. I’m going to disagree, in part, because all of the major religions acknowledge that humans are created with some element of the Divine. We’re also capable of expressing those divine attributes. Additionally, I think the instructions that we find in sacred texts like the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament), as well as the Japji Sahib, support the idea that turning inward is the path outward.

And, while we’re on the subject, I will also admit that while we may differ in our conceptualization of God (whatever that means to you at this moment) I believe that every one believes in something (or someone). You can say that you don’t – but that’s a belief. You can say that you believe in Nature, community, the laws of science, or the laws of karma and I will happily point out that all of these systems have overlapping principles. In a nutshell, one of the big overlaps is the idea that what we put out into the world is what we get back.

“Cast your bread upon the water and it shall return to you.”

*

– My great-grandmother Pam, quoting Ecclesiastes 11:1

“The law of Karma is a universal process, whereby causes lead to effects. This is something that all of us are already familiar with, whether or not we use the word Karma to describe it. Newton’s third law of motion, that every action leads to a reaction, is an application of the law of Karma.”

*

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Today was the sixth day of the Lunar New Year. For many people who have been celebrating, things have gone back to the ordinary. There are, however, some people celebrating the Spring Festival who attribute special significance to this sixth day. Instead of re-opening their businesses (and welcoming the God of Wealth) on the fifth day, some shop owners will wait until the sixth day. Some folks will celebrate the birthday of all horses, based on the creation story whereby different animals were created on each day. Finally, some associate the sixth  day with kicking out the Ghost of Poverty and/or welcoming the Clear-Water Grand Master.*

The Ghost of Poverty is remembered as the son of a wealthy man – possibly Zhuan Xu, one of the Three Emperor and Five Sovereigns. This son was short in stature, poor in health, and eschewed any signs of wealth. Legend has it that he ate plain food and that even when he was offered nice clothing, he would refuse the gift unless it was distressed. In other words, he was shrouded in poverty throughout his life and assigned the name “Ghost of Poverty” after his death. Since people want the exact opposite of what he had (or didn’t have), they take steps to rid themselves of things that remind them of his scarcity. Bottom line, they get rid of the rubbish.

People accumulate a lot of trash during the the initial celebrations to bring in the new year, welcome in the God of Wealth, and then welcome back the Kitchen God. However, throwing out the trash or doing a lot of cleaning before the fifth day (which is also associated with “breaking taboos”), is considered unlucky – or, just misguided, as you might throw out your good fortune. So, on the sixth day, people clean up, take out the trash, and get rid of accumulated waste. The house cleaning may be very simple and straightforward. Or, it may involve some rituals to highlight the symbolism of getting rid of what no longer serves the family (or the business) while making room for more prosperity, health, and well-being.

One such ritual involves candles lighting up the path away from the house or business (so the Ghost of Poverty can see himself out). Another ritual is cleaning the toilet – which ties back to an ancient tradition of cleaning out latrines and manure pits every three to five days. Cleaning the toilet is usually needed after big celebrations with family and friends. Additionally, a clean toilet simultaneously ushers out the Ghost of Poverty and curries favor with the Clear-Water Grand Master.

“Actually Qingshui was not a beginner. He was a monk who had already awakened to his essential nature. He engaged Coashan in a dialogue in order to see if he could refine or expand his insight. When Qingshui said he was solitary and poor, he was referring to the experience of emptiness – the experience of essential nature or ‘no thing.'”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Born Chen Zhaoyin, Qing-Shui Zushi was a Chán Buddhist monk who lived during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). Chán Buddhism is a Chinese form of Mahāyāna Buddhism that is rooted in meditation (or a “meditative state”) and is one of the predecessors of modern day Zen Buddhism. In addition to being called the Clear-Water Grand Master, he is also known as “Dropping Nose Ancestor” and “Black Faced Ancestor.” According to the legends, the monk** lived near Clear-Water Rock Mountain and traveled the countryside praying for rain during draughts. He also taught people to build bridges and plant trees in order to insure clean water in the villages and towns. Additionally, he was reportedly well-versed in herbal medicine and associated with the idea that ensuring the good health of one benefits those around them. When he passed, many miracles were attributed to him and to consecrated water.

Qingshui is particularly revered in Taiwan and in the Hokkien diaspora. In fact, there are temples dedicated to him in Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore. Many people will gather at the temple to pray for what they need in the coming year. At at least one of the temples in Taiwan, the celebrations involve a lot of pageantry, traditional Chinese opera, and even a contest for the largest pig.

Given the fact that the Grand Master of Clear-Water was a vegetarian, it’s kind of odd to me that this contest involves a pig. Then again, I’m on the outside looking in. Also, maybe it’s not so odd when you consider that Qingshui was all about what sustained the people and this contest sustains the people. Furthermore, the contest is a perfect example of how cultures overlap.

“When Caoshan called Qingshui’s name , he drew Qingshui’s attention to emptiness, or essential nature, manifesting in the relative world. It manifests in the unique person of Qingshui and in his every action. Each meal he eats, each glass of water he drinks, and each breath he takes is a cup of the finest wine. He wakes us up and helps us see that when we experience the underlying unity of all creation, our eyes are opened and we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment, person, and thing. The light of essential nature shines forth in myriad ways. When we appreciate our many blessings our life is rich and abundant and we are filled with gratitude.”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Many rains ago, there were people in a valley who were routinely attacked by wild boars. They also had ongoing conflict with the people in the mountains surrounding them. So, every year, they would sacrifice a pig to the God of the Mountain and pray for safety and protection during the new year. Based on this tradition, the sixth day of the Lunar New Year became the Day of the Pig. People gather at the temple to see the pigs entered in the contest and the heaviest (real) pig earns the title “God of Pig.” The pork from the winner can earn the owner over a million Taiwanese dollars (which converts to over $36,000 USD – and is more than the average household income in Taiwan).

While I’m not sure when it became customary to decorate the slaughtered pigs and present their backs as if they were a framed painting, it is a modern tradition for the pigs to be incredibly oversized. Their abnormally large size is one reason animal rights activists have objected to the contest. It is also one of the reasons why some families have switched to big packets of rice constructed into the shape of a pig. Some believe it is also why the number of entries has diminished over the last 15-20 years.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

*

– quoted from “Part One: Experiences in a Concentration Camp” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

At the end of the day, what do a man who chose to be poor and a monk who focused on sustainability (and who could also be described as one who chose to be poor) have in common with a giant pig, a horse, and our physical practice of yoga?

More, actually, than I can cover in this post.

On the simplest level, both men looked inside of themselves to determine what was the best way to live their lives – and then they lived accordingly. Their personal decisions had profound effects on their communities (for generations) and their stories offer us a moment of svādhyāya (“self-study”), a moment to reflect on how our decisions impact ourselves and those around us. We can consider what no longer serves us and what, metaphorically speaking, constitutes getting rid of the rubbish so that we can make room for more health, more wealth, and more prosperity. In the process, we can also consider when we are overblown or too full of ourselves; when we have more than we need; and when we are doing something all for show.

Yes, we can also do all of that in a seated meditation practice. Similarly, we can let things go as we exhale in a deep-seated meditation practice. However, our moving meditation creates an opportunity to move the muscles and, in doing so, move lymph throughout the body. Remember, the lymphatic fluid washes away dead cells and carries nutrients to the healthy cells. Moving the body helps to detoxify the mind-body. Even though we didn’t do any “horse poses,” we did what constitutes as prep for one of the more challenging “Horse Poses.” We also practiced in a way that “reined in” the wild horses of the mind and (potentially) created the mental and emotional clarity to see our way forward. Finally, the physical practice is a way to engage tapas (“heat,” discipline, and “austerity” and the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity).

Some believe that engaging tapas burns away karma (past thoughts, words, and deed). In fact, one of my teachers once said that we can burn away karma even when we don’t believe in such things. Think about it like this: If every thought, word, and deed is a seed being planted; then every seed has the possibility of coming to fruition. We may plant flowers, fruit trees, shade trees, lush greens, vegetables and/or weeds. Sometimes it takes a while for things to come to fruition. And, sometimes we don’t know what we’ve planted until it pushes through the soil or we uncover it. There are things that can be both nutritious and delicious, as well as things that are deadly and toxic.

Either way, there comes a time when we nourish and harvest what we’ve planted and there are times when we dig it up and throw it away. The practice is simply a method of gardening. It’s also that good hard rain that keeps the soil hydrated and washes away what we no longer need.

“Physicist Stephen Hawking has remarked that mysticism is for those who can’t do math. In response to Hawking’s remark, my friend George Cairns retorted, ‘Mystics are people who don’t need to do math. They have direct experience!'”

*

– quoted from “Part I. Finding What Unites Us: Introduction. The Mystic Heart: Our Common Heritage – The Parliament of the World’s Religions” in The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale (b. 01/16/1945)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 6 2022”]

*ERRATA: During the practice I misidentified both the Ghost of Poverty and the Clear-Water Grand Master as “God of….” While some people do worship the latter, many simply honor them as examples of how we can live our lives.

**NOTE: Qīng shuǐ means “fresh water, drinking water, [or] clear water.” The Clear-Water Grand Master should not be confused with Jiang Shichao, who was born poor and made his wealth by building a dam along the Qingshui River.  Some said he “mastered” the water and turned it into silver, metaphorically speaking.

*

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

*

### Keep Breathing, Being Hope ###

Speaking of Rivers… and the New Year (the Tuesday post) February 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Meditation, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

*

– “Teaching Santipat,” Sanskrit chanting by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

On a certain level, there is always a question about how to begin… anything.

Just sticking to the physical practice for the moment, though: Is it best to begin in Child’s Pose, which by it’s simple physicality requires us to turn (and curl) inward? Or is it better to begin on one’s back, which promotes a certain amount of openness? Both have symbolic benefits as they relate to our lives and our practice – as does starting in a seated position on our sits-bones, which can also cultivate mindful awareness and a certain openness to wisdom. Having options, and being aware of the different benefits of the options, is a wonderful thing and I general encourage people to start where they are comfortable. However, I usually have a suggestion. After all, the beginning is an indication of how we mean to go forward.

In Chapter 17 of All of Grace, the Reverend Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.” Known as “the Prince of Preachers,” The Reverend Spurgeon was an English Particular Baptist, who was specifically offering advice about “The Fear of Final Falling,” or not being able to persevere on a righteous path; however, a lot of people consider his advice as applicable to all situations. Even if you are not particularly religious (or not religious at all), it would behoove you to start – anything – by connecting with the breath (which is a symbol of your life-force and your spirit) and letting that connection be your guide as you move forward.

Naturally, that is one aspect of how every physical practice of yoga begins. But, many practices also start with a chant – or you can think of it as an intention, a wish, or even a prayer or blessing. When I am leading the practice, I generally start with an English translation of the “Teaching Shantipat.” It is a very definitive declaration of how I would like to move forward. Every once in a blue moon, I use a meditation chant from Swami Jnaneshvara, that is specific to deep-seated mediation. Then too, there are times when the occasion calls for a big welcome or cheer – that sometimes comes in a different language.

“财神到 财神到
Caishen dao caishen dao [The god of wealth has come! The god of wealth has come!]

*
好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

*
财神话 财神话
Caishenhua caishenhua [Myth of money, myth of money]

*
揾钱依正路
wen qian yi zhenglu [if you follow the right path]”

*

– quoted from the song “Cai Shen Dao” [“The God of Wealth Has Come!” by Sam Hui, lyrics in Hanzi [Chinese characters], pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

Today is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. While many East and Southeast Asian cultures are celebrating at the same time – and even though there are some similarities to celebrations held at other times of the year – each culture has different rituals and traditions that connect people with their extended families, ancestors, and heritage.  For example, in parts of China and the diaspora, the beginning of the New Year is also the beginning of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. On the other hand, some Buddhist people celebrate the birth of Maitreya Buddha on the first day of the lunar new year and will New Year’s Day, as well as several days leading up to the first day, chanting, praying, and/or meditating (depending on their beliefs). People will also light candles and make offerings at the temple before their feasting begins.

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, this year is the year of the (water) Tiger. However, even in China (and its diaspora), where each day of the Lunar New Year has a special significance, each region has different stories and traditions related to that significance. For example, according to one Chinese creation story, different animals are celebrated depending on when they were created; thus, today is the birthday of all chickens. Others are celebrating the birthday of the water god and, therefore, will not wash their hair or their clothes on the first two days of the new year.

Even though there are some differences between regions and cultures, there are some common elements. The Lunar New Year celebrations generally include extended family coming together; the welcoming of ancestors and (in some households) the welcoming of household deities (like the water god); red clothes, red decorations, and red envelopes; fireworks, parades, and loud noises, a bit of feasting, and (of course), the wish, prayer, blessing, or shout for prosperity: “Cai Shen Dao! [The God of Wealth has come! in Mandarin]”

Since the (secular) Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, the Lunar New Year falls at different times according to the Western schedule. This year, the beginning of the Spring Festival is also the beginning of February – which means it’s also the beginning of “special” month in the United States.

A version of the following was original posted in 2021.

“I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

– from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Since 1976, February 1st has marked the beginning of Black History Month in the United States of America. I always found it curious: Why February, the shortest month of the year (even during leap years)? I sometimes wondered if the reason had anything to do with Langston Hughes, who was born today in 1901.*

Born James Mercer Langston Hughes, the poet was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance and the first Black American to earn a living solely from writing and public lectures. In addition to poetry (including jazz poetry, which he started writing in high school), he wrote novels, plays, essays, and letters…so many letters. He wrote so many letters, in fact, that at one point he was writing 30 – 40 letters a day and, by the end of his life, he could have filled 20 volumes of books with his letters.

He traveled the world, wrote about his experiences in Paris, Mexico, West Africa, the Azores and Canary Islands, Holland, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the Caribbean – but he always came home to Harlem. After all, his patrons were in Harlem. They were, in many ways, the very people about whom he said that he wrote: “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” He made a name for himself specifically writing about the Black experience, but (in doing so) he wrote about the American experience.

“Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.”

– quoted from the poem ”Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

Being an African-American born at the beginning of the 20th Century meant that Mr. Hughes easily trace his heritage back to slavery. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were slave owners.

He could also trace his heritage to freedom and a time when there was no question about freedom – as well as the time when people appreciated their freedom in new ways. His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was African-American, French, English, and Indigenous American. She was also the first woman to attend Oberlin College. She married a man, Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed heritage, who died in 1859 while participating in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and eventually married her second husband, Charles Henry Langston. The senior Langston, along with his brother John Mercer Langston, was an abolitionist and leader of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, who would eventually become a teacher and voting rights activist.

“So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

– quoted from the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

The Langstons’ daughter, Caroline (Carrie), would become a school teacher and the mother of the great poet. Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother, Langston Hughes should a definite talent and interest in writing at an early age. He was also devoted to books. Despite being academically inclined, he struggled with the racism in school – even when it seemed to benefit him, because he couldn’t escape the misconceptions, marginalization, and oppression that came with the stereotypes.

Still, he persisted. He attended Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he was the classmate of the then-future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And, when he had the opportunity to share his poetry with a popular white poet whose poetry “sang” (and was meant to be sung), he took advantage of the moment – even though he was working as a busboy at a New York hotel where the poet (Vachel Lindsay) was having dinner.

“I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,”

– quoted from “I Dream A World” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes and his words left an indelible mark on the world. As Black History Month is all about recognizing African-Americans who were influential to our society – but not always recognized by society; I have often wondered if Langston Hughes’s birthday being on the 1st was the reason Black History Month is in February. Well, as it turns out, it’s just one more example of serendipity.

 Created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian who was the son of former slaves, the annual celebration initially started as “Negro History Week” – and it was the second week in February for fifty years. Mr. Woodson started the week so that it coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and the observed/assumed birthday of Frederick Douglass (2/14/1818), the abolitionist, who escaped slavery at the age of 20). The existence of this heritage month has inspired heritage and cultural observation throughout the year so that the calendar, in some ways, reflects the United States: diverse and (academically) segregated. It has also changed the way some aspects of American history are taught.

“I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

– quoted from the poem “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 1st) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston & Day 1 2022”]

*

*2022 NOTE: According to most printed biographies (that I checked), Langston Hughes was born in 1902. However, many digital sources indicate that he was born in 1901 – and this earlier date is based on research and fact checking reported for the New York Times by Jennifer Schuessler (in 2018). Curiously, the 1940 census listed his birth as “abt 1905;” however, this information would have been given to a census taker by one of the poet’s roommates. (Additionally, we know from one his poems that Langston Hughes didn’t think very highly of the “census man” and the accuracy of census information.)

*

“When the firstborn, P’an Ku [a primordial being in Chinese mythology], was approaching death, his body was transformed. His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became peals of thunder…. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind [his breath] and evolved into the black-haired people. (Wu yun li-nien chi, cited in Yu shih, PCTP 1.2a)”

– quoted from Chinese Mythology: An Introduction by Anne Birrell

IT’S ALMOST TIME! Are you ready for another “First Friday Night Special?” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will consider the importance of having a plan. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

*

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.)

### KEEP ON A-CLIMBIN’ ON ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

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

 

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

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

It’s the Little Things, again (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing the Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 14th. 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.]

“The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.”

– quoted from “Preparing for Rosh Hashana: The secret to an inspiring new year” by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Just as you can’t jump up off the coach and run a marathon, without some training, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon once pointed out that the desire for a deep spiritual connection requires some preparation. The means he mentioned included introspection, meditation, and prayer – all methods also mentioned in other traditions, including in Indian philosophies like yoga. A lot of people, however, aren’t familiar with all 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy; they just know about the two limbs that form the postural practice: āsana and prāņāyāma. But, just practicing those two little things can take you deeper into the overall practice and help cultivate big connections.

In many ways, hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is all about little things and about bringing awareness to the little things. The way we sit or stand determines how we breathe; the way we breathe in different positions determines how we feel. When we bring our awareness to how we feel we can go deeper into the pose as well as into ourselves. It all starts with little things. Little things, like how we place our hands or engage our core, can make the difference between going deeper into a pose and deeper into ourselves versus getting injured. Although, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from getting injured; but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday’s story was all about how using the practice to notice little things, can give us insight into why we think the way we think and do (and say) the things we do (and say) – on and off the mat. For instance, next time you’re on the mat, give yourself the opportunity to notice these “little things” – one at a time and then all together:

  1. Make sure your legs are in a position that’s comfortable for low back and arms in a position that’s comfortable for neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out.
  3. Notice the “L” of your hands, especially when you have weight in your hands and arms. (In grade school you might have learned that one “L” on your forehead means loser, but if you put two “L”s together you have a shot at a goal; if you tip the ends out, you have a “W” – which means winner.)
  4. For a vinyāsa practice, match the movement to the breath. For all practices, notice the natural internal movement that happens as you breathe.
  5. Press your shoulders down and squeeze the tips of your shoulder blades together. Notice how the engagement in the back body affects the front of the body.
  6. Engage the inside (starting at your feet and engage your core by squeezing into your midline).
  7. Focus on something that’s not moving so that your mind-body stays present. Remember, where your eyes go, your mind goes; where your mind goes, your body goes – especially in a balancing pose.
  8. SMILE!
  9. Notice what happens when you put it all together.
  10. Change your perspective and look at things in a slightly different way. (If you are working on a peak and/or advanced pose, practice a pose that looks and feels similar and, therefore, may require similar engagement.)
  11. Don’t panic! Be present and trust your practice in this moment.

Tuesday’s practice also featured this personal story from Rabbi Yaakov Salomon. It’s a story about little things and is a great reminder that while we may not always notice the little things until they become the big things, the little things matter. In fact, every little thing we feel, think, say, and do is the possibility of a big thing we’re in the habit of feeling, thinking, saying, or doing.

The following was originally posted on September 14, 2020. The playlist links have been added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

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

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

New Year, New Season (a “missing” post for multiple Saturdays) March 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, New Year, Religion.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere.

[This post is related to three Saturdays, March 6th; March 13th; and March 20th. You can request an audio recording of any of the 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.]

 

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

Today, Saturday, March 20th, was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, the Bahá’i New Year started at sunset on Friday evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali instructs us to pay attention to the transitions.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

When detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali explores the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and refers to them collectively as samyama. Once he explains how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautions against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineates the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible.

Obvious, right? But what happens when we “Get Inside” (as we did on Saturday, March 6th)?

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the artist, was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese (then the Republic of Florence and now Tuscany, Italy). Known for works like David, the Pietá, and some of the most well-known frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was known as Il Divino (“The Divine One”) by his contemporaries, because he had the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and to create terribilitá (a sense of awesomeness or emotional intensity). He said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

In the practice of Yoga, we use the first four limbs of the philosophy the way Michelangelo used his carving and painting tools: to bring what is inside out, to set our inner angel free. Or, as I mentioned on the 6th, we can use it to set our inner GOAT free.

“‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”

 

– quoted from the Ebony Magazine article, “Muhammad Ali: ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ – Despite his medical problems, ‘The Greatest’ says there is plenty of fight left in his body” by Walter Leavy (published March 1985)

 

In 1964, it was announced to the world that the boxer we now know as The Greatest of All Times would no longer go by his birth name or “slave name” – which was also his father’s name. The heavy-weight champion’s grandfather had named his son (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.,) after a 19th-century abolitionist politician in Kentucky (Cassius Marcellus Clay) who, by some accounts, strong-armed President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate Confederate slaves and freed some of his own slaves in 1844, but still kept some slaves on hand. Muhammad Ali wanted to distance himself from that legacy of slavery and forge his own path; so, he chose a name that reflected his faith and his skills: Muhammad Ali.

The name change wasn’t even close to instantaneous. In fact, with the major exception of Howard Cosell, who coincidentally had changed his own last name back to his family’s original Polish surname, most journalists and media outlets continued to refer to the prizefighter as “Cassius Clay” for over a decade. And it wasn’t just a matter of people getting use to the new name. Because he refused to answer to his birth name, journalist would address him as Muhammad Ali in-person, but then write about “Cassius Clay.” By their own account, The New York Times wrote about over 1,000 articles about “Cassius Clay” from 1964 to 1968, but only referenced “Muhammad Ali” in about 150. This practice continued well into the 1970’s! But the practice wasn’t even consistent; the media seemed to have no problem referencing “Malcolm X” – even though, at the time, he was still legally “Malcolm Little.”

Muhammad means “One who is worthy of praise” and Ali means “Most high.” The names, as he clearly stated, were symbolic in nature – as all names are. By changing his name, Muhammad Ali honored his outside (i.e., the color of his skin) while also placing emphasis on the inside (i.e., his talent and his beliefs). He also gave the world tools to focus on the inside and to become more intimate. Sadly, some folks kept themselves stuck on the outside.

Yoga Sūtra 3.7: trayam antarangam pūrvebhyah

 

– “These three practices of concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna), and samādhi are more intimate or internal than the previous five practices.”

Patanjali devotes a series of “threads” to the distinctions between internal/intimate and external in order to illustrate that perspective can make something that feels internal feel “external” simply because there is something more “internal.” One great example of this can be illustrated by comparing different types of physical practices of yoga. For instances: A vinyāsa practice (because it is a moving practice) is more “yang” or active than a YIN Yoga practice (in which part of the practice is not moving for what can feel like an incredibly long amount of time). On the flip side, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga can be significantly more “yang” or active than a “Slow Flow” and a Restorative Yoga practice can be significantly more “yin” than a YIN yoga practice.

By the same token, focusing on the breath and the awareness of the breath  begins to feel more internal than just moving the body without breath awareness, but the former begins to feel more external when you can concentrate without actively thinking about the fact that you are concentrating on your breath (or anything else). In other words, the object of focus is the “seed” – something tangible and understandable, with a reference point. Then, there is a point in the practice when the focus becomes “seedless” – at which point being “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” (which was our thread on Saturday, March 13th).

Yoga Sūtra 3.8: tad api bahir-angam nirbījasya

 

– “These three practices are external, and not intimate compared to nirbija samadhi, which is samadhi that has no object, nor even a seed object on which there is concentration.”

 

In our physical practice, more often than not, we use the breath as our primary “seed.” At first we may simultaneously engage it on multiple levels. After all, we can feel it, we can direct it, and (under the proper conditions) we can see it. Eventually, however, we become absorbed in the experience of breathing and being alive – which is obviously a different experience than actively working with the breath, but it is also a different experience than breathing and living without being aware of the breath. I often think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of someone like Joseph Priestley, just as I think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of those three people who left footprints on the side of a mountain in Italy over 350,000 years ago.

On March 13, 2003, Nature Journal published the work of three paleontologists who had identified fossilized footprints (and handprints) as belonging to three homo-genus individuals fleeing the then-actively erupting Roccamonfino volcano. Through those external impressions (embedded deep in the earth), we get an intimate glimpse into a brief moment of their lives. We know two fled the volcano together, one assisting the other. We know about their pace and trajectory, based on the zigzag patterns and the places where it appears one or more supported themselves with their hands. We can use their steps as tools and then, based on our own experiences, move deeper from there.

Joseph Priestley, born March 13, 1733 (according to the Julian calendar) was an 18th-century English theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, liberal political theorist, and a member of the Lunar Circle (also known as the Lunar Society). He is credited with discovering oxygen in its isolated gaseous state (which he considered “dephlogisticated air”). He also inventing soda water – which, he believed, could cure scurvy and which he called “impregnated water.” He also believed science was integral to theology and, therefore, all of his scientific work was a reflection of his liturgical work, and vice versa.

Even though much of what Joseph Priestley believed, scientifically speaking, has been superseded by advancements in technology and science, his work is one of the steps that brought us closer to the knowledge we have now. Think of his phlogiston theories as “seeds” at the beginning of the process. Now, consider, how – having moved beyond that point of understanding – we start anew… and go deeper. (As we did today, March 20th.)

“Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton and have traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might see nothing very extraordinary in the process.”

 

– Joseph Priestley

 

This week’s “threads” can be a little hard to take in just from the sūtras themselves. However, the point is to experience them and, once we have experienced them (in context) we realize they are easier to understand. There are some really great analogies related to movement and transition – which is the whole point of these threads – but the one that came to mind today takes us back to the boat analogy.

Take a moment to imagine your breath as a wave, with you floating on your back or floating in a boat. It doesn’t matter if you are lazily enjoying some time off or in a rush to go somewhere. Either way, there are times when you will have to make an adjustment – a course correction, if you will. Sometimes, you have to make big adjustments in order to stay focused; other times, little adjustments. Every now and again, however, there is a moment where you don’t need to make any adjustments or modifications. You don’t have to peddle to stay afloat and you don’t have to steer yourself in the right direction. You are one with the waves, going with the flow and “in the zone.” This is the next level of the Yoga experience. 

Yoga Sūtra 3.9: vyutthāna-nirodhah-samskāra abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhah-kşaņa-chitta-anvayah nirodhah-pariņāmah

 

– “When the vision of the lower Samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.10: tasya praśānta-vāhitā samskārāt

 

– “When this suppression of thought waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.”

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 6th (the “Getting Inside or ‘What Is Inside, IV’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 13th (the “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 20th (the “New Year, New Season” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“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.

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

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###

More Ways to Breathe December 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Fitness, Health, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Yoga.
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[Email subscribers, please note that there may be some errors in the Sanskrit lettering, which I will correct as soon as possible. My apologies.]

“There are thousands of postures. In order to heal our physical and psychological injuries we must learn to select the postures suitable to our specific needs and arrange them in the proper sequence. Sequencing of asana is crucial because, as with anything else, a change in sequence drastically changes the result. (YS 3:15). Next, we have to practice these properly sequenced postures while staying within the boundaries of our comfort. Then, we must take our practice to the point where we are able to feel and touch the threshold of our discomfort. We refine our practices as we apply the principle of effortless effort described in the previous sutra.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

All the cues on moving into and activating a pose can be really overwhelming. It can seem constant and continuous… because it is. I often tell beginners not to worry about doing what they don’t understand – or even, to an extent, what doesn’t make sense. Do what you can do, as much as you can do it, for as long as you can do it (to paraphrase a very wise man) and eventually things start falling into place. Literally, the more you practice, the more parts of you start aligning. Yes, it’s true, that you can practice incorrectly – and you can do it for a really long time. It’s also true that when doing something wrong becomes the habit (and the practice) things don’t fall into place… things fall apart. We see that in our mind-bodies and we see it in the world.

Do you ever wonder where all this information came from? Do you every think about that first yogi, Adiyoga, and those first seven students? Initially, no one told anyone how to do anything. The first seven were inspired by seeing someone else do something they thought had value – and then they listened to their own mind-body! The question is always: How can I breathe deeply here? Or, what can I do to breathe more deeply here? And the answer is already inside of us. We just have to “listen,” which in the case of our mind-body requires paying attention to sensation, to how we’re feeling and how we are responding to what’s happening inside of us and all around us. That’s the practice.

“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

Being human, we have the ability to play, explore, and experiment, to see what works, when and where it works, and for how long something works. Thus, someone started moving their body into different shapes and then breathing in those different shapes, which had different effects. Then they would move into the shapes in a different way, breath into that different way, and noticed the different effects. Then they saw other people could do the same and experience similar effects. Then people, like Patanjali and Vyasa, started to codify the practice by writing it down. And this whole process and practice comes back to the breath, the spirit, the life force – and different ways to breathe, engage the spirit, and expand life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.49: tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedah prāņāyāmahah

– “Prāņāyāma, which is expanding the life force by controlling the movement of the inhalation and exhalation, can be practiced after completely mastering [the seat or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.50: bāhyābhyantarastambhavŗttirdeśakālasasamkhyābhih paridŗşţo dīrghasūkşmah

– “The breath may be stopped externally, internally, or checked in mid-motion, and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the [pause] is either protracted or brief.”

In commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.50, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati is quick to point out that while stambha (“cessation” or “transition”) is often translated into English as retention and therefore equated with kumbhaka (which is retention), there is a subtle difference in the usage here. First, the practice involves awareness of three parts of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and the transition (or pause) between the first two parts – which is repeated twice. Next, there is the slowing or expansion of the breath (as described in YS. 2.49). Finally, there is awareness and regulation of the breath in different places in the body – even directing it to those places; controlling the time (or length and duration of the breath); and counting (or numbering) each part of the breath.

Breath regulation in place, time, and by numbering can involve the practice of kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved by holding the breath on the inhalation or exhalation, and/or stambha vŗitti kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved in the middle of an inhalation or exhalation. Notice that the breath retention highlights transition.

Any breath retention is considered an advanced practice and, just as is instructed with more “basic” types of prāņāyāma, should only be practiced after mastering previous elements. Some teachers advise only practicing kumbhaka when after it naturally arises in your practice. This does not mean that you are ready to practice breath retention when you finding yourself holding your breath or shallow breathing because you are overly challenged in a pose or sequence. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

“Patanjali assumes that aspirants who reached this level of yoga sadhana are familiar wth the practice of the seven pranayamas, which together constitute the practice of prana anusandhana. Therefore, these aspirants have built a strong foundation for practicing the three advanced pranayama techniques he is presenting here.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The practicing of connecting the breath – and connecting to the breath – is broken down into the following seven steps:

  1.  Aharana prāņāyāma  – which is “to bring back” and revolves around awareness of the breath and how it feels in the body, as well as positioning the body so there is no shakiness, interruption, or abnormal breathing.
  2. Samikarana prāņāyāma – which is “to equalize,” and involves maintaining an equal calmness in the breathing and in the mind-body. There is also focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  3. Dirge-prashvasa prāņāyāma – which is “long exhalation,” and involves focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  4. Nadi shodhana prāņāyāma – which is alternate energy channel or alternate nasal breathing, and involves alternating the exhale and inhale between nostrils.
  5. Anuloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the same path,” and involves rapidly inhaling and exhaling through only one nostril.
  6. Viloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the reverse path,” and involves exhaling through one nostril and then inhaling through the other.
  7. Pratlioma prāņāyāma – which is “to switch paths back and forth,” and is only practiced after the previous two are mastered.

Note that the last three are practices are only intended for people who are healthy and have no underlying conditions. Also, please note that these terms are also sometimes used to refer to a specific pattern of breathing related to length and duration of each part of the breath.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

### To live is to breathe. To breathe with intention is the practice. To live with intention is the goal. ###

How Do You Respond? September 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

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

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

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

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

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

Have You Noticed The Change? April 21, 2020

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“In your meditation today,

May your body be still and comfortable;

May your head, neck, and trunk be aligned;

May your breath be smooth, slow, serene, and with no pauses;

May the flow of thoughts in your mind not disturb you;

May your meditation today bring you peace, happiness, and bliss.”

– Intention for meditation, set by Swami Jnaneshvara

 

There’s a lot going on right now, inside and outside; a lot to notice. So, perhaps you’ve noticed something is different, but haven’t mentioned it. Perhaps you have noticed the things that are the same, and appreciated them. Yet, even as we’ve spent the last few days very deliberately and very intentionally noticing things, perhaps you haven’t noticed one of the things that has changed.

In all fairness, there are a number of reasons why you might not have even encountered the specific change of which I speak. The biggest reason you might not have noticed the change is that you might not be using the playlist and/or you might not be listening to the before/after class music.

Over the years, music has become part of the ritual of the practice. A friend once remarked that she came into one of the studios at the Y and didn’t see me, but she heard a Garth Brooks song playing over the stereo and knew I was somewhere in the building. Some people have told me that don’t really like the outdoor classes (because there is no music) and others have said they prefer no music. Some people have said they never even notice the music, and then there are the times where it is just a little too loud.

Still, many people have remarked that the chanting at the end of the playlist really sets the tone and gets them in the right mindset. And that, ultimately, is why the music is there before and after the class. It helps to bring us into the space and into the moment; it helps us transition from the profane to the sacred and then back to the mundane – but this time taking a piece of the sacred with us.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

– “Teaching Santipat,” chanted by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

 

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May All-Beings, Everywhere, Be Happy & Be Free”

– Metta (Loving-kindness) mantra often chanted at the end of the practice

That said, sometimes I change the chanting at the end of the playlist. Don’t get me wrong; we still start with the practice with the English translation of the “Teaching Santipat” (a.k.a. “the group intention”), but there are times when I want to set the tone in a slightly different way before I ever say a word. So, I’ll change the ending that leads to the beginning. More often than not it’s just a simple change, like replacing the Santipat for the “Gayatri Mantra” on the days when we are focusing on the light. Other times, there’s a bit of a story, like a prologue, that I want to subtly and subliminally convey. And, usually, people notice the change (because it’s pretty obvious) – but not this time.

I’ve collected a pretty massive amount of music over the years – not professional DJ massive – but I have a lot of music and I am always buying more. As I mentioned this past Saturday, however, sometimes music on my playlist is not available on Spotify and/or YouTube. No one knows, unless I mention it, when I make a little switch – especially since I try to stick with the same composer and, obviously, maintain the same motif, tempo, and timing. And I only mention it now, because I want you to notice something is different.

“In the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind,
I bow to the lotus feet of our great teacher,

 

Who uncovers our true self and awakens happiness
Like a Shaman in the Jungle he brings total complete well-being.
He can even heal the most awful poison of conditioning and illusion.

 

The upper body of human shape, carrying
a mussel horn (original tone), a discus (infinity) and a sword (power of differentiation)
having 1000 bright heads,
I bow to Patanjali.”

 

– Ashtanga mantra, used to open Ashtanga practices all over the world

In searching for alternative pieces over this last month, I have discovered new songs from two of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary and Alexandra Stréliski, and also discovered the lyrics to a song, “Merci Bon Dieu,” that I had only ever used as an instrumental piece. In the case of the latter, it turns out the lyrics reinforced the reason I had so often slotted the instrumental piece into certain playlists and, in the case of the former, well…let’s just say I’m going to be buying more music when this is all said and done.

But that’s all lagniappe, just a little something extra that tells you a bit about my process. The real focus today, is what I’m offering and that’s the chant at the end of the YouTube and Spotify playlists. It is not, however, the “Teaching Santipat” recorded by Richard Freeman, which I normally I use in the practice and which I still recite at the beginning. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the version I use in the studio is only available on a CD set I purchased years ago when I wanted to add more chanting to my practice. Instead, what appears in the online playlists is a bit of kirtan recorded by Krishna Das.

“Mere Gurudev,” can be translated as “My Ultimate Teacher” or, literally, “My Teacher-God.” I have heard the chant was originally written by an unnamed Indian woman, who (as you will see by the words) intended it as an offering and a tribute to her teacher, Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba.

Maharaji was a lifelong practitioner of bhakti yoga (“union through devotion” or “union through love”), which includes the practice of kirtan (mantras chanted with music). He was the teacher of Ram Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Jai Uttal, Trevor Hall, and Krishna Das, as well as a host of entertainers and business moguls. Maharaji was reportedly so touched by the woman’s offering that he immediately asked for someone to write it down and for everyone to learn it. The Krishna Das version (which may exclude one of the original verses) translates as follows:

“My Gurudev, I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet
Whatever I have, you have given to me, and I dedicate it all to you.

 

I have no love, nor do I know you.*
I don’t even have the strength to worship you,
But this mind of mine, this body of mine,
my every atom is dedicated to you.

 

You are the only one in my heart and my thoughts.
You are the one who I call out to.
Now Make me your instrument…all I am I offer to you.”

 

– “Mere Gurudev” recorded in Sanskrit by Krishna Das

*earlier translation = “I have no love for you, nor any desire for you”

I was taught, and I believe, that our ultimate (and best) teacher is inside of us. That may mean different things to different people, but I don’t believe it makes it any less true. Part of what is true about that, is that I carry (as we all do) the lessons of all of our teachers – regardless of what they taught us. I was also taught, and also believe, that each and every one of us is simultaneously student and teacher to those around us. Meaning you all are as much my teachers as I am yours. Rather than using an online version of the “Teaching Santipat” that didn’t really resonate with me, I decided to add this bit of kirtan to the end of each playlist as a reminder, during this unsettling time, that what I offer is a gift to my teachers.

Thank you, for accepting these gifts.

“Namaste.”

– salutation / benediction meaning “I bow Thou”

If you are interested and available, please join me class today (Tuesday, April 21st) at 12 Noon or at 7:15 PM on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Tuesday’s playlist is the same as Sunday’s playlist (dated 04192020) and is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You may notice that the playlist is longer than normal – that’s because it is actually two (2) different playlists. If you are using the music, you get to choose your musical experience.

My apologies to anyone who was expecting the “In Memoriam (Musicians)” practice I have previously led on April 21st (in 2017, for instance). If you go to The Roots YouTube channel, you will find thatQuestLove has stocked the Wrecka Stow and made up for my omission, 5x over.

It’s Almost Time to Kiss My Asana (cause the yogathon starts Saturday, April 25th!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days

Teacher, teacher, tell me your Kiss My Asana story!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 21st (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 21st)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 21st)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 21st Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above or the Sunday and Monday posts from this week for an actual preview)

 

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###