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State of the “Union” (mostly the music w/a link) January 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Yoga.
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“My expectations were reduced to zero at twenty-one. Everything since then has been a bonus.

Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.

 

*

– Dr. Stephen Hawking (CH CBE FRS FRSA), born 01/08/1942

 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, January 8th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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

 

“He is One, without beginning, middle, or end; he is all-pervading. He is infinite wisdom, and he is bliss.

The seers meditate on him and reach the source of all beings, the witness of all. He goes beyond all darkness. He is Brahma, he is Shiva, he is Indra, he is the supreme, the changeless Reality. He is Vishnu, he is the primal energy, he is eternity. He is all. He is what has been and what shall be. He who knows him conquers death. There is no other way to liberation….

He, as the Self, resides in all forms, but is veiled by ignorance. When he is in the state of dream that men call waking, he becomes the individual self, and enjoys food, drink, and many other pleasures. When he is in the state of dream that men call dreaming, he is happy or miserable according to the creations of his mind. And when he is in the state of dream that men call dreamless sleep, he is overcome by darkness, he experiences nothing, he enjoys rest.”

 

*

– quoted from “Kaivalya” in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (The Principal [sic] Texts Selected and Translated from the Original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

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Knowing, Feeling, Being… Free (mostly the music w/a link) December 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

“He is One, without beginning, middle, or end; he is all-pervading. He is infinite wisdom, and he is bliss.

The seers meditate on him and reach the source of all beings, the witness of all. He goes beyond all darkness. He is Brahma, he is Shiva, he is Indra, he is the supreme, the changeless Reality. He is Vishnu, he is the primal energy, he is eternity. He is all. He is what has been and what shall be. He who knows him conquers death. There is no other way to liberation….

 

 

He, as the Self, resides in all forms, but is veiled by ignorance. When he is in the state of dream that men call waking, he becomes the individual self, and enjoys food, drink, and many other pleasures. When he is in the state of dream that men call dreaming, he is happy or miserable according to the creations of his mind. And when he is in the state of dream that men call dreamless sleep, he is overcome by darkness, he experiences nothing, he enjoys rest.”

 

*

– quoted from “Kaivalya” in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (The Principal [sic] Texts Selected and Translated from the Original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 18th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “0619 Juneteenth 2021”]

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.)

 

Click here for a post related to this date.

Reminder: Class is cancelled next week and there will be a special offering the following week (January 1, 2022).

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Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (the Tuesday post w/an extra Wednesday link & some Thursday notes) November 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Food, Gratitude, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Give thanks!

This is the post for Tuesday, November 23rd. There is a link at the end for a post related to November 24th. 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.)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 *

– Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1), KJV

For many people in the United States, this week is supposed to be about gratitude and if you were educated in (or around) the USA, you know at least one story about how the fourth Thursday of November came to be all about gratitude. There’s just one problem… Well, ok, there’s a lot of problems; however, today I just want to mention the fact that the story most of us were taught about the Pilgrims and the “Indians” was only part of the story: the part about gratitude. But, for a very long time we weren’t taught the part about greed.

Now, I know, I’m about to lose some of you – or maybe I’ve already lost you. But, if you stick with me for a moment, you might actually thank me.

Some wise person once said, “History is written by the victors.” We can spend a lot of time contemplating the many weird ways that manifests when it comes to the history of the USA in general, but it’s pretty clear cut when it comes to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were the victors and, as many would not have survived 1621 without the aide of the First Nations people, they told a story of peaceful people fleeing religious persecution and then being saved by the kindness of strangers. It’s a “pretty” story –  a story for kids –  so it usually (and understandably) leaves out how very dire the situation was for the Pilgrims. However, that version also leaves out some pertinent facts about the identities of the people involved. Finally, it leaves out the fact that a day of thanksgiving is very common in a lot of cultures – especially religious cultures – and that other English settlers had already established an annual day of Thanksgiving in the “New World” long before the Pilgrims arrived.

Let’s start with that bit about “other English settlers.”

In 1619 – almost a year before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World – thirty-eight settlers sailed on the Margaret to what we now call Virginia. They traveled to an area of eight thousand established as Berkeley Hundred. The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) issued the land grant and directed the settlers to establish a “yearly and perpetually kept” day of Thanksgiving as soon as they arrived. Which they did… a little over two years before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving. When the Powhatan people forced the remaining Berkeley Hundred settlers to move to the Jamestown (in March 1622), the settlers continued the tradition of giving thanks in/on a new land.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

 *

– Tehillim – Psalms (100:1-5), KJV

Speaking of “Pilgrims,” let’s get into that bit about identity.

Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and arrived at “Plymouth Rock” on the Mayflower. So far as I know, that’s mostly true. What many of us were not taught, however, is that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pilgrims” with a capital P. They were puritans, specifically “Brownists” or “Separatist Puritans” (not to be confused with capital P “Puritans”), who initially fled to Holland in the early 1600’s. This is an important note, because the settlers lived in Holland –  and established a relatively stable community in Holland – for over a decade before they decided to travel to the New World. People had different reasons for wanting to leave Holland. In fact, some of those reasons are the same reasons people today decide to immigrate to the USA. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, however, they were not straight off the boat from England. Curiously, one of their reasons for leaving Holland was that the religious community was aging and the younger generation had started assimilating. In other words, the children of the adults who had fled religious persecution were more Dutch than English. 

One hundred, two people reportedly traveled from Holland to the New World on the Mayflower in the summer of 1620. About half of those people came from Leiden, Holland, but only about 27% of that original number were adult members of the separatist church. Two people died during the 65+ days journey and two people were born – one at sea and one at the shoreline. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two that died were not part of the congregation. Although one, probably both, of the two that were born were part of the congregation, their numbers wouldn’t have been included as “adults.” So, let’s say, against all odds, all 28 members of the Church survived the journey and participated in the thanksgiving prayer when landed was sighted on November 9, 1620. Either way, by the following month almost everyone was sick and good number (about half) would die during the first winter. 

So, think about this for a moment: Heading into the planting season, the less than 50 people remaining were weakened and unprepared for the upcoming winter. Truth be told, they were unprepared from the start. According to one of those on board the Mayflower, they “borrowed” corn and beans from the existing homes they found when they first came on shore. I say “borrowed” because their intention was to pay for the seeds they intended to plant – seeds they would not have had had they not stolen borrowed them. In other words, without those seeds it is unlikely they would have had anything to eat during the winter of 1621. We can say that they were ill and desperate. We can say that they had the best of intentions. But…

The settlers first direct contact with the people from whom the most likely stole was understandably not good – although that’s not usually part of the story. What is part of the story and what is probably true is that despite having some bad encounters, there were some First Nations leaders who were willing to help the settlers.

But then there’s the whole issue of who those First Nations people were. There were hundreds of tribes in the so-called New World when settlers arrived in the 1600’s. These First Nations included a variety of groups associated with the Wampanoa (or Wôpanâak), including the Nauset, Patuxet, and Pauquunaukit (or Pokanoket) – all of whom had encountered English settlers before the Pilgrims arrived and did not necessarily have favorable history with those settlers. Past experiences had taught the First Nations people that encounters with the English would result in loss, either through theft, violence, or illness. In fact, the Pilgrims settled on land that had previously belonged to people (the Patuxet) who died from an epidemic.

In the theory, the lone survivor of the infectious disease that wiped out the Patuxet was Tisquantum, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain; taken to England in the early 1600’s; and then returned to his village in 1619 (after being “anglicized” and possibly baptized) – only to find his village decimated. Probably for a variety of reasons, he helped the Pilgrims survive. However, there is some discrepancy about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Some accounts say that the First Nations people were not initially/officially invited, but were welcomed once they arrived. Other accounts suggest the table was always blended.

Why are there different accounts? Because they were told by different people.

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

*

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

Click here for more about the author Zitkála-Šá.

*

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

At the end of Tuesday’s practices, I asked if people would rather be grateful or greedy. It’s a question for those of us living in a material world, but I also think it’s a great question because of the times in which we are living. It is so easy to view things we want as things we need and, in the process, lose sight of the things we have. We might even lose the opportunity to “get what we need,” because we are so focused on the things we want (and remember “we can’t always get what we want”). Sometimes, we’re so busy waiting for something to happen that we forget about what is happening, right here and right now.

During the 2015 Sukkot retreat, some of us started saying, “Don’t be greedy, be grateful.” First, it was a much needed reminder because the food was so amazing! Later, for me, it became a great little mantra when I found myself wanting more of something – whether that was more of my favorite treat, more yoga with a certain teacher, and/or more time with a special person in my life. Moving the focus from desire to appreciation changed my behavior around those specific elements, and also changed the way I interacted with all the other aspects of myself and my life. Turns out, that’s part of the practice. 

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali classifies attachment rooted in pleasure (which we refer to as attachment) and attachment rooted in pain (which we refer to as aversion) as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that are rooted in avidyā (“ignorance”) and lead to suffering. Part of that suffering comes from the fact that things and people change in ways that are not consistent with our desires and expectations. Another part of that suffering comes from the fact that we can spend so much time and energy focused on obtaining and achieving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want that our judgement becomes cloudy. We find ourselves, like the religious colonizers, acting in ways that are in direct opposition of our beliefs. In fact, we can get so greedy – so covetous, if you will – that we forget that laws that govern us. 

Religions (like all of the Abrahamic faiths) and philosophies (like Yoga and Buddhism) have laws, rules, and/or precepts related to stealing. We can look at these as guidelines that keep order within a society, but if we dig deeper we start to notice that they also keep order within an individual. For example, the Yoga Philosophy begins with an ethical component comprised of five yamas (“external restraints” or universal commandments) and five niyamas (internal “observations”). All ten are interconnected, but there is a direct connection between the third yama and the second niyama. The third yama is asteya (“non-stealing”) and the second niyama is santosha (“contentment”). We can easily see how being satisfied, even happy, with what we have curbs the urge to desire what belongs to someone else. It turns out, however, that accepting what we have with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude can also lead to happiness.

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Modern research has shown again, and again, that giving thanks – or even trying to come up with something for which you are grateful – changes your brain chemistry and, over time, can elevate your baseline for happiness. Practicing gratitude is a game changer and an attitude changer. So, while there are certain times in the year that we’ve designated as a day of thanks, the truth is that we can benefit from practicing gratitude every day.

The 16th century rabbi Moshe ben Machir (or Moshe ben Yehudah haMachiri) is the author of Seder haYom, first published in 1598/1599. The title literally means Today’s Order and gives a detailed outline of how an observant Jew should move through the days of their life. The day starts with a prayer, a prayer of thanks. This prayer (“Modeh Ani” / “Modah Ani”) is very interesting on several different levels. First, it is described as the very first thing one does. Can you imagine saying, “Thank you” before doing anything else? Even before washing one’s hands or brushing one’s teeth, even before checking one’s phone (in a modern context).

Think for a moment about that old adage about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. That implies that there is a right or correct side of the bed. It’s all about how you start your day.

Now, imagine what happens if you start your day with gratitude.

Second interesting thing: This is not a generic thank you. It is specifically a thank you, to G-d, for keeping one’s soul safe and then returning it to one’s body. Here’s two more things to keep in mind. First, most Jewish prayers are said after one washes their hands. So this prayer is different in that it doesn’t use the name of G-d. Second, just like with a lot of sacred languages, Hebrew uses the same word(s) for spirit/soul as for breath. Hebrew is different from some other languages, however, in that it has specific words for spirit/soul/breath in the body (inhale) versus outside of the body (exhale). So this prayer is about being grateful for being given this day and this breath. It is an acknowledgement that this day, this present moment, is not promised. It is a gift. It is a gift, in the religious context, of faith – given with the belief that one will do something with the time they have been given.

Outside, of a religious context, starting the day by saying, “Thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe…” is a reminder that this day and this breath are valuable and worthy of appreciation. That specific phrasing is courtesy of Jess, a person in the UK who uploads guided meditations on YouTube. I really appreciate their vocal tone and accent and find that, even after a few weeks of using the recording, the best parts of the practice have taken root. And, just like other things that take root, more gratitude blossoms from there. 

Try it. Even without the recording below. I bet if you say the first two, you’ll start to think of other things – even people – for which you are grateful. I feel pretty comfortable in betting you that if you consistently appreciate the things and people you have in your life, you will gain new appreciation of your life.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

*

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

*

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

Here’s Jess, bringing the gratitude…

 

Just a reminder that there was no class on Wednesday, November 24th, but I sent out substitute recordings related to this date-specific practice. I will also send out substitute recordings for Saturday. Classes will “re-zoom” on Sunday, November 28th.

 

### Thank You (for being you)! ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (mostly the music w/*UPDATED* link) November 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Gratitude, Health, Music, Wisdom.
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“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 23rd) 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 “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

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

Click here for the blog post related to this practice (with links and notes related to November 24 and Thanksgiving).

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

.

### Thank You! ###

What Happens When We Practice Santosha? (the Sunday Post) February 9, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, February 7th. 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.]

“It is well worth analyzing the circumstances of those occasions on which we have been truly happy. For as John Mansfield says, ‘The days that make us happy make us wise.’ When we review them, we shall almost certainly find that they had one characteristic in common. They were times when, for this or that reason, we had temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived – as we so seldom do – in the depths of the present moment, without regretting the past or worrying about the future. This is what Patanjali means by contentment.”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Over the last few years, and especially over the last twelve months, I think that we have all experienced the highs and lows of life. We have experienced some joys; and also a lot of things not going our way and people not acting in a way we believe is appropriate. And, we can point to all these things as the source of our frustration, anger, fear, and disappointment, as well as the source of our loss and grief and sorrow. Everyone I know has lost someone in the last year – and we have also lost a way of doing things and living life… we’ve even lost, in some ways, the way we grieve and deal with the loss of those we love. While we can, for sure, connect to certain things (specifically things not going our way and people not behaving “appropriately”) to our suffering, the Eastern philosophies clearly state that is not the external factors that cause our suffering: it is the internal factors; our attitudes and our attachments.

In both the Yoga and Buddhist philosophies, suffering is caused by attachment. Patanjali includes two kinds of attachment in his short list of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: attachment rooted in pleasure (which we just call attachment) and attachment that is rooted in pain (which we call aversion). We can think of these as things we like and things we don’t like – or even people we like and people we don’t like, or the behavior we like and the behavior we don’t like. But, whether the attachment is rooted in pleasure or pain does not matter. Because, according to Patanjali, both are tied to the other three forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: ignorance to the true nature of things; a false sense of self; and fear of loss or death. Over the last few years, but this last year in particular, we have all been confronted by our ignorance – even when we didn’t realize it.

If you are anything like me, once you know a solution to a problem you want to start fixing the problem. But letting go of what we like and dislike – especially when those likes and dislikes define us – is easier said than done. There is a definite practice of non-attachment and also a practice of detaching, but both can feel a little like giving up pleasure. Who wants to do that? Neither do we necessarily see the benefit of giving up what we don’t like when, in our minds, we believe we are working to avoid the things that cause us pain by staying away from certain things and people. And, who wants to stop avoiding things and people we “can’t stand” or associate with suffering? That sounds like bringing in more pain and more suffering. Who’s going to volunteer for that?

But, what if part of the practice immediately changes the way you feel? What if there were one or two things that you could do in any given moment that would change your attitude and engagement in the moment? What if those one or two things are things you normally do when things are going your way (or even better than expected) – and what if you realized that doing those one or two things was not dependent on external factors?

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experienced it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 

 

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

Studies show that gratitude, giving thanks (or even just thinking about things for which you could be grateful) changes the mind-body. Of course, with all that’s gone on this last year, it would be easy to forget to express gratitude. You may have even forgotten what it feels like to feel grateful. Consider, however, that being grateful is not about the external factor. It is all about your feelings toward a person, place, thing, and/or experience. Gratitude is all about appreciation. It is about acknowledging the benefit or merit of something or someone. Even if it is something small, I would encourage you to be very specific about that for which you are grateful. That’s one little thing you can do that can make a big difference.

A second thing you can do, to change your attitude and engagement in the moment, is to practice santoşā (“contentment”), which is the second niyamā (“internal observation”) in the Yoga Philosophy (or, today, you can think of it as the Number 7 in the philosophy’s list of ethics). In sūtra 2.42, Patanjali explains, “From contentment comes happiness without equal.” In his commentary, the 5th century sage Vyasa said, “‘All sensual pleasures in the world and the great happiness in heaven combined do not equal even one-sixteenth of the joy that arises from the elimination of craving.’” This, of course, sounds like something for which we would all sign up: unsurpassed happiness and joy.

Part of the problem, however, is that humans are sensual beings. The other part of the problem is that there’s a part of our minds that is prone to judging. So, while it is natural that our bodies and minds crave sensation, it is also natural that from a very early age, we learn to categorize the sensations as good or bad, pleasurable or not pleasurable: things we like and things we don’t like. Then we proceed to build a life full of what we like and empty (as much as possible) of what we don’t like.

But, that’s not how life works. Inevitably, things don’t go our way; people don’t behave the way we want or expect them to behave; we don’t get some of what we want; and we get some of what we don’t want. And, along the way, we experience suffering. We may even lose sight of what we need; because we are so caught up in what we want and don’t want.

 

“I miss your smile
Seems to me the peace I search to find
Ain’t going to be mine until you say you will
Don’t you keep me waiting for that day
I know, I know, I know you hear these words that I say”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Waiting for the Day” by George Michael

 

 

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”

 

 

– quoted from the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones (which is sampled in George Michael’s “Waiting for the Day”)

 

All year, people around the world have struggled when faced with the conflict between socially distancing recommendations and their religious and/or family traditions and rituals. Some people took a good hard look at what mattered most to them – what was required or needed to fulfill a commandment or tradition – and decided they could observe virtually or socially distanced in a way that did not compromise their faith. Other people took a good hard look and decided there was no compromise that would satisfy the requirements of their faith or their family. Some people just decided they weren’t willing to compromise. Everybody suffered; but some folks suffered more than others.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that some folks in the first group were satisfied, content, when everything was said and done. They were happy, given the circumstances. Some of the people in the second group endured additional hardships, either because others didn’t agree with their position; people got sick (and died); and/or it still didn’t feel like normal. The same is also true, maybe even more so, for the people in the final group.

I’m not implying here that if you “follow all the rules” (some of which were not made by you) that no one in your circle with get sick, no one in your life will ever die, and you will never experience any hardship. That’s not even close to what I’m saying. Instead, what I am pointing out is that during a time of great hardship, our attitude and engagement of the moment can change our level of suffering during the hardship. Even more importantly, as studies have shown that we all have a baseline for happiness and that that baseline can change (either because of our practices or because of additional hardships), how we are enduring this present moment will play a part in how we experience the next moment… which, unfortunately, may include more things not going our way and more people not behaving the way we think is appropriate.

Here’s a little story, about a little thing that caused me a little frustration and grief. Remember, it’s a little thing, just a little thing, but it’s not the details that are important – it’s the moral.

“I’m shameless, I don’t have the power now
But I don’t want it anyhow
So I’ve got to let it go”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Shameless” by Billy Joel, covered by Garth Brooks

For months now, I’ve been thinking about February 7th and how, as a Garth Brooks fan, I like to celebrate the day, his birthday, with a Garth Brooks playlist. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been a country music fan all my life and became a Garth Brooks fan pretty much as soon as he started playing concerts outside of Oklahoma. My adoration and pleasure of a good country song has not diminished over the years, despite the sometimes problematic relationship that Black fans like myself have with an industry that is not only predominantly white on stage, but also predominantly white in the lyrics and in the audience.

But, just to be clear, this music is part of my history and part of my heritage – and, more importantly, Garth (born 2/7/1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma) has never let me down. We may not agree on everything, but he has created an atmosphere of inclusivity (on stage and off) that means I have never had to worry about what’s going to happen when I show up for a concert (which I always do) and I have never not sung along with a song because the lyrics are borderline (or over the line) racist or misogynistic. He’s a great storyteller and a great performer, which means that I know I can (and have) taken anyone to a Garth concert and, regardless of their musical preference, they will have a good time. I appreciate that he’s a music fan as well as a music maker. I also appreciate his love of baseball and his philanthropic endeavors that support kids playing sports. And, yes, I get a kick out of the fact that he calls his wife, “Miss Yearwood.”

You can say it’s all an act, and that’s fine, it doesn’t change the impact. Words and actions matter.

Part of the reason I love Garth’s music is that I can, as some of my friends can attest, find a Garth song for every occasion and every story. Up until quarantine, almost every one of my class playlists included at least one Garth song. The obvious exceptions to that rule are the playlists for the end of the month of Ramadan, playlists for the High Holidays in Judaism, International Women’s Day, and any day celebrating the birthday of another musician or composer. So the fact that “my sweet man” (as some of my friends and I call him) shares a birthday with Laura Ingalls Wilder (b. 1867, in Pepin Country, Wisconsin) and Sinclair Lewis (b. 1885, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota) just meant that I got to tell the story of a “Hard Luck Woman” – “[Who’s] Every Woman” – and talk about what life was like down on “Main Street” – especially when you realize the blessing of “Unanswered Prayers.”

But I knew, months ago, that this year would be different. Because Garth Brooks has a definite aversion to streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube, I’ve had to cut much of his music out of my playlists. I’ve also had to figure out a way to get certain messages across with different music. Sometimes, I appreciated the fact that a song recorded by one of the original songwriters still fit in the playlist, and I definitely snuck on a little sing-a-long with the Muppets. I also included a tribute band cover here or there; but it wasn’t the same. And, it’s been consistently frustrating to realize that while “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” has been sung in almost 80 languages and recorded in English by over 50 people or groups, very few people have included “women” in Ed McCurdy’s classic. (Even though, in my opinion, art imitates life and you actually have to work harder to just include “men.”)

So, even though, it’s a little, trivial, frivolous thing… it was causing me grief. I mean, I taught for almost 10 years before the 7th fell on a day when I taught, but it wasn’t a cultural or religious holiday! So, selfishly, I wanted to have a little bit of (my) normal.

I thought about taking the day off. I thought about chucking my ethics for the day. Then I decided to take a deep breath, let go of my attachments, get a good night sleep and wake up with the intention of teaching a class that would satisfy people and that they would appreciate.

But, a funny thing happened in the morning: Garth was on YouTube and Garth was on Spotify. It was just one song – a song I don’t always appreciate when it’s covered or adapted, but I appreciated it on this day. One song, but it’s a song that tells a story… and, ultimately, it’s a story about longing and fear and going deeper.  

“I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Shallow” by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, covered by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

 

 Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Mr. Midnight, alone and blue
The brokenhearted call me up when they don’t know what else to do
Every song is a reminder of the love that they once knew
I’m Mr. Midnight, can I play a song for you?”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Mr. Midnight” by Garth Brooks

 

### LOVE ALWAYS WINS ###