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Some Things are Universal August 1, 2020

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“There can be no doubt, that, in most cases, their judgment may be equal with the other sex; perhaps even on the subject of law, politics or religion, they may form good judgment, but t would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men, although their powers of mind may be equal to the task.”

 

– quoted from “II: Becoming an Advocate” in Observations on the Real Rights of Women , with Their Appropriate Duties, Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense  by Hannah Mather Crocker (published 1818)

 

Believe it or not, Hannah Crocker was advocating for women’s rights when the wrote the above, in 1818, and stated that “It is woman’s peculiar right to keep calm and serene under every circumstance in life, as it is undoubtedly her appropriate duty, to soothe and alleviate the anxious cares of men, and her friendly and sympathetic breast should be found the best solace for him, as she has an equal right to partake with him the cares, as well as the pleasures of life.” Taken out of context, and viewed with a modern mind, it is easy to think that Crocker would have disapproved of Maria Mitchell, who was born today in 1818 (on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts).

Miss Mitchell, as the king of Denmark would refer to her, was the first acknowledged female astronomer. Her Quaker parents believed in equal education for the 10 offspring, regardless of gender, and her father shared his love of astronomy with all of his children. Miss Mitchell, however, was the only one really interested in going deeper into the math and science of what they viewed as “a hymn of praise to God.” She was assisting her father by the age of 12; opened and taught at a school for girls by the age of 17; and starting working as the librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum in her twenties.   On October 1, 1848 she observed what she initially thought was a distant star, but quickly suspected was actually a comet. Further observation proved her correct and, after her father wrote to the Harvard Observatory, her conclusion was reported to the King of Denmark who awarded her a gold medal and named the newly sighted object “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Maria Mitchell would go on to be the first woman appointed to the American Association of the Advancement of Science (also in 1848), the first woman to earn an advanced degree (1853), the first woman appointed to the faculty of Vassar Female College (as their astronomy professor and head of their observatory, in 1865), and, therefore, the first woman in American history to earn a position as an astronomy professor. She is what I refer to this week as an impossible woman (more on that in a later post) and Hannah Crocker may or may not have approved.

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

 

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell

Whether or not Hannah Crocker approved of Maria Mitchell’s life choices is kind of beside the point. What’s relevant here is the idea that all things being equal, there are still people who believe there should be different rules (and therefore different rules of moral conduct) for different people based on gender, race, or other external factors. A quick glance at religious and philosophical commandments and precepts, however, indicates that (in most cases) the big commandments and precepts are intended for all, they are universal.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Yoga Sūtra 2.31: jātideśakālasamayānavacchinnāh sārvabhaumā mahāvratam

 

– “[The five restraints] are not affected by class, race, ethnicity, place, time, and circumstance. They are universal and become a great vow.”

There are times when I am quite perplexed by the different ways people will twist things around so that the  rules and laws no longer apply to them. Hold off (for just a moment) on jumping to conclusions and let me be specific. Over the years, I have been involved in several discussions regarding the Buddhist precepts. There are five basic precepts or rules of training for lay Buddhist: non-harming (or non-killing), non-stealing, not engaging in illicit sex, a commitment to truth/honesty, and not imbibing in intoxicants. Notice how the first four overlap with the yamās from the yoga philosophy and how both philosophies overlap with the last five of the 10 Commandments. Also, just as Jewish practitioners adhere to more than 10 commandments (613 in total), there are additional precepts for people on retreat and people who are taking vows.

Regarding what might be viewed as discrepancies in practice, all the categories include non-harming/non-killing, but I have heard people very clearly argue that they are not violating the precept/commandment/yamā if they didn’t actually kill the animal that results in their burger. Here, now, I am not judging that argument except to say that it can be confusing (to me), because I think it all comes down to intent. And, speaking of intent, I have listed the third precept as “not engaging in illicit sex” versus “not engaging in adultery,” just as I refer to bramacharyā in the more literal sense so that (in both cases) the focus is on the cause of the action (i.e., intent), rather than on the resulting action.

Intention is important. Yes, you can unintentional harm someone or something. And, sometimes, that unintentional act can be tremendously more harmful than something you did intentional (knowing it would cause “a little” harm). Most legal systems back me up on this, hence the reason there are different penalties for manslaughter versus murder, and even within each of those categories there are various degrees with different punishments. Intention also comes into play when you look at why there are more commandments in Judaism and why there are more precepts if you are on retreat of taking vows as a monk or nun. Intention is also the key to why some would say, from the outside looking in, that Islām only has one rule: avoid what is harām (“forbidden”). That said, if we are going to be dedicated to the truth (i.e., not lie), we have to be honest with ourselves about why we want to practice – or not practice – some aspect of our particular belief system(s).

Ask yourself why you follow certain rules. Is your intention in following the rule(s) to be good? To be holy? To be saved? To be enlightened? To not be reincarnated? To not have people judge you harshly? To not get in trouble? To mitigate (or lessen) harm to yourself or another?

In the commentary for yoga sūtra 2:31, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and others point to the fact that the intention is always to start where you are, given your particular situation. These practices are intended to set up for success and so the expectation is that you (again) practice with dedication and devotion to the best of your ability. As stated in the sūtra, these restraints can be applied to every situation. They are universal. The last part of the sūtra is equally important, because by practicing where you are and as you are, on every plane of existence, these practices become habit. They become ingrained in your psyche. They become the great vow and you start to think, speak, and act in a way that is mindful of all living beings…without actually having to think about it.

But, of course, we start off thinking about it.

“Killing a human being is murder, but killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is a spiritual offense for a strict vegetarian, but not for a fisherman. Hunting in and around a shrine is an offense, but hunting in the forest is not. For a Hindu, eating meat on the fourteenth day of the moon is an offense, but eating meat on other days is not. In day-to-day life it is a grave offense for a soldier to shoot someone, but it is not an offense for a soldier to kill and enemy on the battlefield.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Speaking of “killing a fish,” today is also the anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. Born today in New York City in 1819, exactly a year to the day after Maria Mitchell, the author shared a love of the sea (and certain other experiences) with Nathanial Hawthorne. During Melville and Hawthorne’s brief friendship, they were both their most prolific and published what would become their most popular works, including Melville’s Moby-Dick and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Both wrote about people who obsessively purposed their goals (something that is encouraged in yoga), but their characters did not always temper their determination with devoted surrender and non-attachment (which is something that is also encouraged in yoga). Lest you think it was only Hawthorne who focused on commandments, read on.

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

Per my email, I have cancelled class today due to a family emergency. I still have tomorrow’s class on the schedule, but stay tuned here to see how that works out. If you were planning to practice today, please, practice with yoga sūtras 2.30-2.31 in mind. Since this week’s sūtra focus is a continuation of last week’s, you can use last week’s recording. If you are not on my email list, you can request the audio recording from last week via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Last week’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

As this is the anniversary of the 1-35 bridge collapse, please hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds today. So many people are suffering with current events, but let us not forget that some people are still grieving and healing from past events. To quote my dad, “Sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

###” CALL ME ISHMAEL, GOD LISTENS” ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Back to the Start April 27, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

 

 “Biology transcends society.”

 

–from The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life by Jessie Redmon Fauset

Many, if not most, Westerners are introduced to yoga through the physical practice – which is a combination of asana (“seat” or pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath or “control of breath”). This introduction often comes without any introduction to the philosophy itself – or to the fact that people are starting in the middle of the practice, instead of at the beginning.

In some ways, starting in the middle is problematic, because the beginning of the philosophy provides the ethical component and fundamentals through which one can access the rest of the philosophy. Just as the beginning of a story introduces the characters and their situation, the beginning of the philosophy/practice introduces the who, what, where, why, and (most importantly, in some cases) the how of hatha yoga (the physical practice, regardless of style or tradition).

When you start in the middle of the story, you are constantly playing catch-up or asking someone else to explain what’s happening. You’re a little lost. You can still catch on, but it’s harder than if you started at the beginning. Another problematic aspect, especially if you are asking someone else for all the pertinent details you missed at the beginning, is that they occasionally missed a detail that comes back up later – and suddenly, you’re lost again. It’s like walking into the middle of a something written by a fan of Anton Chekov and going, “Wait, why does it matter what color thread she uses?” Or, wondering why people are laughing about a Rolex watch in Die Hard.

Yoga Sutra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabramacaryāparigrahā yamāh

– “Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-possessiveness are restraints (or universal commandments).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Cleanliness, contentment, discipline (or austerity), self-study, and trustful surrender to the Divine are the internal observations.”

The first and second limbs of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga consist of five universal commandments and five internal observations. Although, the yamas are often referred to as “external” restraints the truth is that we may first need to practice these on ourselves. Hence, we not only do unto others as we would have them do unto us (to paraphrase Jesus, Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12), we also do unto ourselves as we would do unto others (which sounds a lot like Matthew 22:39). And the perfect place to practice is on the mat (or on the cushion). The same is true of the niyamas. Get on the mat, get in a pose, breathe and notice how you are treating yourself. Notice what you are thinking about yourself. Notice how you are loving yourself. Or Not.

As you all have heard me say, and as my early teachers say, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” So, as you move through the practice you are, essentially, moving through the different aspects of your life. How you treat the different parts of you, may reflect the different ways you treat people in your life; people who are, essentially and philosophically, reflections of yourself. How you focus on outside, versus on the inside, reflects what you have been taught is most important.

“Sometimes I think that no matter how one is born, no matter how one acts, there is something out of gear with one somewhere, and that must be changed. Life at its best is a grand corrective.”

 

– From There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

A slight loophole to my earlier statement about how starting in the middle is problematic, is that most people are introduced to some aspect of yoga after they have already been introduced to some kind of moral code or ethical compass. You may not have heard of the yamas and niyamas before, but you’ve most likely heard of the Ten Commandments (notice 5+5 = 10). Even if you did not grow up in a Judeo-Christian environment, you did grow up within a society with a division between right and wrong and (for most people) that comes with an understanding that translates into a code of conduct. In other words, you have your own set of commandments and observations.

Ultimately, the real problem is not that people are not immediately introduced to the ethical component of the philosophy; it is that the importance of ethical behavior is not always emphasized at the beginning, and throughout, the practice. Furthermore, this ethical component has to extend beyond the practice on the mat (or on the cushion), because practicing will change the way you interact with yourself and the world around you.

That last statement is not conjecture or opinion. It is absolutely fact. Underlying this idea is, as William Broad points out in The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, that yoga can result in physiological changes to the body, including an increase in testosterone. Testosterone, of course, is a natural occurring hormone in all genders. It is related to muscle and bone mass, prevention of osteoporosis, as well as sexual drive, aggression, and competitive behavior. Broad is a science writer and book received a lot of criticism from the yoga community (myself included) not because of his scientific research, but because he lumped all physical practices together and decided to only look at the practice through the physical lens. So, ultimately, the biggest complaint was that he left out the context; he left out the ethics.

Mary Wollstonecraft, born today in 1759, was one of the earliest feminist philosophers. She authored A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she argued that women should not only be treated, educated, and respected in the same way as men, but should also be held to the same accountability as men. Wollstonecraft wrote, “The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force.”

“I am colored and wish to be known as colored, but sometimes I have felt that my growth as a writer has been hampered in my own country. And so — but only temporarily — I have fled from it.”

 

– Jessie Redmon Fauset in a 1923 Paris Tribune interview

Like so many other Harlem Renaissance artists, Jessie Redmon Fauset spent some time as an expatriate in Paris. An African-American editor, poet, novelist, and educator Fauset, born today in 1882, graduated as valedictorian of her class at Philadelphia High School for Girls, the city’s top academic school, and applied to Bryn Mawr College. She ended up at Cornell University, however, after officials from Bryn Mawr found her a scholarship at another university!

After graduating from Cornell and receiving a Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania, Fauset was selected by W. E. B. DuBois to be the literary editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis (from 1919 to 1926). Her novels focused on the lives of the Black middle class and, in some cases, the ethical and psychological ramifications of “passing,” where a Black person enters into society as a White person. Her work, as an editor and as a writer, was highly praised during her lifetime. Yet, despite the praise and the fact that she went to highly respected schools, you’ve probably never heard of her. There’s a good chance, however, that you’ve heard of some of the people whose work she highlighted as an editor: writers like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Gwendolyn Bennett.

You may notice that, with the exception of Bennett, all of those remembered writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance are men. And, you may not think very much of that, given the big picture that is how artists are promoted in the world, unless you consider a little bit of (her)story related by Morgan Jenkins in a 2017 The New Yorker article. The article talks about the events leading up to a dinner initially intended to honor Fauset and the release of her novel. The philosopher, writer, and educator Alain Locke, however, suggested that the evening should honor a group of writers and Faust ended up relegated to being “an afterthought.”

For many people, the other 6 parts of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga are an afterthought (or a never thought). If you join me tonight (Monday, April 27th) at 5:30 PM, however, the ethics will be front and center during a 75-minuite virtual yoga practice on Zoom. The new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practices.

I consent to you Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” 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, starting yesterday (Saturday), 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.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, 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 27th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 27th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 27th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

 

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Today’s stories takes us back to the start. So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 3 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

### IMBALANCE BALANCE IMBALANCE ###