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Wonderfully, Fearlessly, Hopefully Impossible August 5, 2020

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[This is the post for Tuesday, August 4, 2020.]

 

“Nothing in the world is single;

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—”

 

– quoted from “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Everything overlaps. We all share common threads. So, even without the Muhammad Ali quote (from 8/2), you could create a Venn diagram based on the first three “impossible” posts and figure out who I might highlight next as an “impossible person.” A Venn diagram is, of course, a set or logic model that shows the overlapping relations between finite collections. They are used in set theory, probability, logic, statistics, computer science, and other math modalities. These diagrams were developed by John Venn, who was born today (August 4th) in 1834. While he came from a long line of church evangelicals, including his namesake and grandfather, it was not impossible for him to choose a field of study outside of the church. That being said, two years after he obtained his mathematics degree from Gonville and Caius College (the fourth oldest and the wealthiest college at University of Cambridge), Venn became an Angelican priest and actually served in the church. It was after his first church appointment, while working as an intercollegiate lecturer at Cambridge, that Venn developed the diagrams.

If you create sets based on the biographies of Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, you might think that to make my impossible someone would have to be a woman who was the first woman to do something in a profession normally associated with men. You might even think that that someone had to be virtually unknown to the masses. But, then you have to add James Baldwin into the mix. Now, with the third set, you can broaden the definition to include any human who does something outside of society’s expectations – especially, if their achievements make it possible for others to follow in their footsteps and/or do something previously viewed as impossible.

I have heard that it is impossible to make a Venn diagram out of four circles – and I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t do a very good job of explaining (mathematically) why it is considered impossible – but you can use ellipses. So, when you add in the fact that John Venn was a suffragist who also encouraged woman to run for office, you might think he makes my list. But, he doesn’t. Neither does Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born today in 1792. Instead, today’s “impossible people” are a musician, a president, and a duchess.

“Some of you young folks been sayin’ to me, ‘Eh, Pops, what do you mean, what a wonderful world? How ’bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how ’bout hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful, either.’ But how ’bout listenin’ to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby – love. That’s the secret. Yeeeaaahhh. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.”

 

– Louis Armstrong (introducing “What a Wonderful World” in a 1970 recording)

The wonderful Louis Armstrong was born today (August 4th) in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Known as “Satchmo,” “Satch,” “Pops,” “Dipper,” and “Louie,” he came by his most famous nickname because people said the way he puffed out his cheeks when he played the trumpet made him look like he had a mouth full of coins. Some biographers even say that, as a child, he played for pennies and would actually use his mouth as his satchel. For five decades he carved a place for himself in the world as a trumpeter, a composer, a singer, and an actor. His career also spanned different genres of jazz and in 2017 he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Some might say that it should have been impossible for him to play the way he played given the way he breathed into his mouth. Others might think that, as a talented African-American entertainer, there was nothing impossible about his success. Yet, when you look at the history of music in America, you find that there was a time (cough, cough) when African-American music often crossed over into the popular culture – but, it did so without the African-American musicians. Louis Armstrong established himself without publicizing (or politicizing) his race and, therefore, his music entered a room before his skin color.

Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for most of his life, in honor of the Jewish family that “adopted” him as a child and bought him his first trumpet. He wrote in his memoir about seeing his “adopted family” experiencing discrimination and said that the way they lived taught him how to live with determination. Yet, his determination to live and be judged by his art rather than his skin color, led him to receive a lot of criticism from other prominent Black entertainers and activist. Part of the criticism stemmed from the fact that he played for segregated audiences and wouldn’t use his social power and echelon to press for civil rights. However, he did criticize President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his lack of response to the Little Rock desegregation crisis – even going so far as to cancel a State Department sponsored tour to the Soviet Union and state that he would not represent a government that mistreated his people.

“While I could say Pennsylvania and Ohio, and continue this proverbial two-step, I instead give them what they’re after: ‘My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.’ To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined. Yet when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating. When I was asked by ELLE to share my story, I’ll be honest, I was scared. It’s easy to talk about which make-up I prefer, my favourite scene I’ve filmed, the rigmarole of ‘a day in the life’ and how much green juice I consume before a requisite Pilates class. And while I have dipped my toes into this on thetig.com, sharing small vignettes of my experiences as a biracial woman, today I am choosing to be braver, to go a bit deeper, and to share a much larger picture of that with you.”

 

– quoted from “Meghan Markle: I’m More Than An ‘Other’” by Meghan Markle (published in Elle Magazine, July 2015)

1957 may have been when the FBI started a file on Louis Armstrong. So, you can definitely add that – FBI files – to the Venn diagram of impossible people; because the FBI definitely has files on President Barack Obama (born today in 1961, in Honolulu, Hawai’i) and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) (born today in 1981, in Los Angeles, California). President Obama served two terms as the 44th President of the United States and was the first African-American president (as well as the first openly biracial president). The Duchess of Sussex is not only a “commoner,” she is a biracial American woman who not only married into the British Royal family, she also did the doubly impossible by stepping away from the royal life. Both President Obama and the Duchess of Sussex worked as philanthropists before and after “holding” their very public offices. They have been known to feed the hungry and inspire people to hope.

“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

 

– quoted from (then Senator) Barack Obama’s address after the Iowa Caucus speech (January 3, 2008)

 

Hoping

### F Dm G C ###

A Brother’s Love August 2, 2020

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“Impossible is just a 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 potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

 

– Muhammad Ali

Yesterday I referred to Maria Mitchell as an impossible woman. Back in 2016, thanks to Justin Timberlake quoting Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I started thinking about what it meant to be an impossible person and spent the first week in August highlighting impossible people. Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin is – by his own words – my second impossible person.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Mr. Baldwin’s life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of the opinions of his father (who he referred to as his father), his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Mr. Baldwin not only leapt into writing. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or biography of James Baldwin is to read a who’s who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son), 110 pages on Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country – despite the fact that the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

 

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

 

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

 

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of the his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some who called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

 

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

 

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

I have cancelled class today and tomorrow night, but encourage you to practice. Practice with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud.

In the past, I have used a variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist, which features Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and a whole lot of Bach. You are welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube. However, if you have time, I would encourage you to grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the aforementioned jazz.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

 

 

– James Baldwin

 

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

Deep Listening July 28, 2020

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“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

 

– Macbeth in Act V, Scene V of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

There is so much disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world that it can seem hard sometimes to know the truth. We can spend an extraordinary amount of time sifting and searching through all the disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world and, in the end, feel like the aforementioned Scottish king and the inspiration for a novel by William Faulkner. It’s frustrating. We may settle down for a moment and give up or we may rest awhile only to dive back in. But, really, those are two bad choices.

A third option is the oft overlooked option of being still, being quite, and turning inward instead of outward. Yes, every philosophy and major religion in the world emphasizes the importance of being dedicated to the truth. (This is the yamā or external restraint / universal commandment of satya in the 8-limb philosophy of yoga.) Every philosophy and major religion in the world also emphasizes that we carry the truth with us; it is inside of us. So, the key to seeking the truth isn’t turning outward, it is turning inward.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

Tehillim – Psalms (46:11, in some Hebrew texts; 46:10 in Christian texts)

 

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

 

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

Japji Sahib, known in English as The Song of the Soul, is an ancient Sikh text composed by Guru Nanak, the 15th Century founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The text was originally published in 1604 and, as indicated by the name is intended to be chanted. Remember, when we do the 108 Sun Salutations I refer to it as japa-ajapa, which is “repeat and repeat” or “repeat and remember.” Jap also means “understand.” This is a form of meditation which is also recommended in the Yoga Sūtra (1:27 – 1:28) and it allows the mind to use the repetition as a path and gateway into stillness.

I say “a path and gateway” because there are steps. One doesn’t just mumble a few words a few times and find themselves instantly still and quiet. You first have to get through the place where your mind is trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are repeating the same thing, over and over. It has to sift through the object that is the word, the meaning of the word, and the fact that you are focused on the object and the meaning of the word. Then, you start to internalize the word and let go of some of the outside distractions. Finally, you reach a state of pure cognition where, possibly, you and the word are absorbed into each other – in other words, you are the word. A dedicated, uninterrupted practice (also recommended by Patanjali) is helpful in this practice; however, the most important element is trusting and listening.

“By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
The Truth
Of your Inner
Consciousness
Will saturate your psyche
With wisdom
And deep understanding.

By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
You shall dwell
In all mansions
Of learning.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

 

“If you
Trust what you hear
When you listen,
Then you will know
What you see,
How to understand
And act.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom where we will listen deeply. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Since the mantras that I typically use in class are not available, this is an instant replay of the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and, if you can handle it, I recommend the “Music for 18 Musicians” – which can also be found without interruptions. Another option is to practice without music, which I also highly recommend.)

### LISTEN ###

 

“it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” July 21, 2020

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“… she has, over time, changed her politics about race and gender differences. This Emersonian political shift — ‘Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again’ (McQuade 1 : 1148 ) – is one measure Morrison ‘ s developing sensibility as a woman and as an artist. Two examples immediately come to mind. In 1974, Morrison cautiously spoke of what she considered to be ‘a male consciousness’ and ‘a female consciousness’ as totally separate spheres. She then stated, ‘Black men – and this may be way off the wall because I haven’t had time to fully reflect about this – frequently are reacting to a lot more external pressures than Black women are. For one thing they have an enormous responsibility to be men.’ Morrison went on to reinforce her conviction: ‘All I am saying is that the root of a man’s sensibilities [is] different from a woman’s’ (Taylor-Guthrie 7). Morrison slightly modified this view when she spoke of her construction of Sula as a rebel, as a masculinized figure, and an equal partner in sexual relations in the 1920’s and 1930’s. She stated that Sula did not depict ‘as typical black woman at all’ (Septo, “Intimate Things” 219).”

 

– quoted from Toni Morrison: Playing with Difference by Lucille P. Fultz

This is a tale of two writers. Both born today – one in 1899, the other in 1944 – one was male, the other was female. One was White, the other was Black. We can get into nationalities later, but…. One won a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and a Nobel Prize in Literature, while the other was designated OBE. Both have foundations named after them. One you have studied, probably in high school, maybe in college (even if you weren’t a literature major) and one you may have never read (let alone studied – even if you studied literature). She was born on his 45th birthday, when he was in Germany (curiously attached to an infantry regiment and doing things that would eventually bring up charges against him by the Geneva Convention). Both are recognized as successful authors and both wrote from their own experiences. However, so far as I can tell, only one of them has (as of today) ever been featured as a Google Doodle. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not the one you’ll be thinking when their identities are revealed.)

Let’s start with the man – one, because he was born first and second, because he is considered to be the model of a man’s man. In fact, he made his living as an author writing about characters who are considered to be the epitome of masculinity (even when, as it sometimes was, very obviously toxic masculinity). He went to a public high school, in a major U. S. city, but did not attend college. He was married four times, traveled the world, fathered three children (all boys), and spent his 26th birthday starting his first novel – which would also be one of his most famous works. (I think) he smoked and he (definitely) drank for most of his life; however, his drinking became excessively excessive after a couple of plane crashes in Africa. He was devastated when his first wife lost a suitcase full of manuscripts and (towards the end of his life) super paranoid that the American government was keeping tabs on him. They were; the FBI had a file on him – in part because of his ties to Cuba. He received electroshock treatments/therapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and committed suicide, just like his father, sister, and brother (as well as one of his father-in-laws). He was 61. It’s possible that his paranoia and suicide were (in part) caused by the same thing that caused his father’s paranoia and suicide; they bother suffered from hereditary hemochromatosis, which causes the body to absorb too much iron and leads to physical as well as mental deterioration. He is often quoted as saying that in a man must do four things in his life (in order to be a man): plant a tree, fight a bull, write a novel, and father a son (although some have said “raise a son”).

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because this first author is Ernest “Papa” Hemingway. (He has not been featured as a Google Doodle – but he has been quoted in reference to Google Doodles for Josephine Baker and René Maran.) Hemingway started off as a journalist, who served in World War I (as a Red Cross ambulance driver, because the U. S. Army diagnosed him with bad eyesight), and somehow (see “curiously” note above) attached himself to a U. S. army infantry regiment during World War II. His work includes novels, novellas, short stories, non-fiction, articles, and published letters. He referred to his minimalist style of writing as “the iceberg theory” or “the theory of omission.”

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

– quoted from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

As I mentioned before, the woman also wrote about what she knew – of course, what she knew was very different. She wrote, for example, that “you are simply not allowed to commit suicide in peace, because everyone is responsible for the other person.” Her gender initially meant that she would be kept at home; however, she convinced her parents that there was a benefit to her going to school. She attended private primary school, earned a scholarship to a private secondary school, and eventually attended the University of London. However, she was also engaged by age 11, married and pregnant at 16 years old, and separated and pregnant with her fifth child by the age of 22. By all accounts, she not only gave birth, she also raised her children and managed to earn a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Sociology by age 28 and a PhD by the time she was 47 years old. She received a second, honorary, doctorate from a second University a year later. Her marriage was unhappy, violent, and punctuated by her husband’s paranoia about her writing. He burned her first manuscript. She rewrote it, but five years passed in the interim. She worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London, as a youth worker and sociologist, and as a community worker – all while writing, publishing, and raising her children. Her writing eventually enabled her to travel around the world (including to the U. S.) as a guest professor and visiting lecturer. In addition to working a variety of cultural and literary organizations, she and one of her sons ran a publishing company (that printed some of her own work under her own imprint). She was made an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2005. She suffered a stroke in 2010 and died 7 years later. She was 72. She once said, “I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not a feminist. I’m just a woman. My books are about survival, just like my own life.”

If none of this sounds familiar, you might be surprised that Buchi Emecheta was celebrated with a Google Doodle a year ago today (on what would have been her 75th birthday). She reportedly started writing as a way to deal with the troubles in her marriage and went on to write novels, children/YA books, plays, articles, and an autobiography. Her son Sylvester, who established a publishing company to ensure his mother’s work stays in print, said that Emecheta was the descendant of storytellers who passed down to him and his siblings the “Moonlight tales” that she learned from her aunts and father.

“Living entirely off writing is a precarious existence and money is always short, but with careful management and planning I found I could keep my head and those of my family, through God’s grace, above water.”

 

Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta

Ultimately, we are taught what someone has decided it is important for us to learn. We may not have any reason to question why we are taught one thing and not another, one author and not another. And, if we are not big readers, we are unlikely to read outside of our primary society’s canon. Maybe, as we get older, we turn to mass market fiction (or non-fiction) as a form of escapism. Maybe we turn to award winning literature – but we don’t really question why one author gets published but not the other, why one book makes the short list but not the other. Since many of us have grown up in society where we were encouraged to learn/do/teach (or see/do/teach) this means that we teach what we were taught – even if we are not teachers. Furthermore, as has happened recently, when we start to question and explore… we start with what (and who) we know – even if the authors we know are not experts in our latest field of study.

This paradox reminds me of Newton’s Laws of Motion (particularly, the law of inertia: an object in motion remains in motion, an object at rest remains at rest – unless something disrupts its condition). It also reminds me of college.

I studied English Literature at a major U. S. university. There had previously been some pretty prestigious guest professors over the years; however, when I started, in the late 1980’s, there were no African, African-American, Black British, or Black anything modules in literature. You might read a writer here or there in a 20th Century survey class, but you couldn’t (as I did with Russian literature) sit in what was essentially an oversized closet with a professor and three or four other students and learn about literature written from the perspective of the African diaspora. (Honestly, in college, I probably didn’t even know how to write a sentence like that – that’s how far African-American literature was outside of my wheelhouse!)

Dr. Lucille P. Fultz joined the faculty my senior year and, with some new awareness, I decided to take one of her classes. She had graduated from Spellman College (a historically black university for women) and completed her graduate degrees at the University of Iowa (which is known for its writers) and Emory University (which is just known). I remember her as my own personal stereotype of a Spellman woman: mature, petite, dark-skinned, natural, knowledgeable (in a seriously erudite way), well-spoken (but also soft-spoken), and dressed to the nines. In my head, she wore white gloves – but honestly, I think I made that up. I may also have made up the idea that she did not original study literature with the intention of teaching African-American literature. I say “I may have made up the idea” because she is now recognized as an authority on Toni Morrison (whose history as a writer/mom/publisher in some ways mirrors Emecheta’s history as a writer/mom/publisher) and she got me to read The Bluest Eye, which was quite possibly the only Toni Morrison book I had not read on my own.

My alma mater now has a history department with “a strong team dedicated to the history of Africa, the African diaspora, and African-American Studies” and a newly established Center for African and African American Studies. Curiously (and going back to the idea that we learn what we are taught and teach what we learn), two of the six members of that dedicated team are easily recognizable as people of color – and they are the only ones on the team who graduated (as undergrads) from the school where they now teach; one graduated just before me, the other attended after Dr. Fultz was firmly established at the university.

“Everyone’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

 

– Ernest Hemingway

“[I write] stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.”

 

– Buchi Emecheta

Hemingway wrote about war, sex, love, loyalty, fishing, bullfighting, and the feeling of being lost in the middle of an adventure. Emecheta wrote about sexual discrimination, racial prejudice, sex, love, changing nappies, being a single parent, and religion. They both wrote about culture clashes, their experiences in Africa, as well as about the roles and relationships between men and women, but much of what they wrote looks and feels very different – even when, occasionally, the wrote about the same situations. Take Africa, for instance. To Hemingway, the continent of Africa was an exotic land of (physical) danger and adventure. To Emecheta, Africa (and specifically Nigeria) was home and a land (socially and physically) dangerous in the way it marginalized women.

As I mentioned above, they had different ideas on suicide (even different ideas about why one might consider suicide) and they had very different ideas about education. In her autobiography, Emecheta wrote, “An uneducated person has little chance of happiness. He cannot enjoy reading, he cannot understand any complicated music, he does not know what to do with himself if he has no job. How many times have I heard my friends say, ‘ I want to leave my boring job because I want to write, because I want to catch up with goings on in the theatre, because I want to travel and because I want to be with my family.’ The uneducated man has no such choices. Once he has lost his boring job, he feels he’s lost his life. That is unfair.” On the flip side, Hemingway had significantly less (formal) education than Emecheta, struggled with depression, and stated that when he started writing his first novel, “Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph.”

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

 

“She, who only a few months previously would have accepted nothing but the best, had by now been conditioned to expect inferior things. She was now learning to suspect anything beautiful and pure. Those things were for the whites, not the blacks.”

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 21st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom featuring two different perspectives. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“If every one said orders were impossible to carry out when they were received where would you be? Where would we all be if you just said, ‘Impossible,’ when orders came?”

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

 

“Just keep trying and trying. If you have the determination and commitment, you will succeed.”

 

– Buchi Emecheta

 

### Everybody: PLANT A TREE ###

 

Compassion and Peace (when I Accuse You!) July 19, 2020

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“And now the image of [our country] is sullied by this filth, and history shall record that it was under your presidency that this crime against society was committed.

 At the root of it all is one evil man. … Nobody would ever believe the experiments to which he subjected the unfortunate….

… what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people’s cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

J’Accuse! I accuse you! Yes, you! This is all your fault!!!

Loudly, publicly, and bluntly, I accuse you of doing something heinous. Before we get into the details of the accusation, pause for a moment. Consider how you are feeling. Don’t be surprised if you are feeling a tightening; maybe an immediate impulse to do something to defend yourself; maybe – before we even get into the details – you are already spinning the story, as if you know what I’m going to say. Even though this is a safe place (and you probably do know what I’m doing here: i.e., giving you a container in which to practice), you may already be feeling the bite of the hook. Shenpa; it’s the Tibetan word that American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön translates as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. She points out that while it is usually involuntary “it gets right to the root of why we suffer.”

When you feel it, even a little bit, you are feeling the “urge” or “impulse” to do something to defend/protect yourself… or, at least, defend/protect the afflicted thought that is your false sense of self. Remember, that while this may feel, physiologically, as if someone is threatening you with bodily harm – and while your body will react accordingly – shenpa in this context is not related to physical harm. It is related to suffering and, therefore, Recognizing what you are feeling (and why you are feeling it) is the first “R” in the practice of getting “unhooked.”

“At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

We are living in a time when a lot of people are getting “hooked” by a large number of things. One thing in particular that stands out is people experiencing shenpa because of loud, public, and blunt accusations. The accusations are all related to what in the yoga philosophy would be called avidyā (ignorance) and all four of the other afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. The loudest of the accusations comes in the form of one of several words: racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic. And, let’s be honest, if someone uses the right “mean” word, they don’t have to do it loudly (or publicly) for the accused to feel the bite of the hook. Furthermore, this shenpa-related reaction is so prevalent right now that we don’t have to turn on the news, read about it, or look online to see someone experiencing this particular form of suffering: all we have to do is look in the mirror.

Just to clarify, the suffering to which I refer – the suffering that comes from this particular type of ignorance – is not the suffering of the person who is doing the accusing. Yes, there is suffering when someone is subjected to another person’s hatred and small thinking (and yes, it is related to this same kind of dysfunctional/afflicted thinking), but that’s not the point of today’s practice. Today is more about the suffering of the accused.

Wait, what?

I know, I know, some of you are thinking I’m sleep deprived again – but stick with me.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

For further clarification, let’s talk about a former housemate of mine. This person is a person of color (really, a member of more than one ethnic minority group) and held a position of power within a certain organization. They are also male-presenting and, let’s get real, there’s some power in that. At one point while we were living together, my former housemate was accused of being racist and sexist. Now, he was troubled by this for a number of reasons – not the least of which was that (a) as a minority he felt like he couldn’t be racist, (b) he adored and respected women, and (c) he had personally been the victim of a lot of different kinds of racism. Being accused of such a thing is hard on its on, it’s harder when you know how it feels to have that hatred directed at you.

Part of what makes it hard to be accused of being {fill in the blank} is that for many of us the idea of holding a negative and/or stereotypical view of someone because of something they can’t change goes against who we think we are at our core. We reject the very notion that we could hold views that have been described as “unmitigated evil.” Additionally, even if we think there’s nothing wrong with our view, we recognize that such views and the behavior associated with them are not socially acceptable. So, even if we think we’re right, it’s embarrassing to be accused of something that the populace views as wrong.

It all comes down to perception. As I told my housemate at the time, as soon as someone says something is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic – it is. Full stop. The urge to argue about it is coming from being “hooked” and generates an endless (and, I’d argue, useless) cycle of suffering. Practice the second and third “R’s”: Refrain, Relax. We don’t solve anything by denying what is real in the moment. Our denial, however, is part of what is real and may prevent us from getting to the root of the problem: avidyā.

“I call it, it’s ‘dog-whistle racism.’ It’s something that, everybody could be in the same room as you, but you’re the only person who’s hearing it. And it’s loud and clear to you, as to the reason why you’re being treated this way or not allowed to come here; or being asked for your ID, several times; asked why you’re here; told to go sit somewhere else, even though you’re with a group of people – they don’t see you as part of that group. It happens a lot.”

 

– Canadian author and CTV news anchor Andrea M. Bain, appearing on ET Canada (07/16/2020)

There are very few, if any, modern (First World) societies that were not built on a foundation of ignorance. Here in the United States, racism, sexism, and xenophobia are – in many ways – the very bedrock of our civilization.  (Are you tightening up over these statements? Take a deep breath. Sigh it out. Repeat and then read on.)

To me, a woman of color (from the South, no less), everyone in this country has been socialized to be have ignorant thoughts (be they racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist. Yes, everyone! To turn away from this is to turn away from the opportunity to fix the problems that result in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist behavior. Let’s be clear here, we may not (at this stage) be able to change our thoughts, but we can in this moment change our words and deeds/actions by paying attention to our thoughts. An accusation brings awareness to what’s real in this moment. It’s an engraved invitation to practice. Yes, it is a really stressful, awkward, and horrible invitation, but it’s still an invitation.

By accepting the invitation, we accept the opportunity to make real change. Bringing awareness to what’s going on in our minds (consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously) gives us the opportunity to decide how we want to engage the world and the people in the world. In other words, pausing for a moment to recognize what is happening in this moment allows us to move forward with the final “R,” Resolve. It gives us the opportunity to internally declare, “I just had a racist thought, but I’m not going to follow that up with straight-up racist behavior. I’m not going to be racist today. I’m going to be {fill in the blank}.”

Here’s the thing though: You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the impulse to defend yourself against the accusation. You only get to fill in the blank if you let go of the attachment you have to believing you are something you like when someone is accusing you of being something you dislike. You only get to fill in the blank if you allow your “false sense of ego” to die. Yes, you have to let go of you think you are. All of that is to say, you only get to fill in the blank if you let go of your avidyā.

“If we can see shenpa just as we’re starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there’s the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it. Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do. Generally speaking, we don’t catch the tightening until we’ve indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. And unless we equate refraining with loving-kindness and friendliness towards ourselves, refraining feels like putting on a straitjacket. We struggle against it. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

 

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

 

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

 

Today in 1898, the novelist and essayist Emile Zola fled France after being found guilty of libel in a case associated with the “Dreyfus Affair.” The libel case and subsequent conviction were based on an open letter in which Zola accused the army, the government, and even the court system of illegally arresting and convicting Captain Alfred Dreyfus of espionage and treason. Dreyfus was a French artillery officer, who was also Jewish, and there was no indication (or evidence) that he committed the crimes in question. In fact, two years after Dreyfus was court martialed and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, evidence proved that the real culprit was a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Esterhazy was tried, found “not guilty” of conspiring with the Germans, and allowed to retire in 1898, with the rank of Major. Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, who brought forward the evidence against Esterhazy, was transferred to Tunisia. Once he was out of the country, military officials portrayed Picquart as anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, military officials manufactured evidence against Dreyfus (and convicted him a second time) – and all of this was leaked to the press.

While historians still debate why Dreyfus was arrested, framed, and convicted, everyone agrees that he was innocent. This is not revisionist history. His innocence was firmly established at the time – which is why Zola, a noted writer of the time, was so outraged. Knowing the power of his words and the power of his reputation, Zola penned a 4,500-word article which was published on the front page of L’Aurore. The headline, above the fold, read “J’Accuse…!” and almost 300,000 copies were distributed (on January 13, 1898). That was 10x the normal distribution. The open letter was a detailed timeline of “L’Affaire.” It included names of officials, accused them of anti-Semitism, and provided explicit details to back up the accusations. Zola wanted to “hook” the government and force them to sue him for libel so that all of the evidence from the secret court martial cases would be made public. Additionally, Zola’s letter further incensed the French public, which became even more outraged by Zola’s trial and conviction. His sentencing did not go well, as it turned the already volatile populace further against the military. As Zola fled, more publications took up the fight, the world started watching, and the citizens of France began what many consider major social reformation. They took a look at themselves and the reality of what they were versus what they professed to be: a Catholic nation or a republic where all citizens had equal rights regardless of religion.

“The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor.”

 

– Alfred Dreyfus, after accepting a Presidential pardon

Dreyfus was offered a Presidential pardon in 1899, which he accepted; however, he was still considered a traitor to France and spent several years under house-arrest. It would be 1906 before he was officially exonerated by a military commission, readmitted to the army and promoted to major, and then named to Knight of the Legion of Honor. He retired within a year, but returned to the army at the beginning of World War I. He would eventually be promoted to lieutenant colonel and be awarded the rank of “Officer” within the Legion of Honor. When he died in 1935, he was given full military honors – plus a little extra pomp and circumstance since his funeral procession occurred during Bastille Day. His tombstone inscription is in Hebrew and English, and only refers to his unfaltering service to France.

Zola returned to France after the French government collapsed, but would die of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902. In 1908, during a ceremony to honor Zola by interring his ashes at the Panthéon, a right-wing reporter would attempt to assassinate Dreyfus. In 1953, a roofer admitted, in a death-bed confession, that he had murdered Zola by initially blocking the chimney. Years after the fact, there were still people getting “hooked.”

“Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there’s no way to be arrogant. The trick is to keep seeing. Don’t let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That’s just another hook. Because we’ve been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can’t expect to undo it overnight. It’s not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.”

 

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

Please join me for a compassionate 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson  

 

 

### RRRR(R) ###

Wait…what exactly are we celebrating? (blink and you’ll miss it) July 4, 2020

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“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

“…such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn….”

– from the “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech by Frederick Douglass (July 5, 1852)

On Wednesday, July 3, 1776, the future President of the United States, John Adams, wrote two letters to his wife Abigail. In one of the letters he theorized about the pros (like Canada being included in the declaration) and cons (like still having to deal with “The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest well meaning tho weak and mistaken People…” ) of making the declaration earlier. He then wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Meanwhile, Caesar Rodney rested and, on Thursday, July 4, 1776, he wrote a letter to his younger brother Thomas indicating, “I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.” He, like a good majority of the signers, would sign the finalized “Declaration of Independence” on August 4th – although others would sign all the way up until November.

“‘I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.’ I had written to these friends. ‘I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.’”

– from The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley  (in reference to a 1964 letter to friends)

On Monday, July 4, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson announced to the American people that the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had signed the Louisiana Purchase, thereby selling the territory of Louisiana. Per this agreement, the United States of America nearly doubled in size and France received 15 million dollars (approximately $18 per square mile) in exchange for 828,000 square miles – even though France did not control the majority of the land. The majority of the land was inhabited by Indigenous Americans. The land included in the agreement now makes up portions of 2 Canadian provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and 15 states, including the entire states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the majority of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming; as well as parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, and (of course) Louisiana.

On Tuesday, July 4, 1826, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died. Adams’s last words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” However, Jefferson did not; he had died mere hours earlier. While the may not have been his very last words, Jefferson had asked (the night before he died), “Is it the Fourth?”

On Monday, July 4, 1831, President James Monroe died. (His last words reportedly were a lament that he would never see his friend President James Madison again. Madison would die 5 years later; however he was a few days short of July 4th.)

On Saturday, July 4, 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to retreat from Gettysburg, which the North took as a sign that the Confederacy had lost the war. Lee’s retreat came after Union soldiers defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, July 1 – 3), the Tullahoma Campaign (Tennessee, June 24 – July 3), the battle in Helena, Arkansas (July 4), the Fall of Vicksburg (Mississippi, July 4). The United States Army credits the Union success to skillful military strategy and the introduction of Christopher Spencer’s newly invented, seven-shot “Repeating Rifle,” which gave the Union soldiers the ability to shoot up to 14 rounds per minute (as a opposed to three rpm with the traditional muzzle-loading muskets).

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom]”

Yoga Sūtra 2.27 picks up on the idea that discerning knowledge or insight, which nullifies sorrow (or suffering) created by ignorance by breaking down the different levels, stages, or degrees of awareness/insight that lead to complete freedom. The seventh stage, the ultimate freedom or liberation from suffering, is a great accomplishment (siddhi) in itself comes with an extra boon: knowing the exact response to all situations. To understand the seven (7) stages, we go back to the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras (1.17 – 1.18 and 1:42 – 1.51) where Patanjali breaks down two types of concentration/meditation – referred to as “lower Samādhi” (which requires a “seed” or object of focus) and “higher Samādhi” (which is “seedless”) – and notice how continuous, dedicated, and devoted practice without interruption changes the way we think and the way we perceive the material world.

The (4) “seed” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Thins:

  1. The practitioner begins to see cause and effect (of suffering) and cultivates “not afflicted” (or functional) thoughts in order to move away from suffering.
  2. The practice of cultivating “not afflicted” or functional thoughts attenuates or scorches the cause and conditions of suffering.
  3. The habit of the practice gains momentum and that realization fills the practitioner with unshakeable faith; one now practices for the sake of the practice.
  4. There is less inquiry (into cause and effect), because there is less anxiety. One is rooted in the thought-practice and is “…at peace. At this stage, trustful surrender becomes our nature.”

The (3) “seedless” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Begins to (and ultimately does) Disappear:

  1. The mind/intellect (which may now be referred to as buddhi) is illuminated, and fully aware of the true nature of all things – including itself.
  2. The buddhi becomes buddhi sattva, wise and stable there is no fluctuation of the mind, instead there is yoga (“union”).
  3. Samādhi as “Union with Divine” whereby pure consciousness (Purusha) enables the practitioner to see all as one.

“Commenting on this sutra, Vyasa makes a point of dismantling widespread confusion about yogis and their achievements. Long before Patanjali, and up to this day, poorly informed spiritual enthusiasts have been fantasizing about high-caliber yogis sitting in caves with their eyes closed, completely unconcerned with the outside world. Contrary to this stereotype, Vyasa calls the accomplished yogi kushala, one who is skillful. A yogi is skillful, for she knows the true nature of the world; the true nature of her body, mind, and senses; and the true nature of her core being. A yogi is free from all illusions, including the illusion of expecting more than what this world can offer. At the same time, a yogi is able to identify the wonderful gifts contained in the body, mind, and senses, as well as in the phenomenal world. Therefore, a yogi is able to discern, decide, and act in the light of her prajna. Because she is operating at the level of pure and penetrating wisdom of inner reality, she is confident about the appropriateness of her actions and their consequences.

While living in the world, a yogi is active as – if not more active than – anyone else. The only difference is that the actions of an accomplished yogi are free from doubt and fear, whereas our actions are contaminated by them. An accomplished yogi is comfortable while performing actions and equally comfortable when refraining from action. A yogi’s accomplishment is characterized by freedom, not by action or the absence of it.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.27 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me, on the path to freedom, for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 4th) 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 this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos below do not appear on Spotify.)

Who are you not seeing?

 

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (descendants in 2020)

 

What to My People is the Fourth of July

 

 

### Rest in Power, Rest in Peace: Elijah Al-Amin ###

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 3): more aptly titled “To Ensure Every Vote Counted” July 2, 2020

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[Surprise! This is an expanded version of two more events I mention during classes on July 2nd: the anniversary of the birth of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ]

“The issue in this case is not whether declaring a war on illegal drugs is good public policy. The importance of ridding our society of such drugs is, by now, apparent to all…. Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the dissenting opinion on Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989)

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. We’ve already established that when Caesar Rodney cast his vote for independence, today in 1776, his vote did not extend freedom, liberty, or independence to all humans within his territory. But, that is not the end of today’s story. Exactly 132 years after Caesar Rodney’s famous ride to cast a vote for independence, a baby boy was born to a railroad porter named William and his wife Norma, a teacher. This son, a descendant of slaves on both sides, would spend his whole life working to extend those freedoms to all and today in 1964 (on his 56th birthday) he would receive a great “birthday present” in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908.

William and Norma Marshall named their son Thoroughgood, which he would later shorten it to Thurgood. The Marshalls were a Black family, the descendants of slaves. William and Norma taught their sons about the Constitution and the rule of law. William even took his sons to listen to court cases, which the Marshalls would then debate. Thurgood Marshall would later say that those early debates with his father turned him into a lawyer. But he wasn’t just any lawyer: he was the “winning-est” attorney in the history of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), the first African-American United States Solicitor General, and the first African-American to Supreme Court Justice.

“If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

 

The Gospel According to John  (8:36) and motto for Lincoln University (Oxford, Pennsylvania)

 

“Veritas et Utilitas (‘Truth and Service’)”

 

– motto for Howard University (Washington, D. C.)

 

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

 

By all accounts, Thurgood Marshall was an excellent student throughout high school (graduating third in his class), but started college as a bit of a prankster. He attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania (halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American literature and philosophy. His peers included Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway, who would become internationally renowned artists. Thurgood Marshall would become just as celebrated as Hughes and Calloway, but rather than pursuing literature, he earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class, and proceeded to change the world.

During the Civil Rights Movement, he argued and won more cases (29 out of 32) before the country’s highest court than any other attorney. After an equally notable career as an appeals court judge – notable in part because Senators from the southern states held up his appointment, causing him to serve the first few months in recess, and also because once he was able to serve none of his cases were overturned – Thurgood Marshall served as United States Solicitor General (winning 14 out of 19 cases). He then returned to the Supreme Court – this time as its first African-American Justice; the first in 178 years.

Both of Thurgood Marshall’s alma maters (Lincoln University and Howard University) are historically black universities (HBCUs). It wasn’t as if he never considered attending a school that was not an HBCU; he didn’t have a choice – segregation prevented him from attending institutions of higher education like the University of Maryland School of Law. In what some might consider an interesting twist of fate, he would not only become known for arguing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a school segregation case he argued in his mid-forties, his first major victory working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was also a school segregation case: against the University of Maryland School of Law. At the age of 26, Thurgood Marshall joined his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston in representing Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936). Murray had been denied acceptance to the University of Maryland because of his race. In both Murray v. Pearson and Brown v. Board, Thurgood Marshall challenged Plessy v. Ferguson, 3 U.S. 537 (1896), and the doctrine of “separate but equal.” He won both cases, but only the latter case completely overturned the legality of school segregation.

“What’s at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.”

 

– Thurgood Marshall, NAACP attorney for plaintiff in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936)

As I referenced before, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law today in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It would also outlaw unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, work environments, and public accommodations. It also expanded the definition of “all men” (as written in the second sentence of the “Declaration of Independence”) to include all people. Over the years, there would be several landmark cases that impacted the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of those cases was decided almost exactly 56 years later (on June 15, 2020), when SCOTUS upheld a portion of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6 -3 decision, the highest court in the country affirmed that it is unconstitutional for an employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. Clarence Thomas, Thurgood Marshall’s successor in that he is the only other African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, was one of the 3 dissenters.

Thurgood Marshall believed the death penalty was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)) and supported a woman’s right to choose (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)). He is not only remembered as a champion of Civil Rights, his name and his work are often mentioned in the same breath as the names and efforts of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The three men had different backgrounds and so worked in different ways, even in different spheres; and yet they had the same aim: to expand those “unalienable Rights” detailed in the “Declaration of Independence” and ratified by the Constitution of the United States of America.

A spirit of strong conviction (first 5 minutes only)

 

Electric… but not an Electrician

“Like many anniversary celebrations, the plan for 1987 takes particular events and holds them up as the source of all the very best that has followed. Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunate. Not the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the ‘more perfect Union’ it is said we now enjoy.

 

 

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

 

 – from speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

“And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives. If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 (Boston 1966), will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.

 

Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flag-waving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

 

– conclusion to the speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

 

### MOKSHA • MUKTI ###

 

 

 

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 2) July 2, 2020

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[While each sequence is slightly different on July 1st and 2nd, this is essentially an expanded version of the story I tell about Caesar Rodney’s Ride and why John Adams thought future generations would celebrate July 2nd.]

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. There are certain times a year when these ideas are front and center in the consciousness of people in and around the United States of America. We talk about them around Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We talk about them around the anniversaries of tragic events like 9/11. D-Day, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. In recent years, they’ve come up in conversations, debates, and arguments related to athletes protesting during the national anthem. I talk about these ideas all the time, as they are related to Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism. And, of course, we talk about them as we approach the Fourth of July, a theoretical celebration of freedom, liberty, and independence. However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, most of these conversations about leave out a two big pieces of the discussion: (1) what people did to ensure the freedom, liberty, and independence (of some) and (2) all the people who were not included in that initial declaration of independence (and the subsequent revolution that followed).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

– from “The Declaration of Independence” drafted by the Committee of Five and (eventually) signed by delegates of the Second Continental Congress

“The Declaration of Independence” was the formal announcement and explanation of the “Lee Resolution” (aka “The Resolution for Independence).” Its second sentence is often referenced as “one of the best-known sentences in the English language” and is possibly the most quoted sentence in American history. It provided justification for revolution and the building blocks for a new nation. It was, however, not completely true. While we may want to delude ourselves into thinking the founding fathers meant all humans when they signed off on the declaration – or even all males – the “all men” was very specific in that it meant “white men only.” And, if we are being honest, there was also a religious subtext which further restricted who would be granted the subsequently mentioned Rights. (Yes, yes, we can go around and around about religious freedom, but there was a definite assumption within the text that “all men,” see above, believed in one God – even if they had slightly different ways of worshiping said God.)

The Second Continental Congress would approve the resolution and the declaration unanimously, but it was never a sure thing. There was debate with the Committee of Five as to how to present their argument to the other delegates in a way that would sway things in their favor. Remember, everyone on the committee and every one of the delegates was, at the time, a subject of the Crown – meaning they were citizens of the British Commonwealth – and what they were proposing was straight-up treason. They knew this would be evidence of treason. Furthermore, they knew that they were placing their family, friends, and neighbors at great risk. They also thought freedom, liberty, and independence were worth the risk. So, they drafted the resolution and prepared to take a vote.

“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here the saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.11 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

The vote was scheduled to take place in Philadelphia at the beginning of July 1776. There was one problem: a unanimous vote was not guaranteed. The Delaware territory was represented by Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read. Rodney and McKean were for independence; Reed was against. While this looks like a slam dunk on paper, Rodney was not in Philadelphia when the vote was announced. He was in Delaware, and if he didn’t vote, Delaware’s vote would not be counted.

If you talk about freedom, liberty, and independence, and then reference a significant horse ride, most people in America will think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride (of April 18, 1775). If you ask someone from Delaware, however, they might also mention Caesar Rodney, whose ride is depicted on the back of the “Delaware quarter.” Caesar Rodney was a life-long bachelor who spent his life in public service. He was a soldier, a lawyer, and a judge whose many roles included Brigadier General of Delaware Militia, Sheriff of Kent County, Justice of the Peace, and delegate and Speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties (as was his grandfather before him). As I previously mentioned, Rodney was also delegate to the American Continental Congress and would eventually serve as President of Delaware. When Rodney heard the vote for independence had been called he was resolving Militia issues in Delaware, 70 – 80 miles away from Philadelphia depending on the route.

Keep in mind that this was before planes, trains, and automobiles. There were no paved roads or freeways as we know them today. Still, there is no indication that Caesar Rodney hesitated. He heard the call to adventure and set off to ensure freedom, liberty, and independence for his family, friends, neighbors, and future generations (of “men”). Some (including his brother) say he spent part of the trip in a carriage, which makes sense given the situation. However, he is depicted and remembered as riding his horse 70 – 80 miles from Monday, July 1, 1776 until later afternoon on Tuesday, July 2, 1776. He rode across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams. He endured extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms. And he did it all while wearing a mask, in the form of a handkerchief, across the lower portion of his face.

Let me repeat that last part in case you missed it: He rode for two days, over rough terrain and in inclement weather while wearing a face mask.

“This Forenoon, Mr. Caesar Rodney, of the lower Counties on Delaware River, two Mr. Tilghmans from Maryland, were introduced to us…. Caesar Rodney is the oddest looking Man in the World. He is tall—thin and slender as a Reed—pale—his Face is not bigger than a large Apple. Yet there is Sense and Fire, Spirit, Wit and Humour in his Countenance.

 

He made himself very merry with Ruggles and his pretended Scruples and Timidities, at the last Congress.”

 

– from diary entry dated 1774. Saturday. Sept. 3, by John Adams

“[He was] remarkably genteel and elegant in his person, dress, and manners, had a great fund of wit and humor of the pleasing kind, so that his conversation was always bright & strong and Conducted by Wisdom… He always lived a bachelor, was generally Esteemed, and indeed very popular.”

 

– Thomas Rodney, in describing his older brother (after Caesar Rodney died)

Caesar Rodney suffered from asthma and facial cancer. The cancer would eventually kill him, but in the latter part of his life he was in a great deal of pain and the cancer ravaged his face. While there are no portraits of him, people like John Adams would write about him and (see above) describe him in letters and journals. Read that passage from John Adams diary again. Get a picture in your head of Caesar Rodney tired, dusty, and still wearing his boots and spurs – as well as a green handkerchief or scarf across his nose and mouth. Imagine such a man walking into a congressional assembly in order to cast his vote for independence.

“As I believe the voice of my constituents and all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, and as my own judgment concurs with them, I give my vote for independence.”

 

– Caesar Rodney, Delaware delegate to the Second Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

When I teach on July 1st and 2nd, I tell the story of Caesar Rodney as we move through a sequence of poses inspired by Jivamukti Yoga. Jivamukti Yoga takes its name from the term “jivan-mukti,” a soul liberated while living. So, we are literally, physically, metaphorically, and energetically on the road/path to freedom. The poses would be good recovery poses if you had just spent two days riding on a horse and, when we are in the studio, the soundtrack features music that would have been popular back in the day. By “back in the day,” I mean today in 1776.

Delaware is known as “The First State” and therefore, when the United States Mint started its “50 State Quarters Program” it started with Delaware. If you look at the back of the Delaware quarter you will find an image of Caesar Rodney, riding his horse, in order to ensure the boon of freedom, liberty, and independence. Delaware school children learn about his ride to Philadelphia, sometimes in schools and/or school districts named after him. His name can also be found on town squares, parks, church monuments, streets, and various institutions. There are also statues, in Delaware and elsewhere. One of those statues, in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, was recently taken down by order of the mayor. (The city also removed a statue of Christopher Columbus and the state has removed “whipping posts” from city centers.) Part of the discussion” surrounding what to do with the statue from Rodney Square includes the idea of putting it in a museum and putting his (and Delaware’s) history into context.

“We cannot erase history, as painful as it may be, but we can certainly discuss history with each other and determine together what we value and what we feel is appropriate to memorialize. In this period of awakening for our City, State, and country, we should be listening more to each other and building a more just City and a better America.”

 

– Press Statement from Wilmington, Delaware Mayor Mike Purzycki regarding removal of statues and the related “overdue discussion”

Some of the historical context is included in the story above. Here’s a little more, and this is the part that directly relates to why the Wilmington statue was taken down.

Caesar Rodney was born in 1728, on family’s farm, “Poplar Grove” (now known as “Byfield”) on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Both sides of his family were fairly prominent and Byfield was a successful 800-acre farm. It was successful, even described as “prosperous” farm that sold wheat and barley. Needless to say, there were slaves. At some point the farm expanded to 1,000 acres with at least 200 slaves. Caesar Rodney, named for his father, was the oldest of 8. His father died when he was 17 and while he “officially” became head of the household, he was also placed under a guardianship by the Delaware Orphan’s Court.

There was some debate about slavery in Delaware in 1767 (when Rodney was 39). While records indicate that he was on the side that wanted to end or limit slavery, a closer look implies that such a decision might have been in his family’s best financial interest. Caesar Rodney was 48 when he made that famous trek to Philadelphia – now, clearly and legally, a slave owner. While I am not sure when he made the provision, his last will and testament included provisions for the education of his nephew and instructions to free all of his slaves when he died, “or shortly thereafter.”

“I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.”

 

– from Caesar Rodney’s letter to his younger brother Thomas, dated July 4, 1776

Caesar Rodney cast the deciding vote on July 2, 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. (Yes, that’s correct.) Believe it or not, the “2nd” is very important in this history. In fact, on July 3, 1776, John Adams, who would go on to become president, spent the day writing letters – including the one quoted (below) to his wife Abigail Adams.

“But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it…. This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

 

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

 

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

 

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

 

– from letter John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams, with the heading “Philadelphia July 3d, 1776”

Now, if you’re wondering why we celebrate the 4th of July… you’ll have to come back on Saturday.

 

 

### LET FREEDOM RING ###

Pause…. June 29, 2020

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“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It may seem odd, paradoxical even, to feel the need to pause during a time when the pause button has been pressed on the whole world. That need, however, is what I’m feeling right now. Maybe some of you are feeling it too. A moment of reflection highlights the fact that while some things have been on pause during this pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, the world hasn’t actually stopped. We haven’t actually stopped.

Most of us have still been bombarded with external and internal stimuli. We’ve still had to figure out what to do next. We’ve still had to adapt to new information. We’ve still had to process grief, anger, astonishment, confusion, and yes, even joy. Maybe there’s even been some disappointment, fear, disgust, guilt, and loneliness. It’s not all bad – during this time people have experienced great amounts of love and kindness, friendliness, compassion, generosity, and (as mentioned before) joy. Sometimes we’ve experienced all of this in the space of a day…or in one hour… or in a matter of minutes. It can be overwhelming. And, more to the point, all of what we are feeling is occupying space in our minds and in our bodies – which can be exhausting.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

In Eastern philosophy, human beings can experience vedanā, which can be translated as “feeling,” “sensation,” or “vibration.” Different philosophies address, and even describe, these sensations in different ways. However, what is consistent about these embodied experiences is that thoughts simultaneously arise with these sensations and these thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. The only problem with looking at these categories from a purely psychological viewpoint is that what may seem functional in a given moment may still create suffering – even in that moment – and the philosophical viewpoints (in this context) are specifically concerned with how the afflicted thoughts create suffering. This idea, that there are types of thoughts which create suffering (not only in our selves, but also in others) is also consistent between the philosophies.

I say it all the time: sensation is information. In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collection information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

That’s a lot of sensation, a lot of information. Now, consider that our thoughts around what we experiencing (externally) and feeling (internally) may be based on avidyā (“ignorance”). We may or may not have correct information around a certain experience, but/and we may add a level of imagination and/or be unconscious to certain aspects of our experiences. Finally, we may remember an experience, or even a thought and feeling, in a way that creates more layers of sensation – even more layers of ignorance. We can, and will eventually, get into how all this manifests in the body – and the fact that there is action associated with the senses, but notice how even just getting into the basics is exhausting.

What happens if you pause? What happens if you just take a moment out of every day to just let all the sensation wash over you? It doesn’t have to be a full practice of yoga or meditation, although a full practice can be extraordinarily helpful. What is most important is to stop; notice what you are experiencing; appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering.

“I think this is an interesting time and an important time for all of us to check our perspectives and where we’re coming from. For me and my people, for the Black community, this is not an exciting time for us. And this isn’t a time that we get to really reflect. We’re dealing with a lot of trauma. We’ve lost a lot of lives. We’ve been losing lives for decades, for centuries. And I think, for me, I am trying to figure out how to channel my anger…. I’m also mourning with my people… and I’m not settling….”

 

– Janelle Monáe, during a “Drama Actresses Roundtable” with Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, Reese Witherspoon, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rose Byrne (hosted by The Hollywood Reporter June 2020)

Sandra Razieli and I were recently discussing the ubiquitous presence of the Yoga Sūtras in Western yoga and people’s love of lists. I think, a love of acronyms (as a way to remember the list) is included in that love of lists. Here I offer you both. SNAP: Stop; Notice what you are experiencing; Appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); Press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering. Just as in modern day vernacular, this type of snap reinforces the need to pay attention to what is in this moment. It can be abrupt, even abrasive, but it is a reminder not to look away. (In this case, it is also a reminder that looking away just adds another layer of sensation – and, perhaps, another layer of suffering.

“The Purusha, when it identifies itself with nature, forgets that it is pure and infinite. The Purusha does not love, it is love itself. It does not exist, it is existence itself. The Soul does not know, It is knowledge itself. It is a mistake to say the Soul loves, exists, or knows. Love, existence, and knowledge are not the qualities of the Purusha, but its essence. When they get reflected upon something, you may call them the qualities of that something. They are not the qualities but the essence of the Purusha, the great Atman, the Infinite Being, without birth or death, established in its own glory. It appears to have become so degenerate that if you approach to tell it, “You are not a pig,” it begins to squeal and bite.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom. There will be a lot of space (to breathe and to feel) in today’s practice.

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.

 

 

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A Thought from “Anne no Nikki” June 25, 2020

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[The embedded video/link at the end of this post can be used as a soundtrack for reading this post.]

“Dear Kitty,

 

It’s lovely weather outside and I’ve perked up since yesterday. Nearly every morning I go to the attic where Peter works to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.

 

He stood with his head against a thick beam, and I sat down. We breathed the fresh air, looked outside, and both felt that the spell should not be broken by words…. I looked out, of the open window too, over a large area of Amsterdam, over all the roofs and on to the horizon, which was such a pale blue that it was hard to see the dividing line. ‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.’”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Diary of a Young Girl was first published today in 1947. It was the saved writing of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 14. The book was published 13 days after what would have been her 18th birthday. At the beginning of this month I referenced her birthday (and death), and several other events, in a post about avidyā (“ignorance”) as it relates to how the way we see the world can create suffering. Ignorance, like stuffy air in our lungs, affects the way we move through the world. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the stuffy air out of our lungs. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the ignorance out.

Both types of elimination require being very deliberate and intentional on a daily basis – just as Anne Frank recommended. We all know, however, that it can be challenging (even during the pandemic) to set aside time just to breathe. We all know it’s challenging even when we know the importance of it, and even when we “do it for others.” So, consider how much harder it is to very deliberately and intentionally – and on a daily basis – eliminate ignorance. Consider that is especially hard when the layers and layers of avidyā are deeply imbedded in our subconscious and unconscious mind.

As recently as yesterday, I mentioned samskāras, those layers and layers of past experiences that inform her present (and possibly future) thoughts, words, and deeds. These karmic impressions are established in a way similar to how we form neural pathways: we experience something for the first time and impressions are created; every future experience hardwires these impressions become hardwired. They determine how we experience everything that comes after they are established. Some would say these samskāras are always problematic, because they always include at least a smidgen of avidyā – which means that everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by bits of ignorance. At least, that’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario: everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by a lot of ignorance.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God…. As long as [the simple beauty of Nature] exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

In this moment, we may not know how ignorant we are. We can only, really, assess our level of suffering and the level of suffering around us. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, collectively, our level of suffering and the suffering around us points to levels of avidyā that’s out of the exosphere. There’s no clear (upper) boundary to the Earth’s exosphere and there’s no clear boundaries between our layers of samskāras or between our ayers of avidyā. Which means that, for some, the challenging job of working through our layers is extra challenging.

Maybe you haven’t started the work (but you’re thinking about it). Maybe you’ve started (but you’re getting a little frustrated). Maybe you just need the reminder today. Either way, there’s a really simple way to remind yourself to turn inward. You may have heard some version of this reminder. You may have even heard a simpler version, but I offer this one from Maha Ghosananda, because it feels pretty comprehensive (to me). It comes to mind today, because Maha Ghosananda experienced similar tragedies as those experienced by Anne Frank.

“We miss so much here, so very much and for so very long now: I miss it too, just as you do. I’m not talking of outward things, for we are looked after in that way; no, I mean the inward things. Like you, I long for freedom and fresh air….

Riches can all be lost, but that happiness in your own heart can only be veiled, and it will still bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens….”

 

— Anne Frank’s “A Thought” written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Maha Ghosananda was a Theraveda Buddhist monk in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot and he shared the teachings of the Buddha with people in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. During the Pol Pot regime, 1.5 to million people died in and around “the Killing Fields.” When the Pol Pot regime fell, Maha Ghosananda was one of the 3,000 Cambodian Buddhist monks who survived. Those 3,000 represented approximately 5% of the monks who had lived in Cambodia before the regime. After the Pol Pot regime, Maha Ghosananda worked to restore his country and his faith within the country. His many efforts included service as a representative to the United Nations and annual peace walks. The peace walks (dhammayietra) were simultaneously protests and pilgrimages that included terrain which still included land minds.

I mention all of this to point out that Maha Ghosananda ministered to people who were suffering in ways many of us can barely imagine and during incredibly challenging times – so he had to keep it simple.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…”

 

Excerpt from Larry Yang’s Huffington Post article, “Buddhist Intention: Being Kind in Unkind Times” 11/07/2011

 

 

Anne no Nikki (anime) soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman

 

### HONOR YOUR HEART >> THOUGHTS >> WORD >> DEEDS ###