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A Night of Great Power & Great Peace (a “renewed” post) April 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

The following was previously posted in 2020. Holiday related dates and statistics, as well as class details have been updated.

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

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HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

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QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

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RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

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– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma,” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

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– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Saturday, while others will be praying tonight (Wednesday, April 27th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 over 2 billion Muslims in the world (almost over a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

Please join me today (Wednesday, April 27th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Ramadan 2020”]

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

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

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### PRAY FOR PEACE ###

The Power That Shines (a “renewed” post) April 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

The following was previously posted. Links and dates have been updated.

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

Please join me today (Tuesday, April 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

 

Tuesday’s Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020″]

Tuesday’s Evening playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for” Ramadan 2020 75+m”]

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

### OHR OR DAW ###

The Stories Behind the Music (or The Vibration Behind the Vibration) July 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion)”

– Maty Ezraty

Every practice tells a series of concentric – and sometimes overlapping – stories. There is the obvious physical-mental story, which is the story of where your mind-body has been, where you are, and where you could go. This story overlaps with the related story of vedanā, based on your sensations, feelings, and/or vibrations in the past, present, and future. We can call this an emotional story, but it is also an energetic story. Then there is also the story of symbols, stereotypes, and archetypes – which is how our mind-body often frames these other stories in order to better understand them. Finally, when I lead a practice, there is the story (or stories) I tell to frame the other stories.

The stories – or themes – that I share during the practice can be purely philosophical; religious; rooted in math and/or science; fictional; historical; and/or biographical. In fact, sometimes there are elements of all of the above. And while I use the āsanas (“seats” or poses) and the sequences to tell these framing stories – and, of course, I use my words – a lot of the story gets told with the music.

Ah, yes, music, “sweet music” – which spirals in a whole other set of concentric (and sometimes overlapping) stories. One of those spirals (i.e., one of those stories told by the music I select to tell the other stories) is the story of where I come from and the timing of when I came and developed in the world. Yes, I sometimes do a little research and may adjust some of my old playlists to be more inclusive – I’ve even been known to include a song or two that don’t particularly resonate with me. Ultimately, however, I am who I am and (like every other storyteller that’s ever existed) I tell the story based on what I know.

Which means: The stories I tell (and even how I tell them) would be very different if I were a white American-born man of a certain generation or if I were a Nigerian-born British woman of a certain generation.

[The the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for today’s classes, was originally posted on July 21, 2020. If you want a little musical challenge, read this “Tale of Two Writers” and then create your own playlist based on their lives. You can even share it or link it in the comments below.]

“… 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 (Wednesday, July 21st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07212020 A Tale of Two Writers”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

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

“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

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### Everybody: PLANT A TREE ###

The Celebration Will Not Be Televised June 27, 2021

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“But [Gil] Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he [said] in a 1990s interview:

‘The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, “Oh I’m on the wrong page,” or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country.”’

If we realize we’re out of sync with what’s really happening, we cannot find out more on television. The information is where the battles are being fought, at street level, and in the mechanisms of the legal process.”

– quoted from the Open Culture article “Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’” by Josh Jones (posted June 2nd, 2020)

For most, 52 years ago today was an ordinary Friday that became an extraordinary Saturday. The poet Gil Scott-Heron – who was born in Chicago, Illinois (April 1, 1949), spent some of his formative years being raised by his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee, and then moved to be with his mother in New York City – attended college at Lincoln University (the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall). However, at some point in 1969, he returned to New York City and wrote some of what would become his debut album, A New Black Poet – Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (released in 1970). “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was a Black Power movement motto in the 60’s and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

The idea that true revolution begins in the hearts and minds of individuals and then moves out into the streets and into the courts was on my mind when I added Gil Scott-Heron’s poem to the end of my Juneteenth playlist and it was on my mind when I started thinking about this year’s PRIDE celebrations. Specifically, I was thinking about how the pandemic has caused some public celebrations to be canceled or rescheduled for the second year in a row – and yet, there is still celebration… and there is still movement; there is still revolution.

Gil Scott-Heron was writing from a specific lived experience. And, yes, it was not a specifically GLBTQIA+ experience. However, his words speak to an intersectionality of experiences that existed 52 years ago today and still exist to this day. He was speaking from the experience of being part of a marginalized (and sometimes vilified) community in the world (in general) and in New York (specifically). And, therefore, it is not surprising that his words apply.

The public festivities may be canceled or rescheduled, but the celebration – that is its own revolution – will not be televised or marginalized.

“Pride isn’t about the party. It’s about the people. It’s about the youth in our community, our seniors, transgender and non-conforming, friends and neighbors, People of Color, disabled, immunocompromised, the homeless, our veterans, and those raising families. We are all in this together.”

– Todrick Hall, during the 2020 Virtual Pride (24-hour) celebration  

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 27th) at 2:30 PM to celebrate Pride. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. 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. [Look for “06282020 Stonewall PRIDE”]

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

### “And yet here we are, and we’ve always been here.” ~ Laverne Cox ###

The Thoughts Behind the Kind of World You Want (mostly the music, w/a post link) June 13, 2021

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“There is so much love out there. I want the legacy of these kids to be that. To show the world that [being LGBTQ] is more than a label – these are people that were loved, they were caring, they were human and these hate crimes are just totally uncalled for. Unnecessary. We are here because God created us and he created us all equal – and some people don’t seem to have this kind of vision. I don’t know what kind of world they want to live in.”

– Mayra Alvear, one year after her youngest daughter Amanda was killed in the Pulse Orlando shooting (06/12/2016)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 6th) at 2:30 PM, for an experience. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06132020 Yalom’s Big Day”]

Click here for my 2020 post on this date.

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

### PEACE TO & FROM EVERYTHING & EVERYONE WE ENCOUNTER ###

[a prologue for] the Birthday of Poets June 7, 2021

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[Originally posted June 7, 2020, the poem below references (and links to) the works of poets – or my practice posts about the poets – who were born today in 1919, 1943, 1954, and 1958. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice or last year’s June 7th practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Today I bring you poetry. True

It is no longer poetry month / but

It is the birthday of poets – and so,

I bring you their words, their lyrics, their music.

I bring you their movement, and

their Movements.

I bring you POC [Poets of Color],

NOT because of what’s happening…

BUT because…

That is what I’ve always done, while you pose… {Did you not notice?}

AND

Today is the birthday of poets.

Nikki dared you to listen to “The Song of the Feet” (and apply

The Laws of Motion.”)

Hear The Painted Drum (Louise, please…more:)

Tales of Burning Love

Gwendolyn wrote “about what I saw and heard in the street,”

and asked us what we would do “with all this life.” Then she warned us

“that we are each other’s

harvest:

we are each other’s

business:

we are each other’s

magnitude and bond.”

Looks like we failed to listen, even

To the royal “Condition of the Heart”

Now, birds cry in the snow and the rain,

“I think I know a better way y’all.”

And I ask,

are you “Willing and Able”

“America”? “Around the World…”?

Anybody?

– whisper, shout, scream, or –

will we continue to be “like a child lost in the wilderness [?]”

If we live, we [still only] have two choices:

[we’ll] either learn or we won’t;

“growing up or decaying.”

(One requires love & listening “to [y]our own Black heart[s].”)

Of course…

those were our choices all along.

©MKR 2020

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice. Last year’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Interlude music is different between the playlists. YouTube is the original.)

### DON’T WASTE ANY SWEETNESS ###

Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Movies, Philosophy, TV, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

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

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###

 

Wonderfully, Fearlessly, Hopefully Impossible August 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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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 list” 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 G ###

A Brother’s Love August 2, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Writing, Yoga.
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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

 

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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.)

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