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& What We Know (the “missing” Saturday post) September 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is a “missing” post for Saturday, September 10th. 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.

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.]

“Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Earlier this year, during a practice for the Lunar New Year’s birthday celebration for all humans, I got to ask some of my dharma/yoga buddies what it means to be human. People had great answers: it means we’re part of a community; it means experiencing the dichotomy of being compassionate but also holding grudges; it means we’re imperfect; it means messiness. That last one tied back into a point someone made at the beginning: we make things up. 

Yes, well….

As someone who makes things up and loves reading and experiencing things that other humans make up, I have to admit that our penchant for making things up also makes things complicated, messy, and it leads to suffering. The world, as it turns out, is really simple. Each of us is a microcosm of the families and groups to which we belong, which are themselves microcosms of the macrocosm that is the world. So, as we learn in the Yoga Sūtras, if we really pay attention to ourselves – focus, concentrate, meditate on different aspects ourselves – we can learn more about ourselves and also more about the world. 

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

 

– Martin Buber 

So we embrace ourselves and, along the way, we learn to embrace to others. Although it is really that simple, I can already hear someone sputtering, “But, but, what about…?” 

Yes, sure, as I’ve already acknowledged, life can be complicated and messy; but we make it that way. And despite all the nuances, which I have mentioned before, all the great religious and philosophical teachings say the same things: Love yourself and love all others. Sure, different religions, philosophies, and cultures have different ways of phrasing that. For instance, we could substitute the word “respect” for “love” and maintain the same intention. 

Likewise, all the philosophies, religions, and cultures have different ways of explaining how the Universe works. Ultimately, however, all those different ways can be summed up with love/respect and the Laws of Motion. So, Robert Fulgum’s idea that “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is not as hyperbolic as some might think. That’s why I sometimes say that there’s a Garth Brooks song for every situation. It’s also why I have said that everything you need to know about this practice (or about life) can be learned from a Mary Oliver poem.

“You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Born today in 1935, Mary Oliver grew up loving the outdoors, reading and writing poetry. She went to college, because that’s what girls from good families in Ohio did in the 50’s, but then she dropped out and made her way to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 800-acre estate in Austerliz, New York. She met Vincent’s sister and husband and decided to stay. Eventually, she fell in love with another woman that came to visit, Molly Malone Cook, and eventually they moved to Massachusetts together.

Mary Oliver wrote and published and wrote and published and did the things one does when they love the woods and all that is natural in the world. In fact, she once said “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.” Then, in 1983, after publishing several collections, she won the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. Suddenly, everyone wanted more of and from Mary Oliver. She once said she couldn’t remember doing any readings before the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry announcement was made, but then, suddenly, people were calling for her to do readings and book promotions.

“Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a

little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from

one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And too tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists 

of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Black Oaks” by Mary Oliver

Molly Malone Cook, her love and life partner, was also Mary Oliver’s official photographer, literary agent, and the person most editors and miscellaneous strangers would talk to when the called the Oliver-Cook household. Cook would not only answer the phone, she would go to (what I consider) hilarious extremes to convince whomever was on the phone that the next voice they heard was that of Mary Oliver – even though it was still Molly Malone Cook.

Now I’m not suggesting people go around pretending to be people they are not – even when they have permission to do so – but, there is a lesson in that story. Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we all accepted each other as we are; supported the ones we love as they are; allowed others in the world to get what they wanted/needed from us without compromising our own wants/needs, and let go of all the rest. 

Simply stated: Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we love/respected each other, helped each other out, and let go of all the rest.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

I am woefully behind in my Saturday posts and so I apologize to anyone who was following along with our Saturday study of the Yoga Sūtras. Especially considering that I am just jumping back in with this one and, on a certain level, it is missing context and continuity. That said, I have to smirk at myself when I think about how attached I’ve gotten to posting these. Especially since I was not blogging as much when we started this study in January of 2019 and, therefore, I didn’t provide a post for all of those original practices. In other words, there’s already a gap and context and continuity and yet… We keep figuring it out and moving forward.

Not just on Saturdays, but on any other day that I teach, there is the possibility that someone new will enter the practice. Maybe they are new to yoga; maybe they are new to me; or maybe they have been physically practicing for a long time and are just new to the philosophy. Also, as I have to continuously remind myself, life happens and even people who are “Saturday regulars” sometimes miss a practice. Finally, people don’t absorb and remember things the same way. All of which means that I always need to include a little context and continuity. I just don’t always have to repeat everything I’ve ever said and every lesson ever explored chapter and verse. It’s not that complicated. Like everything else, it can be quite simple. It can be quite simple, because you already know everything you need to know.

“One day you finally

Knew what you had to do, and

began”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver

Right at the beginning of the sūtras, specifically in Yoga Sūtras 1.3-1.4, Patanjali defined the practice by explaining what comes from the practice. It is a promise, of sorts. As we move through the practice – which is just like the hero’s journey – we find ourselves faced with obstacles (and their accompanying ailments), trials and tribulations, challenges and triumphs. We encounter some people who seem to magically assist us along the way; some people we need to forgive and some who need to forgive us; and we experience great loves and great loss. All along the way, there are temptations and boons – which can sometimes be one and the same. In fact, after detailed explanations about the benefits of the practice and warnings about what happens when we get too attached – even to the rewards and benefits – Patanjali reveals that the biggest boon of all awaits us… if we don’t get distracted. 

That biggest boon is megah samadhih, which is sometimes translated as “a cloud of virtue” or “a cloud of clarity.” Along with that cloud comes the end of ignorance and, therefore, the end of suffering. Additionally, there is infinite knowledge or wisdom. This could all be interpreted as having every bit of knowledge that has ever existed suddenly rushing into you or raining down on you. But, honestly, it’s not that overwhelming or complicated. Simply stated, with clarity comes pure understanding of how everything is connected and how everything works. 

Yoga Sūtra 4.29: prasankhyāne‘pyakusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāterdharmameghah samādhih

 

– “[The one] who remains undistracted even when he is in possession of all the psychic powers, achieves, as the result of perfect discernment, that samadhi which is called the ‘cloud of virtue’.”

[Alternate translation: “When there is no longer any interest even in omniscience, that discernment allows the samadhi, which brings an abundance of virtues like a rain cloud brings rain.”]

 

Yoga Sūtra 4.30: tatah kleśakarmanivŗttih

 

– “Thence comes cessation of ignorance, the cause of suffering, and freedom from the power of karma.”

Yoga Sūtra 4.31: Tadā sarvāranamalāpetasya jñānasyānantyājjñeyamalpam

 

– “Then, by the removal of those veils of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, and the realization that there is almost nothing to be known.”

[Alternate translation: “Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.”]

 

It is important to note that this shower of clarity, knowledge, and wisdom is not a case of Dunning-Kruger Effect (i.e., someone thinking they are an expert on something about which they know very little). Instead, one is aware of what they don’t know and there is a true understanding of the Universe (and everything in the Universe) as described in Yoga Sūtras 2.18 – 2.19. This is truly understanding – through direct experience – how everything is “composed of elements and senses and having the inherent properties of illumination, action, and stability” and, furthermore, recognizing that everything has a purpose. It is recognizing the simplicity (and simple beauty) of the Universe.

Having that clarity of mind is not confusing or conflating a drop of water with the whole ocean, but rather recognizing that the drop and the ocean share qualities, traits, and properties. It’s recognizing that these qualities, traits, and properties are consistent whether the item is flowing freely, frozen, or boiling and then evaporating. It is understanding that it’s all water (H2O) and then also understanding that other elements have similar states of manifestation. Finally, it is understanding how that plays out inside of us and all around us. (Especially, in the case of water, when we note that our physical forms are mostly water.)

“To man in his ordinary sense-consciousness, the universe seems full of secrets. There seems so infinitely much to be discovered and known. Every object is an invitation to study. He is overcome by a sense of his own ignorance. But, to the illumined yogi, the universe does not seem at all mysterious. It is said that, if you know clay, you know the nature of everything that is made of clay. So, if you know the Atman, you know the nature of everything in the universe. Then, all the painstaking researches of science seem like efforts of a child to empty the ocean with a spoon.”

 

– commentary quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (4:31), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 (NOTE: A child gets a lot of delight from that spoon and ocean combination. As we journey through life, we too can take delight at what we have at hand – especially since that spoon can be rinsed off and used for dessert. Stay curious and enjoy the best parts of your life!)

 

Saturday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05252022 Pratyahara II”]

 

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into

my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made my life something

particular, and real.”

 

– quoted from the poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver 

Mary Oliver shared a birth date with one of my favorite people. Click here to read how I remembered my maternal grandmother when death came.

### SO HUM, HAM SA ###

 

& What We Know (just the music) September 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Philosophy, Yoga.
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Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 10th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05252022 Pratyahara II”]

 

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.)

 

 

### 🎶 ###

What Comes With… (mostly the music) September 3, 2022

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“I think a lot of people [have misunderstood] a little bit of what I was arguing and have overstated the argument in ways that I had… I had not anticipated. … And also, people have felt that that number is hard and fast and in truth it’s a kind of – it’s supposed to, it symbolizes the fact that the amount of time necessary to develop innate abilities is longer than you think. So, it’s – it’s a metaphor for the extent of committment that’s necessary in cognitively complex fields.”

 

– Malcolm Gladwell (b. 09/03/1963) talking about the 10,000 hours / 10 years idea to HeavyCheff and CliffCentral reps at BCX Disrupt Summit  

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 3rd) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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

 

 

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Still Dreaming the Heart’s Wildest Dream August 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Take a moment to consider how you deal with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice. You can consider it from your perspective as an individual and/or as part of a collective, a community… a republic. Either way you look at it, consider that your unique perspective – based on your past experiences – determines what you believe is a reasonable and rational way to deal with differences, imbalance, and/or injustice. Just to be clear: “past experiences” include everything you have felt, thought, said, done, and experienced around you. Past experiences make up your “mental impressions” (samskaras) – which, over time, can become vasanas, the “dwelling places” of our habits.

I was thinking about vasanas the other day when I heard Caroline Myss use the idea of living in a high rise as a metaphor for how we live in the world. The point she was making is that, if we live in the penthouse, we have a different understanding of the world and our circumstances than if we live on the first floor (or in the basement). Additionally, she talked about people not really caring about the problems people were having on other floors and she talked about perspective as it relates to the view outside, the vista. All of this made me think about how our perspectives determine how we resolve conflict.

Consider, if you will, that we “might be” in the habit of dealing with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice in ways that are not alleviating our suffering. I put “might be” in quotes, but let’s be real; if we look at some of the events that happened today in U. S. history (from 1862 to 1963 and beyond), we find a lot of suffering. Like a lot, a lot, of suffering. But, there’s not a whole lot of alleviation. We do, however, find dreams, hopes, promises, and possibilities.

As many of y’all know, I’m a big fan of “dwell[ing] in Possibility.” I sometimes wonder, however, at what point that idea becomes counterproductive. At what point do we have to pack up our baggage and move from unlimited possibilities to unlimited probability? At what point do we realize that moving means getting rid of some old, out-dated stuff that no longer serves us?

At what point do we recognize that the problems in the basement (and on the first floor) contribute to the problems in the penthouse – and vice versa? And, at what point do we recognize that we are all in the same dwelling place?

Better yet, at what point do we recognize that it’s time to move from dreams to reality? 

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

 

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 28th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08282021 The Heart’s Wildest Dream”]

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

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.)

 

### To Have Wild Dreams, We Have to Live Wild Dreams ###

ForSeekers (mostly the music) August 27, 2022

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“Only through the realization of great goals a person reveals his strong character.”

 

– Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (b. 08/27/1770) 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 27th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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

 

 

### 🎶 ###

The Courage to Be, Right Here and Right Now (mostly the music) August 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Philosophy, Yoga.
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“The courage to be is the courage to affirm one’s own reasonable nature over against what is accidental in us. It is obvious that reason in this sense points to the person in his center and includes all mental functions. Reasoning as a limited cognitive function, detached from the personal center, never could create courage. One cannot remove anxiety by arguing it away. This is not a recent psychoanalytical discovery; the Stoics, when glorifying reason, knew it as well. They knew that anxiety can be overcome only through the power of universal reason which prevails in the wise man over desires and fears. Stoic courage presupposes the surrender of the personal center to the Logos of being; it is participation in the divine power of reason, transcending the realm of passions and anxieties. The courage to be is the courage to affirm our own rational nature, in spite of everything in us that conflicts with its union with the rational nature of being-itself.

 


What conflicts with the courage of wisdom is desires and fears.”

 

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 1. Being and Courage – Courage and Wisdom: The Stoics” in The Courage To Be by Paul Tillich (b. 08/20/1886) 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 20th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01312021 Merton’s Mystical Day”]

 

 

 

“There is a saying by Sri Ramakrishna that one needs to continue fanning oneself on hot days, but that it becomes unnecessary when the spring breeze blows. When a man attains illumination, the breeze of grace is continually felt and the fanning (the constant practice of [discernment] is no longer needed.”

 

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (4:25 – 4.28), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

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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The McGuffin’s MacGuffin (mostly the music) August 13, 2022

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“Hitchcock’s example of the MacGuffin emphasizes its impossible status: not only is the object that one [never has], but one cannot even isolate it as an idea. It remains necessarily empty, and yet functions as an engine for the Hitchcockian narrative. The emptiness of the MacGuffin as an object permits spectators to locate their satisfaction in the striving that it unleashes rather than identifying satisfaction with the discovery of its secret.”

 

– quoted from “The Empty Object” in “27. Hitchcock’s Ethics of Suspense: Psychoanalysis and the Devaluation of the Object” by Todd McGowan (as published in A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague)

 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 13th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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

 

 

### 🎶 ###

More Cause + More Effect = More Momentum? (mostly the music) August 9, 2022

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“Then the mind is inclined….”

– quoted from Yoga Sūtra 4.26 

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 9th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08062022 Cause + Effect”]

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.)

 

 

### 🎶 ###

Cause + Effect = Momentum (mostly the music) August 6, 2022

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“Then the mind is inclined….”

 

– quoted from Yoga Sūtra 4.26 

 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 6th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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

 

 

### 🎶 ###

The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“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)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus 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.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. 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 autobiography 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 that 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) and 110 pages on authors like 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.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, 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 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 of whom 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)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to 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). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could 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 jazz from today’s playlist.

“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

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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