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The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. 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.]

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

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


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

qaStaH nuq (“What’s happening?”) August 19, 2020

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“Captain’s Log, Star Date 2263.2. Today is our 966th day in Deep Space, a little under 3 years into our 5-year mission. The more time we spend out here there harder it is to tell where one day ends and the next one begins. It can be a challenge to feel grounded when even gravity is artificial. But, while we do what we can to make it feel like home.

The crew, as always, continues to act admirably despite the rigors of our extended stay here in outer space, and the personal sacrifices they’ve made. We continue to search for new life forms in order to establish firm diplomatic ties. Our extended time in unchartered territory has stretched the ship’s mechanical capacities, but fortunately, our engineering department – led by Mr. Scott – is more than up to the job. The ship aside, prolonged cohabitation has definitely had affects on interpersonal dynamics; some experiences for better and some for the worse.

As for me, things have started to feel… a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we’re trying to accomplish. If the universe is truly endless, then are we not forever striving for something forever out of reach?”

– quoted from Star Trek Beyond (2016), voiced by Chris Pine (b. 08/26/1980) as Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Ever feel like you’re in the middle of an episode of Star Trek? Or maybe a scene from one of the movies where things are not only NOT going according to plan, they’re not even going in a way you ever anticipated. You’re like, “qaStaH nuq jay (What the bleep is happening?)” It’s been 157 days since I taught an in-studio class. Even when I imagined having more online engagement, occasional pop-up classes, and students from all over the world attending my classes, I never imagined the sequence of events that have led to our current reality. I mean, who could have imagined the world would come to this…oh, wait! – Scientists, engineers, even computer moguls anticipated exactly this! While we can’t go back and listen we can go forward, listen, explore, and consider how we come together in peace. Star Trek has its roots in ancient Indian philosophy. So, as we go forward, we also go back.

Today is the anniversary of the birth Philo T. Farnsworth and Gene Roddenberry. Born today in 1906, Farnsworth was an American inventor who revolutionized television. He started exploring mechanical and electrical engineering at the age of twelve and by the age of fifteen had developed the principle of the image dissector that would make an all-electric television possible. His work contributed to the television tube that was used in all television up until the late 20th century. He also developed the “image oscillate,” a cathode ray tube that displayed the images captured by the image dissector and was the first person to publically demonstrate a fully functional and all-electronic television.

Roddenberry, born today in 1921, revolutionized what we watch on television. A World War II veteran and former police officer (whose father was also an LAPD officer), Roddenberry became a freelance script writer for television who drew from his experiences as a combat pilot and member of law enforcement. While he had success working on shows created by others, he couldn’t seem to get his own creations to take off. At one point, in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, he was asked to write a series set in 1860’s Mississippi – only without any Black people. Roddenberry argued about the premise so much that he lost the job. But it was during this pivotal time in his career, however, that he became a producer and “met” some of the people who would become important in his life: including Majel Barrett (then known as Majel Leigh Hudec), DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Gene L. Coon, Gary Lockwood, Joe D’Agosta, Philip Pike, Edward Jellicoe, and James T. Irvine.

“Space – the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission – to explore strange new worlds – to seek out new life and new civilizations – to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

– Opening monologue from the original Star Trek series, voiced by William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk

Roddenberry originally intended Star Trek to be a science fiction version of spaghetti westerns. Only when he pitched it, he downplayed the science fiction aspect and highlighted how similar the series would be to successful shows like Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. In fact, he called it “Wagon Train to the stars.” After pitching the series to a number of studios, including Lucille Ball’s Desilu (where he was hired as a producer), Rodenberry received a deal to produce the script “The Menagerie” (known as “The Cage”) and three other episodes. He immediately hired Dorothy Fontana (known as D. C. Fontana) as his assistant, making Star Trek one of the most diverse shows on television before it even aired.

Even though it didn’t do well with test audiences, the original series ran for three seasons (79 episodes) and create a franchise that now includes six additional television series, thirteen feature films, an extensive collection of books, games, and toys – not to mention college curriculum and language courses. It’s a cult classic that has greatly influenced popular culture.

“First of all, our show did not reach and affect all these people because it was deep and great literature. Star Trek was not Ibsen or Shakespeare. To get a prime time show–a network show–on the air and to keep it there, you must attract and hold a minimum of 18 million people every week. You have to do that in order to move people away from Gomer Pyle, Bonanza, Beverly Hillbillies, and so on. And we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict, and so on.

But once we got on the air, and within the limits of those action/adventure limits, we did not accept the myth that the television audience has an infantile mind. We had an idea, and we had a premise, and we still believe that. As a matter of fact we decided to risk the whole show on that premise. We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond those petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided.

So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient, that many people keep seeking, and many of them keep missing, is really not in Star Trek, it is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television tube!

The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mold, where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

And I think that this is what people responded to.”

– quoted from a 1976 philosophy lecture by Gene Roddenberry

I am a Star Trek fan, you might even call me a Trekkie. Although, in all honesty, my favorite episodes and characters are ones that (ironically) diverge slightly from the way Roddenberry wanted the Star Trek universe to be portrayed. Gene Roddenberry was a humanist, who questioned religion and his religious upbringing. He wanted to show, not tell, and wrote accordingly. So, while I personally find the original James T. Kirk misogynistic, sexist, and a little racist, no one can deny that Rodenberry intentionally portrayed diversity and equality among races, genders, ethnicities – and even species. And, I happen to like the episodes and movies where that diversity, equality, and spirituality is front and center.

The series continues to be so spiritually infused that members of various religions uplift it – sometimes without realizing that many of its foundational elements hail from the Vedic (Indian philosophy) tradition. In fact, Roddenberry was rewarded by the American Baptist Convention and spent years corresponding with John M. Gunn of the National Council of Churches – until Roddenberry explained “But you must understand that I am a complete pagan, and consume enormous amounts of bread, having found the Word more spice than nourishment….” He said he believed in God, “just not other people’s God” and called Catholicism “a beautiful religion” even as he railed against organized religion as people’s malfunctioning substitute brain. Perhaps one of the reasons he wanted to subtly allude to spirituality was not only because of his beliefs as a humanist, but also because of the way he saw the American public’s double standard when it came to certain religions: condemning violent acts committed by members of a religion different from theirs while simultaneously praising and/or accepting violent acts committed by members of their shared religion. So, Rodenberry gave us the spirit rather than the religion.

“Odo: When you return to the Link, what will become of the entity I am talking to right now?

The Female Founder: The drop becomes the ocean.

Odo: And, if you choose to take solid form again?

The Female Founder: The ocean becomes a drop.

Odo: Ah, yes, I think I’m beginning to understand.

The Female Founder: Then you can answer your own question.”

– quoted from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine conversation between the Odo (played by René Auberjonois) and  the Female Changeling / Founder (played by Salome Jens)

Please join me today (Wednesday, August 19th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where we will boldly go where only you can go. 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.

Wednesday’s (Courage filled) playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

This interview appears on YouTube playlist.

### bISeH’eghlaH’be’chugh latlh Dara’laH’be ###