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Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

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“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like this, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

 

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

 

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and it didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

Please join me for a 65-minute “short form” virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 26th) at 2:30 PM, when you can practice your ethics. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

 

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way. If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

 

 

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

What’s Behind Your Curtain? June 24, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

“my heart
Is true as steel:”

 

– Helena in Act II, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Life is a matter of perception. We experience certain things and that experience colors the way we experience future things. The way we experience something, based on previous experiences plays a part in what we engage ourselves, others, and our experiences. In other words, life is how you see it. In the yoga philosophy, these layers of experience or layers of perception are referred to as samskāras (which is often translated as “impressions”). Specifically, samskāras are karmic impressions formed by everything we say, do, think, and experience through our senses. These layers of impression can be very subtle, and may be imbedded deep within our subconscious and unconscious memories or they can be very much in the front of our conscious mind. Either way, they can strongly influence the way we think, speak, and act. Part of the practice, both in Yoga and in Buddhism, is to burn away the veil. Or, you could think of it as washing them away.

“Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

 

– from the song “Wash Your Spirit Clean” by Walela

There are lots of great stories about how previous experiences color future and current experiences, and one of those stories comes from Christianity and Islām. It is the story of Zechariah or Zachary. Zechariah was a Jewish priest married to a woman named Elizabeth (who happened to be a relative of the Virgin Mary). According to the gospels (specifically Luke 1:6), the couple were good people who followed the commandments and orders of God. We can take from this, and the fact that Zechariah was a rabbi, that they had spent their lives steeped in their beliefs and, not only keeping those beliefs in their heart, but also acting according to the beliefs in their heart. They were also old and considered their beyond child bearing years. So, it’s not surprising that Zechariah doubted the words of the angel Gabriel, who informed the couple that they would have a son named John and that he would “be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…. and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (Luke 1:14 – 15).

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

Based on his previous experiences, the angel’s message didn’t make sense to the rabbi. It especially didn’t make sense, because Judaism, like many other cultures and religions has very specific naming traditions. Given these traditions, what self-respecting rabbi (with a great name) would name a descendent of Aaron and Moses “John?” Zechariah wanted proof, he wanted a sign, and so Gabriel said the rabbi would be mute until the day the prophecy was fulfilled – basically, until Zechariah believed.

Before the baby was born, there were some other events that were some other unbelievable events. One of those events came in the form of a visit from Elizabeth’s relative Mary. It turned out that Mary, a virgin, had also received a visit from Gabriel and was also pregnant. Her son would be born 6 months after Elizabeth’s son – and both sons were destined for greatness. When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son was born, their friends and family assumed the baby would be named after the father. The still mute, Zechariah, however, wrote down the words that ultimately ended his muteness: “his name is John.” His written words were actually a sign that Zechariah’s experiences had changed his beliefs. Or, more precisely, his disbeliefs had changed and the veils were lifted.

“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”

 

New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke (1:59 – 1:64 NIV)

In the modern world, this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is known as John the Forerunner (in Eastern Christianity), John the Immerser (in some Baptist traditions), John the Baptizer, the prophet John (in Islām), or simply John the Baptist. Born 6 months before Jesus, he would go on to baptize Jesus and be associated with a spiritual cleansing ritual within Christian traditions. To be baptized is to have one’s sins washed away and is a way to be transformed, or to mark one’s transformation.

There are four feast days associated with Saint John the Baptist, one of which is today, June 24th. Also, as an aside, Saint John of Capistrano (b. 1386) and Saint John of the Cross (b. 1542) would have celebrated birthdays today. The fact that today is not a feast day for the other two Johns is actually more interesting than the number of feast days for John the Baptist. Most feast days are traditionally celebrated on the death date of a saint. The idea behind “dies natalis” being that upon death one is born into eternal life (and free of original sin). Today, however, is one of two feast days in Western Christianity associated with an individual’s birth – the idea being that Jesus and John the Baptist were cleansed in the womb. (NOTE: The Virgin Mary is concerned immaculate in that she was “conceived without sin.”)

As Christianity made its way through the pagan and indigenous cultures, this became a “good” day to co-opt… because it already had meaning. Today is also Midsummer. Considered the ancient (pagan) middle of Summer, it is also the astronomical beginning of Summer and was widely celebrated long before Christianity existed. Many of the pagan celebrations involved bonfires; fire being another element used in purification.

Celebrations of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist are recorded back as far as 1333, when the poet and scholar Petrarch noted women in Cologne were “rinsing their hands and arms in the Rhine ‘so that the threatening calamities of the coming year might be washed away by bathing in the river.’” For people in Quebec and for French Canadians throughout the North American continent, today has a particularly patriotic and cultural heritage significance – making it similar to Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.

“No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 24th) 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

 

 

### BE GRATEFUL ###

Blood Will Tell (or Blood Will Out)… June 14, 2020

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“But not until recently has it been recognized that in living organisms, as in the realm of crystals, chemical differences parallel the variation in structure.”

– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

Pause for a moment. Consider the idea that “blood will tell” or “blood will out.” These are phrases, along with “blue-blood” that date back at least as far as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when it was believed you could tell who was an “pure-bred” aristocrat and who was of Norse or Celtic descent by the way one fought on the battlefield. Your view of which was preferred depended on which side of the battle you fell.

Now, consider the idea that you can tell something about someone’s heritage just by looking at their outside – or at their actions. Don’t click yet, but consider the idea that in this picture you can see “humanity at its best and at its worst.” Even before you click on the link, you may have a feeling. Now, when you click on the link, pause before you read the headline or the caption.

Did your first impression match what you were seeing? Did it match what you were expecting?

I always say, go deeper. Go deeper than what is on the surface and you will find that we all breathe – even when we do it on a machine; we all have hearts; we all have the same blood pumping through our veins and arteries. Except we don’t…

Go deeper.

Dr. Karl Landsteiner, born today in 1868, was an Austrian biologist and physician known for identifying and classifying the main blood groups, based on the presence of different agglutinins (the substance which causes blood particles to coagulate and aggregate, i. e., clot). Even though Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys documented successful blood transfusions as far back in 1667, the success of those surgeries was most likely the result of luck and/or the small amounts of blood that were used. Landsteiner’s research in 1900, as well as his work with Dr. Alexander S. Wierner to identify the Rhesus factor (in 1937), enable physicians to transfuse blood without the allergic reaction that proved fatal when blood types were mixed. In between his work with blood types, he worked with Drs. Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper to discover the polio virus (1909). He has been awarded several prestigious science awards, including the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and is known as the “Father of Transfusion Medicine.”

“I have recently observed and stated that the serum of normal people is capable of clumping the red cells of other healthy individuals… As commonly expressed, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins exist, one kind in A, the other in B, both together in C. The cells are naturally insensitive to the agglutinins in their own serum.”

– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

In honor of Dr. Landsteiner’s birthday, today is World Blood Donor Day. (Coincidentally, it falls just the day before the anniversary of Dr. Denys’s 1667 surgery on a 15-year old boy, using sheep’s blood.) Established in 2005 by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Blood Donor Day is a celebration of and an expression of gratitude for the millions of donors worldwide. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness for the need for safe blood and blood products, which is a universal need. According to WHO, 42% of the world’s blood supply is collected in high income countries, which are home to only 16% of the world’s population. Additionally, as of 2014, only 60 countries have the majority (99-100%) of their blood supplied by voluntary, unpaid donors. Over 70 countries depend on family and paid donors. Go deeper and you will find that even in countries that can depend on voluntary donations, certain parts of the country experience shortages which can only be alleviated by a mobilized network. One of the goals of World Blood Donor Day is to “mobilize support at national, regional, and global levels among governments and development partners to invest in, strengthen and sustain national blood programmes.”

“The last category of our innate siddhis is dana, “the ability to give.” We have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others. We are designed to experience the joy of giving. This joy is the architect of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

If you want to get your blood pumping, please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 14th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 has gone into effect yesterday. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“I found that Landsteiner and I had a much different approach to science: Landsteiner would ask, ‘What do these experimental observations force us to believe about the nature of the world?’ and I would ask, ‘What is the most simple, general and intellectually satisfying picture of the world that encompasses these observations and is not incompatible with them?

 

– from “Fifty Years of Progress in Structural Chemistry and Molecular Biology.” By Dr.  Linus Pauling (published in Daedalus, 99, 1005. 1970)

### WHAT QUESTION ARE YOU ASKING? ###

How We Learn To Feel (and what we learn from feeling) May 27, 2020

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“But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”

 

– Rachel Carson accepting the John Burroughs Medal (April 1952) and printed in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

 

“It had been Nashibitti who had taught Leaphorn the words and legends of the Blessing Way, taught him what the Holy People had told the Earth Surface People about how to live, taught him the lessons of the Changing Woman – that the only goal for man was beauty, and that beauty was found only in harmony, and that this harmony of nature was a matter of dazzling complexity.”

 

– from Dance Hall of the Dead (Navajo Mysteries #2) by Tony Hillerman

This week, as we step back and really take a look at “role models,” the roles of our ancestors and elders, and the lessons they’ve taught us about how to live and interact with ourselves and each other, I thought we might take a moment to consider how we’ve learned to live and interact with the planet we call home. Behavioral scientists, and people who are interested in the science of our behaviors, are quick to point to incidences of animal mutilation in childhood whenever someone perpetrates great violence against humanity. There were signs, you see. And, sometimes, we missed the signs or didn’t pay enough attention to the signs.

A recent incident in New York sheds an interesting light on this subject, especially when it is viewed through the lens of everything else that is happening around us. In a situation where one person is committing emotional violence against another person and physical violence against a pet, some people quickly turn their focus on the pet’s distress. Others condemn such a reaction. However, it’s a very real and honest reaction. Rather than condemning how someone else reacts to trauma, I suggest we go deeper.

“‘Don’t think a man don’t care about one goat because he’s got a thousand of ‘em,’ Hosteen Nakai would say. ‘He’s got a thousand because he cares more about goats than he cares about his relatives.’”

 

– from People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries #4) by Tony Hillerman

People who react to the pet’s distress (what they can see as well as hear), as opposed to the other person’s distress (what they may not be able to hear or completely understand as they cannot see the person) are still expressing empathy. This is important, because when scientist, writers, and lay people talk about childhood instances of animal mutilation part of their focus is on a lack of empathy. So, first and foremost consider the importance of empathy. While empathy is a natural emotion , we learn lessons throughout our lives about whether or not to trust – let alone engage – emotions like empathy. If we don’t trust our own emotions and intuition, it’s harder – almost impossible – to trust the emotions of others.

EMPATHY [Greek > German] – The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…without having the feelings, thoughts, and experiences fully communicated in an objective and explicit manner.

 

SYMPATHY [Greek >> Latin] – Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

 

COMPASSION [Latin>> Old French > Middle English] – To suffer with.

There is a difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion – and the difference is critical. Compassion and sympathy are a much older words than empathy. Compassion refers to our ability to understand another’s pain and suffering, and to simultaneously have the desire that the other’s pain and suffering ends. Sympathy holds multiple meanings, including “having an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other” and “a feeling of loyalty; tendency to favor or support.” When we speak in terms of the emotional experience of sympathy, however, there is a layer of pity. That is to say, our feelings of sympathy are more often than not associated with the feeling that someone of something is beneath us: we feel sorry for them. Furthermore, while we may feel sorry for someone, we may not every feel or express the desire that their pain and suffering ends. We may not ever make the connection between what they feel and what we can feel.

Empathy, on the other hand, is the emotion that bridges the gap between what we are feeling and what another is feeling. Coined (from German) by English psychologist  Edward Bradford Titchener, the word “empathy” was used in the early 1900’s to describe the process of projecting one’s own emotions (and thoughts) onto another person or object. This emotional projection was considered a kind of animation or emotional play that allowed one to feel kinship (or sympathy) with another. Over time (and thanks in part to the work of experimental psychologist and sleep expert Rosalind Dymond Cartwright, in collaboration with her mentor, sociologist Leonard Cottrell), the word “empathy” became associated with the final experience: feeling the same as another, without experiencing what the other experiences.

“‘I didn’t want to believe it. Too many old friends are dying. I didn’t really think I could learn anything about that diamond out here. I just wanted to see if I could bring back some old memories…. Maybe it would help me get into harmony with living with so many of my friends gone.’”

 

– from Skeleton Man (Navajo Mysteries #17) by Tony Hillerman

Some of Dr. Cartwright’s research focused on how empathy related to a patient’s “need to change” and ability to progress in therapy. So, there is the even deeper side to the conversation on empathy. The role empathy plays in allowing us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes may also be the role it plays in our ability to change.

As you consider that, also consider the last time you paused and really considered why you react to what you can see more than what you feel?

Writers and other artists are in the business of creating work that cultivates empathy. It’s why most of us can say, would say, we have never been a dog – but on a certain level we can imagine a dog’s life (as there are plenty of books and movies that have encouraged that viewpoint). Rachel Carson (born today in 1907) started Silent Spring with a parable, in part to elicit empathy for Nature before she started getting into the science. Tony Hillerman (born today in 1925) was a veteran and a journalist who wrote 18 novels about Navajo police officers and their role in protecting the people, the heritage, and the landscape within their keeping. If you miss the fact that Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are environmental and cultural gatekeepers, you missed part of what made Hillerman’s work so emotionally compelling.

“‘Everything is connected. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him.’”

 

– from The Ghostway (Navajo Mysteries #6) by Tony Hillerman

 

“In these troubled times it is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility. There is modern truth to the ancient wisdom of the psalmist: `I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’”

 

– from Rachel Carson’s original submission to “Words to Live By” for This Week Magazine (1951)

 

The question now becomes, when was the last time you put yourself in the shoes of someone you perceive to be different from you? When was the last time you imagined the life of someone whose life experience and life lessons are very different – or may seem very different – from yours? When was the last time you empathized without sympathizing (or pitying) another?

These are tricky questions that lead to a tricky conversation. And, while I say “conversation,” understand that the conversation is mostly an internal dialogue. Discernment, recognizing the movements of one’s own heart, is an internal process. Sure, we can have conversation with one another, but that requires gut-wrenching honesty. In order to have that gut-wrenching honesty with another person, we must first have it with ourselves. And that’s the tricky part: gut-wrenching honesty is gut-wrenching for a reason; it’s painful and pain is one of those things we want to avoid at all costs. So, rather than truly feel another’s pain – rather than truly feel our own pain – we “pity the fool” and go on about our day.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

 

– from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

“It was not a Navajo concept, this idea of adjusting nature to human needs. The Navajo adjusted himself to remain in harmony with the universe. When nature withheld the rain, the Navajo sought the pattern of this phenomenon – as he sought the pattern of all things – to find its beauty and live in harmony with it. Now Leaphorn sought the pattern in the conduct of a man who had tried to kill a policemen rather than accepting a speeding ticket.”

 

– from Listening Woman (Navajo Mysteries #3) by Tony Hillerman

 

In Coyote Waits (one of my favorite Leaphorn and Chee mysteries), Hillerman wrote, “‘I think from where we stand the rain seems random. If we stand somewhere else, we see the order in it.” The Sanskrit word vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and shares a root with vipassana, which means “to see in a special way.” The practice is all about order, and also about what we think (and see) because of where we stand. It also, gives us an opportunity to stand (and see) in another place/way and to find harmony. Remember, we cannot understand what our minds have not shown us.

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 27th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice and reflection on what we’ve learned about interacting with harmony and beauty. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Don’t forget that you can request an audio recording of any class via a comment below. If you have been thinking about joining us, but haven’t been able to work it out, this is the week to request a class recording. If one of the themes from this week doesn’t immediately resonate, I am happy to offer a suggestion.

“‘Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying. Spring dried up. No water. The Hopi, and the Christian, maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain. The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought. You see what I mean. The system is designed to recognize what’s beyond human power to change, and then to change the human’s attitude to be content with the inevitable. ’”

 

– from Sacred Clowns (Navajo Mysteries #11) by Tony Hillerman

 

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

 

– from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

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.

### MANY BLESSINGS ###

Let’s See…Where We Go May 23, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

 

“‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

There are some things that once seen (heard, felt), cannot be unseen (unheard, unfelt). Those things – whether we like them or dislike them; whether we truly understand their nature or not – become part of us and part of our world. Those things – whether we recognize/identify them as part of ourselves and/or part of our world – become how we perceive ourselves and the world. Those things – whether they are specific, unspecific, barely describable, or absolutely indescribable – play a part in how we understand ourselves and our world. Those things… are (almost) everything: and everything can lead to fulfillment and freedom.

The statements above are a way to view Yoga Sutras 2.17 – 2.20, which we’ve covered on Saturdays in the last few weeks. (The calendar on the side will link you to posts on any given date if you want to review.) Those statements are also the scaffolding for this week’s sutra (2:21) which gets to the heart of why (to paraphrase the anonymous quote) everyone can only understand from our level of perception – as well as why one person doesn’t automatically “get” what another person “gets.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

One of the reasons I share/teach the things I share/teach is that I understand we (read: our minds) have to be prepared for epiphanies. In other words, we (our minds) have to be prepared to understand what we are seeing. Also, once we have that epiphany – that “aha” moment – where we start to see things in a different way (a special way), we can’t “unsee” that different perception of reality. It’s like the dress or the sound or the picture of the animal or the picture I once shared in the downtown studio.

Some people only ever see/hear/experience things a certain way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we can only believe what we understand; and so, you can talk until you are blue (or gold) in the face and some people will never understand anything other than what they first perceived. Their minds have not shown them any other possibility (YS 2.20). On the other hand, some people, when presented with the truth about the reality of the dress, the sound, or either picture will start to perceive the object in a different way. And, once they do, that new perception becomes part of their understanding of reality (YS 2:18 – 19). When presented the object of experience again, they may first still see what they initially perceived, but their mind/intellect will now also present them with the other option(s). Add to this the fact that there are some people who will initially experience both/all options (YS 2:15 – 17). While people in this last category can isolate what others perceive, they will also still understand the ultimate reality: it’s all about perception, baby.

And, our perceptions play a starring role in our actions, our suffering, and our ultimate freedom from suffering.

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

 

– from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

 

We have reached the end of the month of Ramadān, which can be viewed through the Yoga lens of Kriyā Yoga (a prescription or path to union). Part of the reason I share some of the history, pillars, and articles of faith related to Islam (as well as to Judaism and Christianity) is because if one person gains insight or additional understanding it not only changes their perception, it changes the way they relate to themselves and to the world. Sure, I hold out for the possibility of more than one person, but I also acknowledge that one person can make a big difference… if you know where to look for the change.

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

 

“ Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornadoes; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

 

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972

 

It might seem random that a technical talk to a science organization in 1972 would popularize a theory that dates back as far as 1800. Turns out, however, that it’s not random, it’s chaos (theory) and changing a seagull’s wings to a butterfly’s wings was just the beginning of a ripple of effect with a “strange” legacy. According to Edward Norton Lorenz (born today in 1917), he did not submit a title for his now famous speech (“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”). The title, which came from the session chair, Dr. Philip Merilees, carried “the idea that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology. It carried it everywhere – even into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. (Even though sometimes people don’t actually understand – or even know – the actual theory.)

If you are interested in experiencing some theory and “seeing” where it takes you, please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, this time using the lens of Ramadan and chaos theory. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020 75+ mins” playlist.)

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 (or use this “chaos” music).

 

(A little theory to go.)

### X Y Z ###

 

 

 

Let’s See… What We See May 16, 2020

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

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

If you take a moment to consider the anonymous quote above from two different angles (first as if you are “I” and then as if you are “other people”), you realize that the statement holds true for everyone. In other words, each one of us can only understand (anything) from OUR level of perception (or awareness). We might even add “from OUR conscious level of perception (or awareness).” Patanjali states, at the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, that yoga (the philosophy) quiets the mind and allows us to “rest in our own true nature” and that at all other times we identify ourselves as “the fluctuations of the mind.” Through the practice, we elevate our level of perception (and awareness) and, in doing so, elevate our level of understanding.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The ‘gunas’ fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

Remember, Patanjali explains in earlier sutras that everything we do creates an impression (samskara) and that we have constructed the world and ourselves – as well as our understanding of the world and ourselves – from a lack of knowledge (avidyā) and attachment that is rooted in (either) pleasure (rāgah) or pain (dveşah). There is a part of us that is pure consciousness, but our connection to that part of us lies behind the veils of samskara. Until the veils are lifted, we will only ever see what the mind shows us. That is to say, we will only ever see what the mind understands – and the mind is often clouded.

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

 

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

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 16th) at 12:00 PM, when we will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand.  You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for playlists dated “March 31.” If you are so inclined, the playlist dated “05032020” also works for this practice.)

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Let’s See… Clearly May 3, 2020

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

“I’m in the here and now, and I’m meditating
And still I’m suffering but that’s my problem
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is”

 

– from “Enlightenment” by Van Morrison

Every philosophy, every religion, every one of humankind’s thought paradigms takes suffering into consideration; because suffering is part of our existence. We can have everything we need, but not have one thing that we want; and suffering ensues. We can have everything we need, everything we think we want, and one thing we do not want; and suffering ensues. It’s one of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism (“Suffering Exists”). And yet, some people seem to suffer more than others. Some people endure great hardships and seem to suffer very little. How is that possible?

In philosophies like Buddhism, there is a distinction made between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical experience, over which we have very little control. Suffering, however, is seen as an emotional/mental experience, and therefore something within our control. This is why the Buddha spoke of the second arrow – the one that causes additional pain, and also suffering. Another thing the Eastern philosophies have any common is the idea that suffering comes from attachment. So, either way you look at it, it comes down to the way we think.

It’s up to you, everyday
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
It’s always up to you
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
It’s up to you, the way you think”

 

– from “Enlightenment” by Van Morrison

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāsmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death of loss are the afflicted thoughts.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali spends quite a bit of time talking about how the mind works and how we can work the mind. He specifically states in the first chapter that our thoughts fall into two distinct categories, klişțāklişțāh (“afflicted and not afflicted”); that is to say, thoughts which cause suffering and thoughts which do not cause suffering. In Yoga Sutra 2.3 (see above), he explains that there are five afflicted or suffering causing thoughts (see above). There are two very critical parts about this breakdown of afflicted thoughts. First, that avidyā (“ignorance”) about the true nature of things leads to a false sense of self – which is created by our attachments/likes, aversions/dislikes, and fear of death/loss. The second critical element at play here is that it is not only ourselves that we create out of the last three afflictions, it is also (philosophically speaking) the world that we create based on these same thoughts. So, here we are stuck in that feedback loop again.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

“The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

 

What happens if we can gain step back and gain some perspective? What happens if we take a look at ourselves and distinguish the forest from the trees and the trees from ourselves – but in a way that recognizes we are the forest and the trees? What happens if we can see (ourselves, our world, and others) clearly? What happens if we recognize that everyone and everything has spiritual value and can point us in the direction of enlightenment (whatever that means to you at this moment)? These are philosophical questions and, as Yoga is a practical and active philosophy, these are some of the questions that can be answered through the practice.

Let’s see what happens when you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 3rd) at 2:30 PM. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

***NOTE: Tomorrow is May the 4th, and yes, I’m going there. Feel free to join me. There will be space. ***

 

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

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

 

### SO HUM HAM SA ###

 

So Much That Is Holy On April 8th April 8, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Maya Angelou, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see – the answer
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” sung by Joan Baez, lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

Every year, I say that May 1st is one of the hardest working days of the year, because so many people use that day to celebrate so many things. That being said, this year, April 8th may be the most revered day of the year as it coincides with several religious or philosophical observations: Spy Wednesday in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, the beginning of Passover (at sunset) in the Jewish tradition, Hanuman Jayanti in some Hindu traditions, and the Buddha’s birthday in some culturally Buddhist traditions (specifically in parts of Japan). These observations don’t always stack up like this since different traditions and cultures base their holy days on different calendars. This year; however, the super pink moon shines over the world in a way that is uniquely auspicious.

I am always up for a good auspicious story, one that is simultaneously inspiring and enlightening, and a reason to practice the splits. The question is: How do we honor so much in the short amount of time that is a 60-minute class? That’s an especially tricky challenge when some of these are not even remotely connected on paper. The answer, of course, is to find the common denominator.

When considering different people’s experiences with the divine – or even what is best in mankind – we start with what is universal to the human experience: doubt and fear, passion/suffering, faith, and change. Everything changes and, in moments of great suffering – in moments when we doubt and fear ourselves and those around us – it is important to have faith in the fact that things will change. That faith can, sometimes, bring hope – and the power of hope is another common denominator. But, let’s step back for a moment and consider doubt and fear plus passion/suffering.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ and when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The Buddha (whose birthday is celebrated in May by some traditions) said that he taught only two things: suffering and the end of suffering. In fact, the Four Noble Truths outline exactly that. “I have heard” two parables the Buddha used to differentiate between (physical) pain and (mental) suffering. Both parables also point to the ways in which we can alleviate our own suffering.

In one parable, a man is shot with a poisoned arrow. As the poison enters the man’s bloodstream, he is surrounded by people who can and want to help him, to save his life. The problem is that the man wants to know why he was shot. In fact, before the arrow is removed he wants to know why he was shot, by whom he was shot, and all the minutia about the archer and their life. While the information is being gathered, the poison is moving through the man’s body; the man is dying. In fact, the man will die before he has the answers to all his questions.

In another parable, a man is shot by an arrow (no poison this time) and then, in the very next breath, the man is shot by a second arrow. The Buddha explains that the first arrow is physical pain, and we can’t always escape or avoid that. The second arrow, however, is the mental suffering (or pain) that is caused when “the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught.” How we respond to moments of pain and suffering determines how much more pain and suffering we will endure.

“How many ears must one person have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

When we look the observations that are happening around the world today (Wednesday, April 8th) from the perspective of the human experience (instead of looking at them from the perspective of cultural or historical differences), we find they are more alike than different. In these stories there are two recognized teachers of wisdom (Jesus and the Buddha) and two heroes who lack confidence in their own ability to shine and help to save others (Hanuman and Moses). All four experience great suffering. All four have great faith (although, arguable in the Buddha’s case, not in G-d, whatever that means to you at this moment). All four are known for their devoted service to their community. All four are the unlikely heroes in stories about freedom from suffering. All four are sources of great inspiration.

Finally, all four offer very practical lessons related to what we are all experiencing right now. If you’re interested in the stories, the lessons, and a little bit of the splits, join me for one of the following Wednesday yoga practices on Zoom:

4:30 PM – The Nokomis Yoga class is a 60-minute, open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

7:15 PM – The Flourish class is a 60-minute “Slow Flow,” with the same elements found in the open-level vinyasa practice. This class requires registration, but all are welcome.

The playlist for Wednesday is available on YouTube and Spotify.

As Zoom has changed some security protocols, please use the link on the “Class Schedules” calendar if you encounter any access problems. During this quarantine experience, you can make a donation through Common Ground Meditation Center, which operates on dana/generosity, or you can purchase a package on my Squarespace. Either option can be applied to any class. If you are worried about finances, do not add this to your worry list – I got you, just come to the virtual practice.

Speaking of our virtual practice, Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is coming online at the end of this month. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

You can totally do that!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 8th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 8th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 8th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 8th Practice

 

“And what is declared by me? ‘This is stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. And why are they declared by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That’s why they are declared by me.

“So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

 

Happy, happy birthday, to three amazing women – two of whom I know (and you know who you are) and one of whom is Barbara Kingsolver, today’s featured poet!

 

### LOKAH SAMASTHAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ###

On the Pulse of the Poet’s Birthday, We Rise April 4, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

 

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

 

Give birth again
To the dream.

 

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

 

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.”

– from the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, recited at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton (1993)

Yoga Sutra 2.14: Te hlādaparitāpaphalāh puņyāpuņyahetutvāt

– “Those (karma experiences that result in birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience {YS 2.13}) are accompanied by pleasure and pain, because their nature is virtue and vice.”

In her own words, Dr. Maya Angelou rose from “a past rooted in pain.” Join me today (Saturday, April 4th) at 12:00 PM on Zoom for a 90-minute practice focused around Yoga Sutra 2.14, which carries the implication that we are all rising from a past rooted in pain (and pleasure). You can find the playlist inspired by Angelou’s life and work on YouTube and Spotify.

Due to security concerns, Zoom has updated their protocols and additional security measures go into place on Sunday. Please check the “Class Schedules” calendar for links to upcoming classes. For today (4/42020), use the same Meeting ID as last week’s class. If you were unable to attend last week, check out the access details in the calendar description for Saturday, April 4th.

Also, if you are interested in YIN Yoga, the special webinar/mini-practice has been rescheduled for Wednesday (April 15th). Details to be announced.

For Kiss My Asana blog posts on the anniversary of Dr. Angelou’s birth, check out the “Poetry Practice” (2018) and “Preview for April 4th Practice” listed below.

Kiss My Asana is an annual yogathon, to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals.

This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

You’re getting this, right?

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

– Dr. Maya Angelou

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 4th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 4th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 4th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 4th Practice

“Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.”

– from the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, recited at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton (1993)

 

### “Lift Up Your Faces” ###