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A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. 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 question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

Seeing Clearly Now (or New Vision for a New Year) December 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

– “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The filmmaker Billy Wilder famously said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Wilder’s statement relies on the idea that 20-20 is perfect vision  and implies that stepping back gives us the perspective to see things more clearly because we take in the bigger picture. In other words, once we see the pattern and how everything fits together as a whole, we gain an understanding of the parts. It’s like understanding a word’s meaning when it’s used in a sentence.  Context is everything. Or is it? After all, if we start off with an incorrect understanding of past events, the pattern that emerges is still slightly off. We may see ourselves and our situation better than we did when we were in the middle of everything, but seeing things better doesn’t mean we see them perfectly.

As someone in the United States who has worn glasses for most of my life, I am very familiar with the idea that 20/20 vision is perfect vision (and the experience of feeling like you’re seeing a brand new world when you get new glasses). However, the reality is that that particular gold standard is not only not perfect vision; it’s not even the best vision. 20/20 vision – what is considered normal or average vision is, by definition, what is clearly or sharply seen at 20 feet by the so-called average person.  If you have your eyes examined and the second number is higher than 20 (let’s say, 89) than that higher number means you would have to be 20 feet away from something to see it with the same clarity that someone else (someone with “normal” eyesight) sees clearly from a distance of 89 feet.  On the flip side, someone with 20/2 vision has the eyesight of an eagle and can sharply see something from 20 feet away that mere mortals can only see clearly from 2 feet. While 20/2 vision may seem unlikely in a human, there are definitely people with 20/10 vision. (And, also, there are people with 20/8.)

I say all of this just to point out that, as we enter a new year and a new decade that lends itself to people talking about vision and insight, don’t get too caught up in the metaphor of seeing better in the year ahead just because it’s 20/20. It’s an imperfect metaphor. And, if you insist on using it – for political reasons – keep in mind that we had better “vision” in 2008. (But, that’s another story for another day.) The point I’m making here is that what we really need is more clarity and more insight.

“I think I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day”

– Hothouse Flowers cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

The Sanskrit word “vipassana” is often translated into English as “insight.” A more literal translation is “to see in a special way.” The practice is not just about stepping back; it’s also about letting go. Paying attention to your breath while simultaneously observing your thoughts and physical sensations creates the opportunity to experience everything without getting attached to anything. It’s a bit like riding a motorcycle through your life. As Robert Pirsig describes it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  / On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Like vipassana, the Sanskrit word “vinyasa” (“to place in a special way”) refers to a technique as well as to a style or tradition. The most classical example of vinyasa is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), which is 12 asanas (seats or poses) linked to the breath. Each pose is an exaggeration of the spine’s natural inclination – to extend on the inhale and to flex on the exhale. Practicing a few Sun Salutations at the beginning of a practice is a little like getting in a car to go somewhere specific. The more Sun Salutations you do, the more it feels like a road trip. If, however, you’re only practicing 5 or 10 Sun Salutations (every once in a while), you’re still traveling in the car. Practice 108…now you’re traveling long distance on a cycle. And, yes, that means you have to do your own maintenance. It also means you have to let go of some baggage.

 “But our mistakes also carry our largest lessons. I’m wiser now. I guess the real trick in life is to turn hindsight into foresight that reveals insight.”

 

“Nice way to put it, Cal. What I really hear you saying is that it’s important in life to let our past serve us. Is that right?”

 

“Very well put. That’s it exactly. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – that’s how human beings grow. We’re designed to make mistakes, for mistakes carry growth. We just shouldn’t keep repeating the same one. Turn a wound into wisdom, or, as you said, let your past serve you.”

– Cal and Jack in The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO by Robert Sharma

Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a great way to mark a transition, like the end of a year and/or the end of the decade. While it is a tradition for some to practice the ajapa-japa mala (repeat-remember garland) for a solstice and equinox, many people also practice at the beginning of a new year. My 2020 mala, as well as my Yin Yoga + Meditation, practices are full. However, if you are looking for clarity and insight in this New Year and new decade consider practicing on your own or joining one of the following*:

Tuesday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Common Ground Meditation Center Potluck

7:30 PM – 12:00 AM, Joy Fest (Kirtan) at Saint Paul Yoga Center

Wednesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Beginnings (vinyasa) with Mike, Minnehaha Yoga

AM – PM, Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga

11:00 AM – 1:45 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Tracy Vacura & live Cello music by Emily Dantama, Yoga Sanctuary

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Revolution 2020: Reflect, Release, and Manifest Your Dreams with Drew Sambol, Radiant Life Yoga

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM, Finding Balance in the New Year with Pam, Minnehaha Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Chance York, One Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2020 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, New Year’s Day Kundalini with Nicole Nardone, One Yoga

2:10 PM – 3:40 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Restorative with Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

Friday, January 3rd:

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

Saturday, Januray 4th:

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Post Holiday Total Restoration With Essential Oils with Moya Matthews, Yoga Center Retreat

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Cultivation – Vision Board with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

*NOTE: Reservations are generally required for these events. My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event not listed.

 

The original, by Johnny Nash, which I love because it feels happy, like a blue sky day!

 

The cover, by Hothouse Flowers, which I love because it feels like the storm just ended and you’re taking the deepest breath of petrichor you’ve taken all day!

### HAPPY NEW YEAR ###