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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 ###

Are You Dreaming or Not Dreaming? June 23, 2020

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“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”

 

Chuang Tzu: Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, Wisdom of Ancient China, Taoist Scriptures translated by Lin Yutang, Mingming “Michael” Xu, et al

 

“QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art
translated. {Exit}

BOTTOM: I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

 

– the rude mechanicals in Act III, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

Everything is a matter of perspective, and our experiences provide that perspective. We see/understand everything through the lens of our experiences. The only problem is that we viewing everything through layers and layers of experiences, essentially layers and layers of samskaras, which often limit our perspective and our understanding. Our senses may pick up everything around us and, on some level, our brains sift through, process, and analyze every bit of information (in the form of sensation), but our mind/intellect may only consciously share a portion of that information. Add to that the fact that we cannot see ourselves, not really. So, we depend on our understanding of what we believe others perceive about us and combine that with how we want to be (or already think we are) perceived. It’s a flawed circuit, based on avidyā (ignorance). Or, as the Eastern philosophers say, it is all a dream, a projection, an illusion, māyā.

Now, add in the fact that we interact with others (and ourselves) based on this limited and flawed view of ourselves, others, and the world – and that we cling tightly to our flawed understanding because we fear losing ourselves. We fear that loss of self even when we recognize on some level that we are limited in our understanding. We especially fear that loss of self when we believe we have right understanding. Factoring all of this, is it any wonder that there is so much suffering in the world? Not only do we not truly understand ourselves or others, we act as if we do understand ourselves and others. We become like Shakespeare’s Bottom: not understanding that we have literally become an ass.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, tells us that we the powers/abilities to lift the veils of illusion. We have ways in which we are innately powerful and, while being steeped in avidyā can disempower us – and create suffering and obstacles that result in physical and mental ailments – we can in fact empower ourselves by going a little deeper into ourselves and our perceptions.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

 

A Hand-book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn

 

“If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill,
That is the true beginning of our end.
Consider then we come but in despite.
We do not come as minding to contest you,
Our true intent is. All for your delight”

 

– Peter Quince, the carpenter, as The Prologue (in the play), in Act I, Scene v of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

In Yoga Sutras 2.15 – 2.25, Patanjali codifies the idea that everything we experience has the potential to cause suffering, an emotional experience; that this suffering is avoidable, because it comes from confusion about what we perceive and the power to perceive; and that everything we perceive serves the two-fold purpose of fulfillment and freedom. Within these threads, he also points out that there are four ways in which we can experience the material world; that while we may perceive something our mind/intellect may not allow us to understand it; that once we truly understand something, that understanding changes everything – for us, but not for anyone else; and that once we gain a deeper understanding, ignorance and (therefore) suffering are eliminated. Simple, right? And yet, it gets just as confusing as a play within a play littered with fairies and star-crossed lovers.

June 24th is Saint John’s Day, also known as Midsummer – making today, June 23rd, Saint John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve. Another way to think of tonight is as Midsummer’s Night, as this is when the celebrations begin and theoretically could be the night made famous by William Shakespeare’s play. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the ultimate comedy with its rude mechanicals and their play within a play, the royal audience, the royal fairies, the star-crossed lovers, and Puck. Ah, Puck!

Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, like the audience, sees everything. But he also understands and points out what the audience may miss. Since he is part of the play, he also plays around with everyone. He is the ultimate trickster (whose pranks provide much of the comedy) and therefore a great symbol for the mind. Puck is the embodiment of māyā. At the end of the play, after all of his shenanigans have been resolved, he reiterates a message that is stated at various times throughout the play: everyone is just dreaming.

If we are dreaming, it is possible to wake up. If we wake up, consider how differently we may treat ourselves and others.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,”

 

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

 

“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

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 23rd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may flip your perspective upside down and backwards. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[For more information and commentary about the sutras, you can use the sidebar calendar and click on any Saturday date starting in mid-March 2020. Additional posts during the week may also reference the sutras, but on Saturdays they are the primary focus.)

 

 

### “Helena: … my heart Is true as steel…” ###