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To Play or Not To Play June 6, 2020

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“Let us look at the matter thus: May we not conceive each of us living beings to be a puppet of the Gods, either their plaything only, or created with a purpose-which of the two we cannot certainly know? But we do know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice. According to the argument there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State; there are others which are hard and of iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several other kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the best, which is law.” (Book 1)

 

– from The Laws by Plato

 

Yoga Sutra 2.23: svasvāmiśaktyoh svarūpopalabdhihetuh samyoga

 

– “The union (yoga), alliance, or relationship between our power to see (and what we see) is the way to experiencing our own true nature.”

 

I’m going to acknowledge, right off the bat, that there are other ways to work – or explore or play – with the sutra of the day. I’ll even go so far as to say that if we were encountering this sutra at almost any other time, even on this day in any other year, I would definitely be all about the play. Play is, after all, essential to our growth and is also an element of the Divine. In Hinduism, divine play is lila (or leela) and the concept occurs in non-dualism Indian philosophy (as a way to describe everything in the universe as the outcome of creative play) and in dualism Indian philosophy (as the interaction between God and God’s disciples, in order to understand the nature of the universe). If you are having a hard time telling the difference, do not despair… play around with it a little.

“According to my view, any one who would be good at anything must practise that thing from his youth upwards, both in sport and earnest, in its several branches: for example, he who is to be a good builder, should play at building children’s houses; he who is to be a good husbandman, at tilling the ground; and those who have the care of their education should provide them when young with mimic tools. They should learn beforehand the knowledge which they will afterwards require for their art.” (Book 1)

And what is the right way of living? Are we to live in sports always? If so, in what kind of sports? We ought to live sacrificing, and singing, and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the Gods, and to defend himself against his enemies and conquer them in battle. The type of song or dance by which he will propitiate them has been described, and the paths along which he is to proceed have been cut for him.” (Book 7)

 

– from The Laws by Plato

 

“Life must be lived as play, playing certain games, making sacrifices, singing and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the gods, and defend himself against his enemies, and win in the contest.”

 

– Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga summarizing Plato (in Homo Ludens)

Outside of Indian religion and philosophy, you find a similar concept in the ancient Greek philosophers and in forms of ecstatic dance (which exists in various Christian traditions, as well as in Judaism, the Sufism, various Shamanism, and Santeria). You also find it in sacred text. For example, in First Corinthians 3:18 -19, Saint Paul (and Sosthenes), the people who make up the Christian Church in Corinth (Greece) are instructed, “Let no one deceive himself: If anyone among you thinks himself to be wise in this age, let him become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (Berean Literal Bible) Some translations state that the “wise” should “become fools.” A little later in the letter, the authors will speak of “put[ting] away childish things” (1st Corinthians 13:11 -12); which many people see as a reference to physical age/maturity – when, in fact, the authors are speaking of spiritual maturity. There is, then, an implication in the text that all wisdom here on Earth is, actually, foolishness and that as long as we only “see” the material world (and ourselves in the material world) there is a need to keep playing. (This dove-tails back to the sutra and to Plato, in that there is a definite purpose to playing.)

“On the contrary, Augustine says (Music. ii, 15): ‘I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work.’ Now this relaxation of the mind from work consists in playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (2a 2ae, 168 3) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas not only points to the need to play, as a way to rest the soul, he also provides very specific guidelines for spiritual. Additionally, in the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa, when addressing question 168, he cautions against excessive play, as well as “the sin” of too little play. With regard to the guidelines, first and foremost, he says that “[play] should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words” and, ultimately, that “we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun ‘befit the hour and the man,’ as Tully says (De Offic. i, 29).”

All of this to say that the theme(s) for today beg(s) for a little divine play, as the sutra indicates such interaction helps us to better understand the universe and our place in the universe. Also, in the past, I have played today (mostly at the Y) to celebrate the day the YMCA was founded by George Williams in 1844. I have always endeavored to balance the play with an element of seriousness as today is also the anniversary of D-Day (1944). Add to that everything else that is happening in the world, in my little piece of the world, and in my personal world, and sometimes even I find it hard to play. However, even though I am super late in posting, we are still having class at Noon today.

It is up to you if you play, explore, or work during the 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 6th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist will be available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I will update this page, with links, after the class. If you are not feeling particularly playful, you can use the playlists titled “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel.”)

Another way, to refresh and restore your body today is with free (outdoor) acupuncture available in Saint Paul today(11 AM – 5 PM, see details here).

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

 

 

 

Let’s Do That 90-Second Thing! March 16, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Hope, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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“From everything I saw, knew, and felt, my decision had been made: LaGuardia was out. Wishing or hoping otherwise wasn’t going to help.”

– from Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chelsey B.”Sully” Sullenberger

We all experience moments where things don’t go as planned or as we want them to go. As Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger said, “Not every situation can be foreseen or anticipated. There isn’t a checklist for everything.” In these moments, we can second guess ourselves, recriminate ourselves, or we can trust what we feel, and then move forward.

Sometimes it is really easy to follow our intuition. At other times we have to practice listening to that still, silent voice inside of our own heart. At other times, we just have a sense of knowing that we must trust our gut and or the funny feeling in the pit of our belly or low back. My whispers of intuition usually happen around books, or discussions about books – and occasionally with music. It happened on September 10, 2001 (when I felt a strong urge to buy a small copy of the The Art of War). It happened at the end of last year during a conversation about the work and life of Ram Das (when I kept insisting he had died, on the day he was actually dying). And, in a similar, roundabout serendipitous and easily chalked up as a coincidence fashion, it happened when I was trying to figure out the appropriate tone and content for my first COVID-19 blog post.

I had an idea – one we will undoubtedly visit later – but I was worried it would come off as a little to flippant and cavalier. I also wanted to make sure there was space within the frame for good information. And, in my musings, I remembered that my new housemate had given me a copy of Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Note: This was not the only gift in the form of a book that I received last year – or in previous years. And, honestly, I didn’t really remember the title or the titular subject. However, something whispered for me to get the book.

The second featured quote, at the beginning of Chapter One, was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s simile comparing life to stepping into a sinking boat. And from that river flowed the rest of the blog post. 

Sunday night, when faced with the news that my classes at the Douglas Dayton YMCA and Flourish have been cancelled, I felt the desire to go deeper. {On your next inhale, go deeper.}

Pema Chödrön writes, “In My Stroke of Insight, the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about her recovery from a massive stroke, she explains the physiological mechanism behind emotion: an emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just 90 seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it.

The fact of the shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and a half minutes may be drawn out for 10 or 20 years. We just keep recycling the story line. We keep strengthening our old habits.”

Essentially, we throw more fuel on the fire and (literally) light it up again.

What happens if, instead of adding fuel to the flame, we just spend 90 seconds watching the light flare up… and then go out? What happens if, as we do in meditation and as we do our physical practice of yoga, we just breathe into the moment? What happens if the only story we tell is the non-story, that “doing the 90 seconds thing” story that is no story, only experience. (Someone in Chödrön’s circle refers to it as the “one-and-a-half minute thing,” so think of it however it works for you.)

You can settle into a comfortable position, set a timer, and do this on your own. Or, you can click below (or here if the video doesn’t show on your phone) and do it with me. Either way, the idea is to breathe and feel what you feel, for 90 seconds, without adding any story: no value judgments, no interpretations, and no explanations.

Its 90 seconds. If you practice on the mat with me, you know you can do just about anything for 90 seconds.

 

### BE WELL ###

Foundations 2019 July 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

John Cage

 

Saturday mornings at the Y, just like any morning, is a great time to explore the physical and philosophical practice of yoga. However, I am partial to my Saturdays since I have 90 minutes to engage in the practice of exploration. For the last few years, I have started the new year with a “Building From the Ground Up” sequence – each Saturday adding more poses and another layer of the philosophy. Sometimes I still tie-in a meditation point specific to the date, and to whatever aspect of the philosophy is on tap for the day. Sometimes, however, it’s just straight philosophy and an opportunity to consider the meditation through movement. Whatever I plan for the year, usually wraps up around the end of July – when we start breaking down a different physical practice, the Ashtanga Primary Series.

This year, philosophically, I decided to sequentially move through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Each week breaking down a sutra with commentary. (This week will be YS 1.31.) Physically, we have been breaking down a course of poses outlined by B. K. S. Iyengar in Light On Yoga.

The Saturday class is not an Iyengar class; however, (as teachers like Seane Corn have pointed out) if you are going to practice vinyasa, it’s a good idea to practice Iyengar as it will give you the solid foundation and insight into the asanas (poses).

Iyengar’s Course I is 30 weeks of detailed practice, specifically intended to build a physical practice from the ground up. While they are not limbs themselves, abhyasa (continuous practice with devotion) and vairagya (actively practicing the art of letting go or non-attachment) definitely make up the fertile soil from which the 8-limbs of yoga grow and thrive. And, they are key elements to the courses that appear in the appendix of Light On Yoga.  At first, each set of poses is practiced for two (2) weeks before additional poses are added to the sequence. Later, some sequences are repeated for three (3) or four (4) weeks – and sometimes the order of the sequence changes. The 30-week course is followed by a 3-day course, which is slightly different from the 30-day course since the asanas are timed. Finally, there is some guidance on adding sun salutations (surya namaskar) to the physical practice and a list entitled “Important asanas in Course I.”

“If these asanas are mastered then the others given in this course will come even without regular practice.

– B. K. S. Iyengar writing about the “Impostant asanas in Course I”

The important asanas list, when followed by the sun salutations, looks and feels a lot like one of the first vinyasa practices to appear in the West, the Ashtanga Primary Series introduced to Sri Pattabhi Jois.  This is not a random coincidence. While Iyengar and Jois were in very different physical/health conditions when they started practicing yoga, they practiced at the same time and with the same teacher: Sri Krishnamacharya. The practices they introduced to the West – just like the physical practices introduced by some of Krishnamacharya’s other students (including Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikichar, and A. G. Mohan) reflect their own personal practices – which were the result of the physical and mental needs. Remember, classically, the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) prepares the practitioner for deep-seated meditation. Ergo, even though they might practice the same poses, a very sickly young boy may use a different method of practice than a very active teenage boy.

(Side Note: It is also not a random coincidence that we generally start exploring the Ashtanga Primary series at the end of July: instead the timing coincides with the birthday of Sri Pattabhi Jois.)

YMCA classes are always open to members and their guests. If you are a member, please feel free to join us for class at any time throughout the year – and, feel free to bring a guest.

For further reading, check out Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar; Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikichar; Ashtanga Yoga the Practice Manual by David Swenson; The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD (Note: This is Part 1 of a series and only includes the first section of the sutras. There are many translations of the sutras, a great online resource is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on swamij.com.)

“Talent works, genuis creates.”

– Robert Schumann

~~~ AUM ~~~

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken…since Christmas! December 26, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Gratitude, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Vairagya, Yoga.
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Go ahead, take another one!

It’s Wednesday, October 26th and we are back in business (at least until the New Year’s holiday schedule kicks in).

Please join me for regularly scheduled classes at the Douglass Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae, Nokomis Yoga, and Blaisdell YMCA. (Flourish and Common Ground classes return in 2019!)

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR ~