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Meet SOPHIE August 24, 2020

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220px-Photograph_of_Sophie_Lancaster

Meet Sophie Lancaster. She was a dark angel, a goth, a 20-year old who enjoyed heavy metal music and dressed in a way that reflected her love of the genre. She died today in 2007, after a brutal attack left her and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby in comas. They were brutally attacked by a mob on august 11th, in Stubbeylee Park in Bacup, Rossendale, Lancashire because of the way they were dressed. At some point during the attack, Sophie wrapped her body around Robert’s head to protect him. He would eventually wake up from the attack. She would not.

“When I was out on the streets with Sophie, I would hear people’s comments. I would hear them say ‘look at the state of that –’ or ‘what does she look like.’

I remember going into one shop and the look they gave her. After they had spoken to her for five minutes, that went as they realized she was actually quite a lovely little thing, but it was funny to see that. I would always think, how dare you judge somebody on the way they look.”

– Sylvia Lancaster, OBE

Sophie’s family and friends, including her mother, Sylvia, started the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and funds and tributes in Sophie’s name continue to this day. There are Sophie Lancaster stages at goth and heavy metal music festivals (many of which have been canceled this year, because of the pandemic) and theaters. There are songs, albums, films, documentaries, awards, and books that have been dedicated to her and, in 2010, Sophie’s boyfriend, Robert Maltby, held an exhibition of his own art, which included 15 original paintings inspired by Sophie. The money from the exhibition, like the money raised from other events and the proceeds from t-shirts and wrist bands featuring the S.O.P.H.I.E. stamp, went to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

S.O.P.H.I.E. stands for Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred, and Intolerance Everywhere. The foundation and the fund started by her family and friends aims to “provide an appropriate memorial a lasting legacy to raise awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Sophie Lancaster and to work towards a more tolerant, less violent society.” One of the things the foundation funds is group sessions intended to cultivate respect and understanding by exposing young people to alternative cultures. As a result of the foundations efforts, Greater Manchester Police became the first (but not the last) police department to track and record hate crimes against people from “Alternative Subcultures.” For her efforts to reduce hate crimes and promote a more tolerant world, Sylvia Lancaster was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2014.

“The importance to us is that the awareness is permanent. It still happens in our community. They face violence in the streets, and we hear about it from our fans. It is something we can never stop campaigning about and we will make sure Sophie is never forgotten.”

– Vicky Hungerford, one of the 2017 organizers of the annual Bloodstock Open Air festival  

Over the years, I have witnessed a variety of reactions to my observation of today, the “International Day Against Intolerance, Discrimination, & Violence Based on Musical Preference” – also known as Sophie Lancaster Day. In one case, several years ago, someone asked me why I would mention something that happened in England “over a decade ago” – especially since I wasn’t a goth. I explained as best as I could. Then, unfortunately, Elijah Al-Amin was killed in Peoria, Arizona in July 2019. Elijah was a 17-year old black man who enjoyed rap music and, according to the man who killed him, he was attacked because his music made his killer (a 27-year old white man) feel “unsafe.”

Hate and intolerance are just expressions of avidyā (“ignorance”). At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where, how, or why the ignorance exists – only that it does. If, however, we want peace and ease for ourselves and those we love, we have to “stamp out prejudice, hate, and intolerance everywhere.” To do that, we have to acknowledge where the ignorance begins – even when it begins inside of our own minds – and we have to cultivate the opposites. Replace ignorance with knowledge, with understanding, and with respect. We have to remember that Sophie’s name literally means wisdom.

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, August 24th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices. (But, you can always play music in your background.)

Dark Angel (there is a graphic depiction of violence in this video)

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.

### REST IN PEACE, REST IN POWER ###

Consider What’s Upstream August 22, 2020

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[My apologies to Anushka Fernandopulle, the teacher whose name I couldn’t remember last week, but whose dharma talk about getting on the right or wrong emotion/thought train has stuck with me for 6 years! You can find her article here and one of her talks here.]

“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house, there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

– quoted from Fahrenheit  451 by Ray Bradbury

“Almost every book I’ve read has left its mark.”

– Annie Proulx

Every writer’s work is directly or indirectly the result of everything they’ve experienced, done, seen, thought, and heard. Just like each point in our lives is the direct and indirect experience of everything we’ve experienced, done, seen, thought, and heard. Writing is, after all, just a reflection of life. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to distinguish the seams or pull apart the threads that make up the tapestry. But then you read work by writers like Ray Bradbury and Annie Proulx and it’s as if every word and every page is an instruction manual in how things are put together and how things come apart. It’s as if they are saying, “Here, here, pull here.”

Both born today, Bradbury (in 1935) and Proulx (in 1935) were and are writers whose works leave impressions, while simultaneously pointing out the impressions that are being left by the lives we lead. Their works, like Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and “The Sound of Thunder” and Proulx’s The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain” illustrate the cause and effect continuum that in yoga philosophy is referred to as karma (act, word, and deed – as well as the result or effect of effort) and samskāra (the mental and energetic impression left by the act, word, and deed). In life, while we are living it, we don’t always see where things begin and end. Reading brings our awareness to the edges, the extremes of the continuum – as does a meditation practice.

“Quoyle: A coil of rope.

‘A Flemish flake is a spiral of coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.’  THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS “

– quoted from The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

“‘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

If you could connect all the dots, follow all the threads, and re-trace every path of your life and the lives that intersect your life, you would have the story of how you got where you are, why you think what you think, and why you feel what you feel. There is a layer of that statement that might feel obvious and trite – or maybe even oversimplified. Go a little deeper, however, and you start to appreciate the layers and layers of vibrations that coil and stack to create this moment.

According to Eastern philosophies like Vedānta and Buddhism, we experience 108 types of sensations, emotions, or feelings. If you click here to see the math, you will notice that our attitudes towards what we perceive can be positive, negative, or neutral. Experience teaches us that when we have negative attitudes we are on a direct path towards suffering. (NOTE: As Patanali points out in the sūtras, positive attitudes can also, eventually, lead to suffering, but that’s the scenic route.) The direct path to suffering manifests in 27 different ways (and, according to some commentary, there are 81 sub-categories). Those 27 manifestations break down as follows:

  • 3 ways afflicting thoughts and acts of violence are put into action (by ourselves, through others, or by tacit (silent) consent)

  • 3 mental conditions that inspire dysfunctional or violent acts (greed, anger, confusion)

  • 3 degrees of intensity (mild, moderate, or intense)

This week’s yoga sūtra is Patanjali’s way of giving us sign posts that indicate, as Anushka Fernandopulle might say, that we have gotten on the wrong train. By breaking down the way in which our dysfunctional or afflicted thoughts lead to dysfunctional or violent words and acts, Patanjali reinforces the importance of the yamas and niyamas, the ethical components of the practice, as a way to train the mind. Getting on the right train of thought begins by noticing our thoughts and how they become our words and deeds. Notice, also, that from Patanjali’s perspective one is not off the hook because the violent act is perpetrated by another person – neither are we off the hook if our only “crime” is not saying something when we see something.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.34: vitarkā himsādayah kŗtakāritānumoditā lobharkrodhamohapūrvakā mŗdumadhyādhimātrā duhkājñānānantaophalā iti pratispakşabhāvanam

– “These troublesome thoughts are put into action by ourselves (directly), by others (indirectly caused by ourselves), or by our approval of others (and their actions). All of these are preceded by, or performed through, anger, greed, or confusion and can be mild, moderate, or intense in nature. Cultivating opposite thoughts is a reminder that these troublesome thoughts lead to unending suffering.”

Annie Proulx named one of her main characters after a coil of rope and used quotes from The Ashley Book of Knots to indicate what inspired her to write a novel. Ray Bradbury explained that he was “putting one foot in front of the other” when he described the inspiration for one of his short stories. If you don’t know where to begin, there’s more confusion; but, follow the thread and suddenly things make more sense.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 22nd) 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “07112020 An Introduction” playlist.)

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

### FIRST STEP: NOTICE. ###

“Re-zooming” Exploring – Part 1 August 18, 2020

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[My apologies for the late notice, but online classes are “rezooming” today at 12 Noon and 7:15 PM.]

“The large woolf found here is not as large as those of the atlantic states. they are lower and thicker made shorter leged. their color which is not effected by the seasons, is gray or blackish brown and every intermediate shade from that to a creen [cream] colored white; these wolves resort [to] the woodlands and are also found in the plains, but never take refuge in the ground or burrow so far as I have been able to inform myself. we scarcely see a gang of buffalo without observing a parsel of those faithfull shepherds on their skirts in readiness to take care of the mamed wounded. the large wolf never barks, but howls as those of the atlantic states do.”

– quoted from journal notes by Meriwether Lewis, dated May 5, 1805

What happens when you explore, really get to know your mind and know your spirit? You start to understand what your body and mind (even your spirit) are capable of doing. You start to notice how things are connected, related, and how working on or with one part of your mind-body-spirit affects other parts – physically, mentally, even energetically and spiritually. And once you’ve explored and gotten to know parts of yourself, parts of yourself start speaking up and wanting their say. Every part of yourself wants to be considered in the work that affects you (and them). This is not unreasonable. This is, also, the way in which your mind, body, and spirit are like a country or sovereign nation – even like a continent or ocean.

Any environment is going to be full of entities (people and things) that are affected by each other and outside factors. Those entities have ways of communicating, but we have to listen – and explore, and then listen some more.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of two explorers, Meriwether Lewis (born today in 1774) and Margaret “Mardy” Murie (born today in 1902). Charged by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory in 1804, Meriwether Lewis was quiet, intellectual, and kept meticulous journals. Those journal entries are highly prized today for their detailed information about the flora, fauna, and people the expedition met along the way. The expedition, often called the “Corps of Discovery” included William Clark; Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau; and Clark’s slave, York.

Note that while Meriwether Lewis’s mother had a plantation full of slaves, that he at one time was meant to supervise, he left the plantation and did not have a slave during the expedition. He did, however, hire a free Black man, John Pernia, as his valet later in his travels. (Although, John Pernia was reportedly not paid his full wages and petitioned President Jefferson for them after Meriwether Lewis’s death.) Also of note, is the Meriwether Lewis granted Sacagawea (a Shoshone member), Touissant, York, and Pernia the right to vote during expedition meetings. He allowed them to have their say.

“Dear Son,

Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the RAT in ratification.”

– quoted from the letter Mrs. Phoebe “Febb” Ensminger Burn wrote to her son Tennessee Representative Harry Burn in 1920

“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow.”

– Tennessee State Representative Harry Burns on why he voted “aye” for suffragists, even as he wore a red carnation

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified today in 1920, giving women the right to vote. Ultimately, the determining vote was cast by a man who carried a woman’s (his mother’s) note in his pocket. So, you could say, Febb Burn had her say and, in doing so, allowed women like Margaret Murie to have their say. Although, even at 18 (which she was when the amendment was ratified) “Mardy” was making her thoughts known. In 1924, she was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaka-Fairbanks and she spent her 8-month honeymoon exploring Alaska with her husband, Olaus. Her notes and reflections became the book Two in the Far North. Her life’s work and her devotion to wildlife preservation led her to be known as the “Grandmother of Conservation.”

“To live a full life, you must have something beyond your household, beyond your family, to broaden your existence.”

– Margaret “Mardy” Murie

We are “re-zooming” online classes! Please join me today (Tuesday, August 18th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom where we will listen deeply. 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 will be available on YouTube and Spotify. (I will update this post with links after the Noon class.)

“If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we lose our power and momentum. That’s what I would say to you of these difficult times. If you are going to that place of intent to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the wild lands in Utah, you have to know how to dance.”

 

– from Two In the Far North by Margaret “Mardy” Murie

 

 

 

### WHERE WILL YOU GO? ###

Consider What’s Downstream August 15, 2020

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“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Just for a moment, set aside the sinking boat analogy and consider being in a row (or paddle) boat that is floating around an eddy. Let’s say this river and eddy are big enough that we don’t automatically recognize that we’re going around in circles. In this scenario, there are times and places where the eddy’s current is strong, actively carrying us in a certain direction (which is, bu definition, not the direction the river flows). When we seem to be going the way we want to go, we may not notice the strength of the current; and happily paddle along. We go with the flow even when it gets dangerous. Sure, when the water gets choppy and we discover we are headed towards the center of the whirlpool,  we may think, “Oh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” but at that point we may not have the strength or the skill to head towards shore. Then there are times and places when we feel like we are stronger than the current. It’s still there, and still capable of pulling us in a certain direction; however, in those moments when the current feels dormant we may be completely unaware that there is anything influencing our movement other than our own paddle, will, and determination. Finally, there are times and places where the current is moderate, just strong and active enough that we are aware of the effort it takes to paddle and move in any given direction away from the center of the whirlpool. In fact, this may be the only time we recognize what’s happening beneath the surface and the only time we actively work to move in the opposite direction.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

At the very beginning of the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali explains that when the mind is quiet/undisturbed, the practitioner “rests in their own true nature” (YS 1.3) and that at all other times we “rest” or identify with the fluctuations of our mind (YS 1.4). Furthermore, throughout the first part of the sūtras and the first part of the practice, we start to notice the minds tendency to fluctuate in ways that are dysfunctional/afflicted and therefore cause suffering. The (external) restraints and (internal) observations provide a method of practice that cultivates functional/not-afflicted thoughts and habits. But the practice is not a magical spell. The effect is not instantaneous or overnight, and so we will encounter obstacles (YS 1.30), the negative effects which are caused by the obstacles (YS 1.31), the 28 types of disempowerment  (YS 2.24), and continued suffering.

This is the whirlpool – and it is caused by the (cross) current which is our dysfunctional/ afflicted thoughts patterns, which flow from the river of ignorance. Yes, once again, it all comes back to avidyā. The thing we have to remember is that those five afflicted types of thoughts are always at play, underneath the surface, and that they always end in the ugly blossom that is fear. (YS 2.3)

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

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Typically when I teach the second week in August, there is a focus on fear and being fearless. Of course, I quotes the Roosevelts and Alfred Hitchcock (b. 08/13/1899), but I also quote J. Krishnasmurti whose advice regarding fear is not about being reckless, but about getting to the place where we understand fear and what is beyond fear: wisdom.

Remember, fear is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat. The emotional reaction causes a physiological response: it activates the sympathetic nervous system. It causes a chemical change in the brain and a change in organ function, both designed to protect you and ensure survival. This can all take place in a blink of an eye and in a heartbeat – even when the perceived threat turns out to not to be a threat and/or not a threat to your survival. While this can all take place in an instant, it takes a while to come down off of the adrenaline high and, depending on the reality and nature of the threat, the effects of the trauma can be life-long.

In the Eastern philosophies, the opposite of fear is wisdom. Wisdom being the ability, knowledge, and skill to respond to a given situation with awareness. Without wisdom, we react as if everything and everyone is a threat to our life, our livelihood, and those we love. We see it each and every day, even when we don’t recognize that that is what we are seeing/experiencing. Wisdom, in this case, can also be defined as vidyā (“correct knowledge”) about ourselves and the nature of everything. Wisdom, when it comes to our whirlpool analogy, gives us the awareness, skill, and strength to paddle against the swirling current that is taking us into dangerous waters.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. But passive non-violence has no power to extinguish the fire if violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.'”

 — quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

The first time I heard about Ibram X. Kendi (b. 08/13/1982) and his book How to Be an Antiracist, I thought the term “antiracist” was something new. In reality, however, Dr. Kendi recommends and teaches an idea that goes back to the beginning of the yoga philosophy. (NOTE: I’m not saying he’s teaching “yoga,” even though he is working to bring people together. I’m saying he is teaching ancient wisdom.) It is not simply bringing awareness to a situation and neither is it not doing something overtly harmful. It is bringing awareness to what is happening beneath the surface and actively, skillfully moving in the opposite direction. Over time, we neutralize the force of eddy’s current. Our habits and our thoughts change. When our habits and thoughts change, the world changes. 

In commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, includes a gentle reminder (see below)  to put things perspective. You may think of it as a mantra and I would suggest we all need something like it. We all need something that stops us in our tracks, makes us breath, and really take a look at which way we are headed.

It’s like the dharma talk I heard once, where the teacher equated strong emotions to getting on train: sometimes you buy your ticket, get on board, and realize you’re going in the wrong direction. Sure, you can get off, buy another ticket… but, now you’re upset – and there’s a good chance the second train (while going in a different direction) is still headed the wrong way. So, you need a little internal guidance, a map or ticket to discernment.

You may have your own, maybe something you discovered in the “Spiritual Exercises” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (whose feast day is 07/31) or maybe something you saw or heard as the Berlin Wall was coming down. Maybe it’s a word or a lyric from a song. But, you could also use all or part of this:

“Now I’m allowing myself to lose my inner peace and happiness. This is a much greater loss than losing a portion of my material wealth. Furthermore, such occurrences are commonplace. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In worldly matters I will do what needs to be done, but never at the cost of losing the pristine nature of my mind. I must adhere to the higher virtues of my heart.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Consider practicing today and tomorrow with those last two lines in your head and in your heart. Consider what it means to pursue your goals, with will and determining AND a clear head. Consider what it means to listen to and then follow your heart.

I have cancelled classes today and tomorrow (Saturday, August 15th and Sunday, August 16th). If you’re looking for one of my “fearless play with [jazz]” practices, check out April 25th or 29th. (I can we email you by Sunday afternoon if you request a recording.)

“Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.”

“Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

— quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

### ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT ###

The Impossible Cornerstones of Liberty August 6, 2020

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[This is the post for Wednesday, August 5, 2020.]

 

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

 

Today (August 5th) in 1844, when the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was placed on a rainy Bedloe’s Island, it seemed impossible to complete the project meant to be a testament to freedom, friendship, and the spirit of the people. People in France provided the funds for the statue designed by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (with scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel), while people in the United States were meant to pay for the base and pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The only problem was that the Americans were short…about $100,000 short.

Hunt’s design for the pedestal and base incorporated the eleven-point star foundation of the army fort (Fort Wood) which had been built in 1807 and abandoned during the Civil War. He always intended his design to be simple, so as not to take away from the statue itself, but raising money for his design turned out to be such a challenge that he scrapped twenty-five feet from the height of his original design. He also cut back on materials so that instead of the pedestal and base being constructed entirely out of granite, he had to make do with concrete walls covered with a granite-block face. His cost cutting measures still might not have been enough if a certain newspaper man hadn’t decided to tap into the spirit of the people and, in doing so, overcame what some viewed as an impossible obstacle. That newspaper man was Joseph Pulitzer and on March 16, 1885 he implored people in the United States to give what they could, even if it was a penny, in order to pay for the base and pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with an ad and a series of front page editorials, he was able to crowd fund over $100,000 in about 5 months.

“We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people – by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans – by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.

Take this appeal to yourself personally. It is meant for every reader of The World. Give something, however little. Send it to us. We will receive it and see that it is properly applied.”

 

– quoted from The New York World editorial by Joseph Pulitzer, 1885

Joseph Pulitzer offered people a six inch metal replica of Lady Liberty (described as a “perfect fac-simile”) if they donated a dollar to the “Pedestal Fund” established by Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and a twelve inch replica if they donated $5. While that may not seem like a lot today, keep in mind that this was after the Financial Panic of 1873 (which created a depression in the United States and Europe). Also, interest seemed to be in short supply since the United States was still trying to recover from the Civil War – which left many Americans desiring heroic public art rather than allegorical public art. But, Joseph Pulitzer had a way with words and there were a group of people – immigrants – who were inspired to donate specifically because of the symbolism of the statue. Ultimately, over 125,000 people donated – most donating a dollar or less. They not only donated to receive the replicas, they donated via auctions, lotteries, and boxing matches.  They donated by depriving themselves of things they needed or things they wanted. Some kids donated by pooling their “circus” and candy money. Some adults donated what they would normally spend on drinks. At the end of the fundraising, Joseph Pulitzer printed every donor’s name in the New York World – regardless of how little or how much they donated.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a building or structure. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone; thereby making it the very foundation of the foundation. It determines the overall position of the structure and is often placed with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. It is usually inscribed with the date of its placement and often includes a time capsule, which includes some clues as to what was important to the people who attended the ceremony. Such was the case with Lady Liberty’s pedestal cornerstone, which was placed over a square hole dug for a copper time capsule. The time capsule contained a number of articles, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States – both documents considered to be the cornerstones of the United States and the ultimate law of the land.

Although we don’t always think of it this way, one of the cornerstones of the legal system in a commonwealth is a bar. It might be wooden railing, it might be metal railing; however, historically, this bar separated those within the legal profession (specifically the judge and those who had business with the court) from everyone else. In particular, “everyone else” referred to law students whose aspirations were to “pass the bar” – meaning they would be on the other side of the symbolic railing. This symbolic railing is also used to refer to professional organizations, membership in which is sometimes required in order for an attorney to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Let’s skip “state bars” for a second and just focus on “voluntary” bar associations – which, in the United States are private organizations which serve as social, educational, and lobbying organizations. Legal professionals can not only use these bar associations to network with other professionals and the general public (hence expanding their practice), they can also advocate for law reform. I place “voluntary” in quotes, because I’m not sure how possible it is to practice law in the United States without being a member of a “bar association” (not to be confused with a state bar).

Even if it’s possible to practice without being a member of a bar association – and I trust one of you lawyer yogis will educate me with a comment below – I imagine it would be quite challenging (maybe even impossible) to successfully practice. Especially, back when there was only one major bar association in the United States. And, especially back in the 1920’s when your race and gender prevented you from joining said association. Such was the plight of Gertrude Rush (née Durden), born today (August 5th) in 1880 in Navasota, Texas. Ms. Rush not only became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Iowa (state) bar, for about 32 years she was (sometimes) the ONLY female attorney practicing in the state of Iowa (1918 – 1950). She placed a particular emphasis on women’s (legal) rights in estate cases and had a passion for religion, extensively studying the 240 women whose stories are featured in the Bible. Many within the local court referred to her as the “Sunday school lawyer.” She took over her husband’s law practice and, in 1921 (just a year after women’s right to vote was ratified by the United States Congress) she was elected the president of the Colored Bar Association; however, it was impossible for her to be admitted to the American Bar Association. She tried. So, did several other African-American lawyers. They tried because the ABA had one Black lawyer and was, therefore “integrated.” Eventually, however, they stopped trying to join an organization that didn’t want them and started their own organization.

“…a very worn Bible is almost as prominent as the well-thumbed Iowa code on the desk of Mrs. Gertrude E. Rush.”

 

– quoted from “Iowa’s Only Negro Woman Lawyer Firmly on the Golden Rule” article about Gertrude Rush, located in Iowa Public Library (excerpt printed in Notable Black American Women, Book 2 by Jessie Carney Smith

Gertrude Rush was one of the founding members of the Negro Bar Association, which was incorporated on August 1, 1925 with 120 members (which was about 11 – 12% of the Black lawyers in the US at the time). Eventually renamed, the National Bar Association, the NBA ” addressed issues such as professional ethics, legal education, and uniform state laws, as well as questions concerning the civil rights movement in transportation discrimination, residential segregation, and voting rights.” The NBA supported civil rights groups by providing legal information, filing outside legal briefs (amicus curiae), and blocking federal court nominees who opposed racial equality. As a bar association, however, the NBA did not directly participate in civil rights activities. Instead, NBA members like Gertrude Rush and (eventual) Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall became members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

It was as part of the NAACP’s legal team  that Justice Marshall argued cases like Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Raymond Pace Alexander founded the National Bar Journal (1941), which became a way for Black lawyers to challenge legal principles which conflicted with the interest of African-Americans. The Rev. W. Harold Flowers, a co-founder with Ms. Rush and a former president of the NBA (who would eventually be appointed as an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals), was the attorney whose motions in 1947 resulted in a reconfigured jury after he pointed out that the Arkansas court had not had a Black juror in 50 years. Additionally, the NBA established free legal clinics in 12 states, thereby creating the foundational cornerstone for the poverty law and legal clinics of today.

Gertrude Rush was also one of the organizers of the Charity League, which coordinated the hiring of a Black probation officer for the Des Moines Juvenile Court; created the Protection Home for Negro Girls, a shelter; and served on the boards of a host of other women’s organizations.

Stay tuned for news about when I will resume classes.  If you want to practice with one of the previously recorded classes, I would suggest June 17th (a Lady Liberty class with a lot of arm movement, good for the brain and shoulders – some of you call it a “sobriety test”).  The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlist starts with instrumental music. If your Spotify is on shuffle, you will want your music volume low at the beginning of the practice.)

Feel free to email me at Myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com if you would like a copy of the recordings from Wednesday, June 17th.

 

As I running late, this August 5th post is actually being published on August 6th, which the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law.

Today, August 6th, is also the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Confiscation Act of 1861 and the U. S. bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality and effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, he signed them into law anyway. To this day, people are still debating the effects of the bombings on August 6th and 9th (Nagasaki), both of which clearly broke the Golden Rule (and the not then established Geneva Convention).

As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

 

 

Impossible x3 August 3, 2020

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“Here there is a role reversal of what was related in bSotah – instead of the woman [Queen Salome Alexandra] being “nameless” now she is named and cunningly tries to get around the rabbinic prohibition, while the male character, her son, is unnamed and plays no role in the matter in dispute.”

 

– commentary on bShabbat (16b – 14b) in doctoral thesis entitled “Queen Alexandra: The Anamoly of a Sovereign Jewish Queen in the Second Temple Period” by Etka Liebowitz, PhD

There was a time when being a female (non-nun) member of the clergy would have been considered impossible. But, imagine for a moment, someone who was not only the first woman to be ordained in their religion, but to receive the highest orders during a time when it was hard to even be a male member of your religion. Allow me to introduce you to (or re-acquaint you with) Rabbi Regina Jonas ([‘re-ghee-na yo-nas]). Born today in 1902, Rabbi Jonas was not only the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi; she was ordained in Berlin in 1935. In other words, she became the first woman to be named as a Jewish teacher during the height of Nazi Germany.

Throughout history, you can find plenty of women who fulfilled rabbinical duties, but they did not hold the title. These women, like Beruryah (Rebbetzin Meir), Yalta, the Hasmonean queen Salome Alexandra (also known as Alexandra of Jerusalem), and the daughters and granddaughters of the great Talmud scholar Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzachaki), are found in the Talmud and would have been studied by Rabbi Jonas and other women who studied at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, the Jūdisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau, and other theology schools that admitted women. Unlike her female peers, however, Rabbi Jonas didn’t just want the academic teacher’s degree; she wanted the title and the responsibilities. And this desire was something that she felt and expressed from a very young age.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

 

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Rabbi Regina Jonas had a passion for Jewish history, the Bible, and the Hebrew language; a passion that was remembered even by her high school friends and supported by Orthodox rabbis like Isidor Bleichrode, Delix Singerman, and Max Weyl (who officiated at the synagogue the Jonas family attended). When she decided to pursue her degree and also the title, Rabbi Jonas wrote and submitted a final theses, which was a requirement for ordination. Her final theses topic, which was based on Biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, was near and dear to her heart: “May a woman hold rabbinic office?”

While halakhic literature did not specifically with ordination, she combined halakhic theory related to women’s issues with a modern attitude about women’s roles. She did not, however, use a Reform movement argument. Instead, Rabbi Jonas wanted to establish gender equality within the (and as a) continuity of tradition – and, in doing so, established herself as independent of both the reform movement and Orthodoxy. She also included in her argument very specific gender qualities and expectations centered around Zeni’ut (“Modesty”), which she viewed as being essential to someone’s role as a rabbi. Interestingly, some of her thesis is very much consistent with the ideas Hannah Crocker expressed in 1818.

Rabbi Jonas concluded that yes, a woman could be a rabbi according to halachic sources. She went even further by saying that female rabbis were a “cultural necessity, in part because of so-called female qualities like compassion, interpersonal skills, and psychological intuition. Her final thesis, which was supervised by Eduard Baneth, renowned professor of Talmud at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, was submitted in June 1930. Unfortunately, Rabbi Baneth died soon after her submission and his successor was not willing to ordain women. Ironically, a leader in the Reform movement, Rabbi Leo Baeck, also rejected her submission.

“Almost nothing halakhically but prejudice and lack of familiarity stand against women holding rabbinic office.”

 

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Despite the fact that her professors were not willing to ordain her, she received a “good” grade for her thesis and graduated as a religious teacher. She then began teaching religion at several girls’ schools in Berlin. At this same time, however, anti-Semitism created an increased need for Jewish teachers and religious education. Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of Liberaler Rabbinerveband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to ordain Rabbi Jonas on behalf of the conference and, within two years, she began to serve the official community as “pastoral-rabbinic counselor.” She particularly ministered to those in the Jewish Hospital, those who were considering emigrating, and people economically affected by “Kristallnacht.” As more and more rabbis were imprisoned by the Nazis or fled the persecution, she began to lecture to various groups, preach in liberal synagogues and lead some Havdalah (“weekday”) services in the Neue Synogogue, the flagship of German Jewry. At one point, during the winter of 1940 – 1941, the Germany Jewry organization established by the Nazis actually sent her to cities that no longer had rabbis. Even when she was forced to work in a factory, she continued her ministry.

On November 2, 1942, Rabbi Jonas was compelled to fill out a declaration form where she listed her property, including all of her books. Two days later, all of her property was confiscated by the Nazis. The next day, she and her mother were arrested. They were deported November 6th, to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she continued to preach and counsel. The psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl asked her to help him with crisis intervention, including meeting and assessing new arrivals and helping to prevent suicide attempts. On October 12, 1944, at the age of 42, Rabbi Jonas and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed.

“Since I saw that her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law, I herewith certify that she is qualified to answer questions of religious law and entitled to hold the rabbinic office. And may God protect her and guide her on all her ways.”

 

– quoted from the Diploma of Ordination for Rabbi Regina Jonas (approved by Rabbi Max Dienemann)

None of the male religious leaders who survived the Holocaust spoke of Rabbi Regina Jonas. However, a copy of her thesis, her teaching certificate, her rabbinical diploma, personal documents, and two photos have been preserved at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin. Included in those personal documents were letters of gratitude from refugees she had counseled (and whose families she continued to counsel in Germany). There is also a list of 24 sermons and lectures she delivered, along with notes for at least one full sermon. In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas is a documentary about her life and legacy, which features rabbis like Gesa Ederberg, who celebrated the 75th anniversary of Rabbi Jonas’s ordination with a Havdalah service – the very type of weekday service Rabbi Jonas led in Berlin.

“God has placed abilities and callings in our hearts without regard to gender. If you look at things this way, one takes woman and man for what they are: human beings.”

 

– quoted from a 1938 news article by Rabbi Regina Jonas

I am cancelling classes on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but will post as I am able. Thank you to everyone who is keeping my family in your hearts and minds.

 

### SHALOM  שָׁלוֹם ###

 

A Brother’s Love August 2, 2020

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“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

 

– Muhammad Ali

Yesterday I referred to Maria Mitchell as an impossible woman. Back in 2016, thanks to Justin Timberlake quoting Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I started thinking about what it meant to be an impossible person and spent the first week in August highlighting impossible people. Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin is – by his own words – my second impossible person.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Mr. Baldwin’s life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of the opinions of his father (who he referred to as his father), his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Mr. Baldwin not only leapt into writing. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or biography of James Baldwin is to read a who’s who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son), 110 pages on Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country – despite the fact that the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

 

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

 

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

 

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of the his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some who called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

 

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

 

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

I have cancelled class today and tomorrow night, but encourage you to practice. Practice with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud.

In the past, I have used a variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist, which features Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and a whole lot of Bach. You are welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube. However, if you have time, I would encourage you to grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the aforementioned jazz.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

 

 

– James Baldwin

 

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

“A center of stillness surrounded by silence” July 29, 2020

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“The more faithfully you listen to the voices within you, the better you will hear what is sounding inside.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit on the floor, your bed, a chair, or a cushion. You can sit on a bench, a stool, or a rock. You can kneel on the floor, a cushion, or a prie-dieu. You can lie down if you must, but make sure you are in a comfortable and stable position, with your back long and your jaw and shoulders relaxed. Let one or both hands rest so that your belly can soften into your hands. Close your eyes, if that is comfortable to you, and do that 90-second thing.

Today, really pay attention to how the soft belly rises and falls and the breath enters and leaves your body. Today, notice the temporal nature of things – how, like your breath, everything begins and ends; changes. Notice how the inhale causes the exhale and how the exhale causes the inhale. Notice any suffering, discomfort, or dis-ease you may be experiencing; and note or name your mental, physical, and emotional experiences, but without commenting or creating a story around the experiences.

Just breathe, with awareness.

This is a specific kind of meditation, meditation that arouses mindfulness.

Vipassanā literally means “to see in a special way” and is often translated into English as “insight.” It is a meditation style/technique, within Theraveda Buddhism, that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). The original practice, which includes the practice of satipaţţhāna (which is often translated as the “foundation of mindfulness”) was popularized by Mahāsī Sayādaw, a Burmese Theraveda Buddhist monk born today in 1904.

Mahāsī Sayādaw became a novice at 12 years old, was ordained at age twenty, and earned his degree as a teacher of dhamma in 1941. Upon his ordination, he assumed the name Mahāsī Sayādaw U Sobhana. In his mid-30s, he began teaching the technique of vipassanā in his home village, which was named for a massive drum (known as Mahāsī). He was eventually asked, by the Prime Minister of Burma (in what is now Myanmar), to be a resident teacher in the capital and then to help establish meditation centers throughout Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. By his late 60’s, Mahāsī Sayādaw had trained over 700,000 meditators and by his mid-70’s he was traveling to the West to lead meditation retreats. One of the places where he led retreats was the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), which is now one of the leading meditation centers in the United States.

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

One of the great things about practicing vipassanā is that you can practice it anywhere. (You can even practice it standing or walking, even thought I didn’t include those options at the beginning.) You can even practice at the United Nations Headquarters in “A Room of Quiet” that was established and designed by a team lead by Dag Hammerskjöld (b. 1905).

“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Born today in Sweden, exactly a year after Mahāsī Sayādaw, Hammerskjöld was the second Secretary General of the United Nations and the youngest person to ever hold the position. His second term was cut short when he was killed in an airplane as he traveled to the Congo to broker peace during the Congo Crisis. President John F. Kennedy called him “the greatest statesman of our century” and, he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, he is the only person to be posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His journal, discovered after his death, was published as Värmärken (Markings, or Waymarks in English). The journal starts when Hammerskjöld was 20 years old and continues up until the month before his death.

Even though he thought the journalist who called him for a comment about his appointment to the UN was actually part of an April Fool’s joke, Hammerskjöld was pretty serious about peace. Peace on the inside and peace on the outside. That is why he was so dedicated the UN’s Meditation Room being “a room of quiet” for all, without the trappings or outward appearance of any particular faith, creed, or religious belief. He led an interfaith group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who combined their physical and mental efforts as well as financial resources – and he was very hands on. He not only had a hand in the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the room, but also in the fact that there are benches instead of chairs. He even, quite literally, had a hand in the carpet that was laid on the floor and the color that was painted on the walls. He wrote in a letters and is quoted in interviews as saying that “This House” (which is how he referenced the UN) “should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” He indicated that this silence and stillness was something everyone carried within them and that his aim was “to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.”

Go back to the beginning and do that 90-minute thing. This time, as you sit here and breathe here, noting your experience here, consider that all over the world there are people sitting and breathing, meditating and praying, opening to that same “center of stillness surrounded by silence” that you are opening to within yourself.

“The longest journey is the journey inwards.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.

 

– Journalist Pauline Frederick quoting Dag Hammerskjöld (in an interview for the UN Oral History Collection dated June 20, 1986)

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a meditative 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.

“Thou who art over us,

Thou who art one of us,

Thou who art –

Also within us,

May all see Thee – in me also,

May I prepare the way for Thee,

May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot,

May I also not forget the needs of others,

Keep me in Thy love

As Thou wouldst that all should be kept in mine.

May everything in this my being be directed to Thy glory

And may I never despair.

For I am under Thy hand,

And in Thee is all power and goodness.

Give me a pure heart – that I may see Thee,

A humble heart – that I may hear Thee,

A heart of love – that I may serve Thee,

A heart of faith – that I may abide in Thee. Amen”

 

 

– prayer/meditation/poem from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

 

 

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

Contemplating Death, Dying, and All the Living in Between July 8, 2020

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“If we could raise one generation with unconditional love, there would be no Hitlers. We need to teach the next generation of children from Day One that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.

“I cannot leave out the problem of life and death. Many young people and others have come out to serve others and to labor for peace, through their love for all who are suffering. They are always mindful of the fact that the most important question is the question of life and death, but often not realizing that life and death are but two faces of one reality. Once we realize that we will have the courage to encounter both of them….

Now I see that if one doesn’t know how to die, one can hardly know how to live—because death is a part of life.”

 

– quoted from The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Today’s post and class will be tricky for some. Today’s theme is always tricky for some. Although, I would assert that it shouldn’t be. After all, death is part of life. That can come off glib and easy to say – specifically because it is a little glib, or shallow, because it denies belies the fact that loss is hard and that most of us haven’t/don’t really face the concept of death until someone we (or someone we love) is dying. The statement “death is part of life” is also shallow because it belies the fact that even if we meditate on and prepare for death, loss is still hard. Yes, death and dying are something that we all have to deal with, but to just leave it at that is what makes the subject tricky. We have to, as Thích Nhất Hạnh instructs in The Miracle of Mindfulness, go deeper.

“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one[s] we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.”

– quoted from On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

 

Born in Zürich, Switzerland today in 1926, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the oldest triplet in a family of Protestant Christians. Despite her father’s wishes, she would grow up to be a psychiatrist known for her work on death and dying, life and death, and the five stages of grief. Her ultimate work was in part inspired by her work in refugees in Zürich during World War II. After the war, she participated in relief efforts in Poland and, at some point, visited the Maidanek concentration camp in Poland. As a young woman, standing in a place of destruction, she was struck by the compassion and human resilience that would inspire someone to carve hundreds of butterflies into the walls of the death camp.

Dr. Kübler-Ross originally planned on being a pediatrician; however, she married a fellow medical student (in New York in 1958) and became pregnant. The pregnancy resulted in the loss of her pediatrics residency so she switched to psychiatry. Unfortunately, she would also suffer two miscarriages before giving birth to two children. The miscarriages were not her first (or last) experiences with loss. Her marriage would end in divorce and, when she attempted to build a Virginia hospice for infants and children with HIV/AIDS, someone set fire to her home (in 1994). The house and all of the belongings inside were lost to arson.

One of the things that stuck Dr. Kübler-Ross when she started her psychiatry residency was the hospitals treatment of patients who were dying in the United States. She began to host lectures where medical students were forced to meet and listen to dying people outside of a clinical setting. Her intention was to get medical students to “[react] like human beings instead of scientists…and be able to treat [terminal patients] with compassion the same compassion that you would want for yourself.” As she moved through her career, she continued hosting the series of seminars which used interviews with terminally ill patients. Her work was met with both praise and criticism – most of the latter because she was so obviously questioning the traditional practices of psychiatry. In 1969, she released her seminal book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families, which provided a grief model for people who were dying as well as for those they were leaving behind.

“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”

– quoted from On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Dr. Kübler-Ross explained from the beginning that her outline was not intended to be linear and yet, people wanted to be able to step through the stages with grace and ease. The problem with that mindset is…life is messy and so is grieving. A perfect example of the messiness of life and death can be found in Dr. Kübler-Ross’s own life… and death. In 1995, after a series of strokes which left her partially paralyzed on her left side, she found herself confronted with the reality of her own death. Added to her grief was the closing of Shanti Nilaya (“Final Home of Peace”), a healing and growth center which she had established in the later 1970’s (shortly before her divorce) after convincing her husband to buy 40-acres of land in Escondido, California. Despite a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, where she stated that she was ready to die, Dr, Kübler-Ross struggled with the fact that she could not choose her own time of death. He son Ken, Founder and President of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation, served as her caregiver for the last decade of her life. In a 2019 interview with the hosts of ABC Radio’s Life Matters, Ken said, “A few weeks before she passed she said to me, ‘Kenneth, I don’t want to die’”

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

Ken Ross admits he was taken aback by his mother’s statement that she did not want to die. It turned out, Dr. Kübler-Ross was not only physically paralyzed; she was also stuck in the anger stage of her own grief model. She caught flak in the media – as if she were somehow above being human simply because she had studied, taught, and spoken so openly and so frequently on the subject of death and dying. She did not stay there (in the anger stage), however, as her family and friends encouraged her to keep living and to keep processing the experience of dying. Her son even admits that he literally pushed her out of her comfort zone by assisting her in wheelchair marathons and in visiting her sisters in Europe.

“[She] let herself be loved and taken care of, then that was her final lesson — and then she was allowed to graduate. For years I thought about this and what I realized was that’s exactly what she teaches. [When] you learn your lessons you’re allowed to graduate.”

– Ken Ross in a 2019 “Life Matters” interview on ABC Radio National

 

“In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work, work, work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in an interview

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 8th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where there will be work, dance, and play. 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.

 

 

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

“Strange though it may seem to you, one of the most productive avenues for growth is found through the study and experience of death. Perhaps death reminds us that our time is limited and that we’d better accomplish our purpose here on earth before our time runs out. Whatever the reason….Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

### “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” EKR ###

The Teacher In Me Honors The Teacher Also In You July 5, 2020

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 “Sir Isaac Newton said, If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”

– Hubert K. Rucker, PhD, eulogizing his mother (Altramae Laverne McCarty, a teacher)

Days like Teacher Appreciation Day or Administrative Assistant Day are a lot like a cultural appreciation day, or month, in that they make me wonder why there is only appreciation (or awareness) in this single moment of time. I mean, it’s not as if every Black, Asian, Hispanic, Woman, Mother, Dad, GLBTQIA+, or Service person was born on the same day or accomplished something great within the same month. It’s ridiculous thought, right? It’s especially ludicrous when you consider all the teachers in your life – not just the professional ones like my dad and paternal grandmother, but all the non-professional ones whose lives and instruction guide you throughout your life. It seems if you wanted show your appreciation for those teachers – including the “master teachers / precious jewels” who give you a master class on yourself – you would live your life in accordance with their teachings.

“The best thing you can do is don’t poison yourself with all those things, that’s the best thing you can do for your guru … I want all of you to remember this… the best thing that you can ever do for you guru, if at all if you feel like you want to do is, that you drop your nonsense and grow. What’s the best thing a garden can do for a gardener? Hmm? To grow and bloom, isn’t it? ‘No, no, we want to do this to you, we want to do that to you,’ that’s not the intention, that’s not the goal….

The concern is that people will be here and if they don’t grow. I’ve planted people in my garden and they never blossomed, that I’m terrified of.”

 

– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation, answering the question “What Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Guru?”

People often translate the word “guru” as “teacher” – and that is truly a definition for the Sanskrit word. But, go a little deeper and you find the roots for the word are “gu,” which means “darkness” or “ignorance” and “ru,” which means “the remover of darkness” or “light.” Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, the Dalai Lama, and (Kundalini’s) Yogi Bhajan are considered what I call “Big G” Gurus within their various traditions. Just to avoid confusion, let me clarify my designation by saying that these are not examples of “Big G” Gurus because they are sometimes worshiped (depending on the tradition). I call them “Big G” Gurus because they are so venerated that people follow their examples as a lifestyle. In this way, Tara, Mary, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Fatima, Saint Clare of Assisi, and (Svroopa’s) Swami Nirmalananda are also “Big G” Gurus. “Little g” gurus are no less important than “Big G” Gurus – in that they are still honored as “removers of darkness;” however, “little g” gurus aren’t followed in the same way as their counterparts.

Keep in mind that the most important “Big G” Guru is inside of you and the most important “little g” gurus are all around you at all times. This is one of the reasons why Sadhguru instructs people who say they love him to, “from today on, I want you to treat everybody – man, woman, child, animal, plant, if possible even inanimate things – everything that you see, everything that you set your eyes upon, you must see it and treat it as Sahdguru…. You do just this one thing.” This is the same teaching taught by Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus, and the Prophet Muhammad (just to name a few). Still, (to quote Thornton Wilder) “All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.”

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (focus for Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

According to the Permaculture Home Garden (by Linda Woodrow) and the “Permaculture Calendar,” a full moon is a good time to sow or plant root crops and decorative or fruiting perennials (“[l]ike apples, potatoes asparagus and rhubarb. It’s also a good time to cut and divide plants.”). As I subscribe to this belief as it relates to planting karmic seeds, a full moon is a good time to plant something you really want to take root, in a way that will nourish and sustain you for years to come. So, get ready to do some karmic planting as we have a full moon tonight.

The first full moon after the Summer Solstice is known as the “Buck Moon” (because it’s when First Nations people reportedly noticed buck’s antlers were in “full growth mode”), Thunder Moon, Hay Moon, and Rose Moon. You’ll notice that these names are associated with natural observation (and if you were watching last night you might have noticed a partial penumbral lunar eclipse as the almost full moon passed through the Earth’s shadow). On the flip side, the full moon in July is also known by some as the Guru Moon. It designates Guru Purnima, also known as Ved Vyasa, Dharma Day (in some Theraveda Buddhist countries), or Treenok Guha Purnima (in Jainism).

Guru Purnima is observed by Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, and (yes) yogis. Each tradition has a different story to explain the significance of the day. In Buddhism it is the day the Buddha gave his first sermon in India. In Hinduism and Indian philosophies, like some traditions of Yoga, it is a day to remember the teachings of Vyasa, as it is believed to be the day he started writing the Brahma Sūtras. It is also the day, in certain yoga traditions, when Shiva became “Adiyogi” (the first yogi) as well as the first guru. In the country of Nepal and in the Jain tradition, today is also celebrated as the day of the first teacher; in this case, the day Mahavira made Indrabhuti Gautam / Guatam Swami his first disciple.

“Maybe I have problems in other ways, and when I come to you I put energy of a certain kind; because that’s where I’m good. You see someone suffering and you have opportunity to touch that person. And if you touch that person from the depth of the energy that you’ve got from inside your own heart, if you touch them with that, they feel it. If someone’s very peaceful, has a tremendous amount of energy, you feel it. What becomes most important? How clear can I be in my mind, how vital can I be in my energy. And it’s not a matter of making myself comfortable – because then I won’t grow….

So, you have to take some risks; you have to build some energy; you have to have clarity of mind; you have to create stillness, silence, and space. If you do these things, you’re smiling in the midst of controversy and deceit and war and famine and everything else – and you have the possibility of helping people….”

 

– Robert Boustany (my first yoga teacher) explaining “Healing / Yoga Therapy”

Depending on the tradition, it is a day of prayer and/or meditation, as well as (spiritual) offerings. In some places there is music and dance – in others there is silence. In Nepal and parts of India, this is also a day to celebrate non-religious teachers. There are art competitions and assemblies where teachers, as well as great scholars from the school, are recognized and honored. Sometimes alumni will visit their teachers and bring gifts of gratitude. Of course, the greatest gift a teacher can receive is the recognition that they have helped someone achieve success in life.

“I would define yoga as liberation. For me, it was getting past all the obstacles and conditioning and training that, I think, life has put in my way to make me think less of myself and to teach me that I’m not enough. And I found the beauty of yoga is it said, ‘You are enough. You’re perfect as you are. And let us show you how’….

… I felt like a lot of people were missing out on the opportunity to practice because they weren’t super athletic, or young, or flexible, or able-bodied. And I thought to myself, ‘there’s got to be a way to be able to bring everyone who felt like they were at the margins of this practice to the center.

I think a yogi is anyone who believes in elevating everyone, who believes that the collective is powerful, and that we inspire everybody, and that we’re in this – and anyone who wants to serve the greatest good.”

– Dianne Bondy, in an “Omstars” introduction  

Today, just like every day, I quote some of my teachers – not all of my teachers… that would take years and several volumes of books. Today, just like every day, I practice, teach, and live in a way that (I hope) honors all of my teachers. Today, just like every day, I appreciate what I have learned and what I am still learning. I am today, just like every day, so grateful for my teachers because they shared their practice and, ultimately, enable me to share mine. This gratitude extends to those who think of themselves as my students. Sure, I think of you as my students too; however, today (just like every day) I also think of you as my teachers. Gratitude is best felt when the thanksgiving is specific and while I could, easily (and have) articulate why I am so grateful for my practice (and therefore my teachers), I’m going to use this as another excuse to quote someone who greatly impacted my practice even before I ever trained with her.

 “If it wasn’t for a yoga practice, a prayer practice, and a meditation practice, I don’t know if he work that I’ve done in the world over the years would have been in any way sustainable. I have no doubt in my mind that without a daily and committed practice, that, the more shadow sense aspect of who I am – which is intense, angry, often overwhelmed, reactive – would be the thing that would determine the choices that I’ve made. And I’ve been able to turn my rage into passion, my over-emotionality into compassion. And it’s because of the commitment to the practice of yoga – and I’m personally so grateful that I have this particular tool, and there are many tools – to be able to utilize every single day, so that in my own service my personality doesn’t get in the way of being able to service in a way that is inclusive, supportive, open-minded, and that is healing….”

 

– Seane Corn at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, regarding “Not Burning Out in Service to Others”

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 5th) at 2:30 PM to celebrate Gurus and gurus – inside and out. 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.

 

“Seeking begins when the options presented are unacceptable. The path before me included a troubled mind-body relationship and dwindling prospects of health. At thirteen, these truths were not obstacles to confront. They were part of the air that I was breathing. If I was going to live, I need to live the mind-body relationship life had dealt me.”

 

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (2006)

 

Don’t forget, Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams is hosting 12.5 hours of radical anti-racism readings online today 10:30 AM – 11 PM. Click here to register, even if you only have a little time to listen. Listen!

My first yoga teacher

 

### OM OM AUM ###