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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. ###

qaStaH nuq (“What’s happening?”) August 19, 2020

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“Captain’s Log, Star Date 2263.2. Today is our 966th day in Deep Space, a little under 3 years into our 5-year mission. The more time we spend out here there harder it is to tell where one day ends and the next one begins. It can be a challenge to feel grounded when even gravity is artificial. But, while we do what we can to make it feel like home.

The crew, as always, continues to act admirably despite the rigors of our extended stay here in outer space, and the personal sacrifices they’ve made. We continue to search for new life forms in order to establish firm diplomatic ties. Our extended time in unchartered territory has stretched the ship’s mechanical capacities, but fortunately, our engineering department – led by Mr. Scott – is more than up to the job. The ship aside, prolonged cohabitation has definitely had affects on interpersonal dynamics; some experiences for better and some for the worse.

As for me, things have started to feel… a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we’re trying to accomplish. If the universe is truly endless, then are we not forever striving for something forever out of reach?”

– quoted from Star Trek Beyond (2016), voiced by Chris Pine (b. 08/26/1980) as Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Ever feel like you’re in the middle of an episode of Star Trek? Or maybe a scene from one of the movies where things are not only NOT going according to plan, they’re not even going in a way you ever anticipated. You’re like, “qaStaH nuq jay (What the bleep is happening?)” It’s been 157 days since I taught an in-studio class. Even when I imagined having more online engagement, occasional pop-up classes, and students from all over the world attending my classes, I never imagined the sequence of events that have led to our current reality. I mean, who could have imagined the world would come to this…oh, wait! – Scientists, engineers, even computer moguls anticipated exactly this! While we can’t go back and listen we can go forward, listen, explore, and consider how we come together in peace. Star Trek has its roots in ancient Indian philosophy. So, as we go forward, we also go back.

Today is the anniversary of the birth Philo T. Farnsworth and Gene Roddenberry. Born today in 1906, Farnsworth was an American inventor who revolutionized television. He started exploring mechanical and electrical engineering at the age of twelve and by the age of fifteen had developed the principle of the image dissector that would make an all-electric television possible. His work contributed to the television tube that was used in all television up until the late 20th century. He also developed the “image oscillate,” a cathode ray tube that displayed the images captured by the image dissector and was the first person to publically demonstrate a fully functional and all-electronic television.

Roddenberry, born today in 1921, revolutionized what we watch on television. A World War II veteran and former police officer (whose father was also an LAPD officer), Roddenberry became a freelance script writer for television who drew from his experiences as a combat pilot and member of law enforcement. While he had success working on shows created by others, he couldn’t seem to get his own creations to take off. At one point, in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, he was asked to write a series set in 1860’s Mississippi – only without any Black people. Roddenberry argued about the premise so much that he lost the job. But it was during this pivotal time in his career, however, that he became a producer and “met” some of the people who would become important in his life: including Majel Barrett (then known as Majel Leigh Hudec), DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Gene L. Coon, Gary Lockwood, Joe D’Agosta, Philip Pike, Edward Jellicoe, and James T. Irvine.

“Space – the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission – to explore strange new worlds – to seek out new life and new civilizations – to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

– Opening monologue from the original Star Trek series, voiced by William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk

Roddenberry originally intended Star Trek to be a science fiction version of spaghetti westerns. Only when he pitched it, he downplayed the science fiction aspect and highlighted how similar the series would be to successful shows like Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. In fact, he called it “Wagon Train to the stars.” After pitching the series to a number of studios, including Lucille Ball’s Desilu (where he was hired as a producer), Rodenberry received a deal to produce the script “The Menagerie” (known as “The Cage”) and three other episodes. He immediately hired Dorothy Fontana (known as D. C. Fontana) as his assistant, making Star Trek one of the most diverse shows on television before it even aired.

Even though it didn’t do well with test audiences, the original series ran for three seasons (79 episodes) and create a franchise that now includes six additional television series, thirteen feature films, an extensive collection of books, games, and toys – not to mention college curriculum and language courses. It’s a cult classic that has greatly influenced popular culture.

“First of all, our show did not reach and affect all these people because it was deep and great literature. Star Trek was not Ibsen or Shakespeare. To get a prime time show–a network show–on the air and to keep it there, you must attract and hold a minimum of 18 million people every week. You have to do that in order to move people away from Gomer Pyle, Bonanza, Beverly Hillbillies, and so on. And we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict, and so on.

But once we got on the air, and within the limits of those action/adventure limits, we did not accept the myth that the television audience has an infantile mind. We had an idea, and we had a premise, and we still believe that. As a matter of fact we decided to risk the whole show on that premise. We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond those petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided.

So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient, that many people keep seeking, and many of them keep missing, is really not in Star Trek, it is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television tube!

The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mold, where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

And I think that this is what people responded to.”

– quoted from a 1976 philosophy lecture by Gene Roddenberry

I am a Star Trek fan, you might even call me a Trekkie. Although, in all honesty, my favorite episodes and characters are ones that (ironically) diverge slightly from the way Roddenberry wanted the Star Trek universe to be portrayed. Gene Roddenberry was a humanist, who questioned religion and his religious upbringing. He wanted to show, not tell, and wrote accordingly. So, while I personally find the original James T. Kirk misogynistic, sexist, and a little racist, no one can deny that Rodenberry intentionally portrayed diversity and equality among races, genders, ethnicities – and even species. And, I happen to like the episodes and movies where that diversity, equality, and spirituality is front and center.

The series continues to be so spiritually infused that members of various religions uplift it – sometimes without realizing that many of its foundational elements hail from the Vedic (Indian philosophy) tradition. In fact, Roddenberry was rewarded by the American Baptist Convention and spent years corresponding with John M. Gunn of the National Council of Churches – until Roddenberry explained “But you must understand that I am a complete pagan, and consume enormous amounts of bread, having found the Word more spice than nourishment….” He said he believed in God, “just not other people’s God” and called Catholicism “a beautiful religion” even as he railed against organized religion as people’s malfunctioning substitute brain. Perhaps one of the reasons he wanted to subtly allude to spirituality was not only because of his beliefs as a humanist, but also because of the way he saw the American public’s double standard when it came to certain religions: condemning violent acts committed by members of a religion different from theirs while simultaneously praising and/or accepting violent acts committed by members of their shared religion. So, Rodenberry gave us the spirit rather than the religion.

“Odo: When you return to the Link, what will become of the entity I am talking to right now?

The Female Founder: The drop becomes the ocean.

Odo: And, if you choose to take solid form again?

The Female Founder: The ocean becomes a drop.

Odo: Ah, yes, I think I’m beginning to understand.

The Female Founder: Then you can answer your own question.”

– quoted from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine conversation between the Odo (played by René Auberjonois) and  the Female Changeling / Founder (played by Salome Jens)

Please join me today (Wednesday, August 19th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where we will boldly go where only you can go. 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 (Courage filled) playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

This interview appears on YouTube playlist.

### bISeH’eghlaH’be’chugh latlh Dara’laH’be ###

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 ###

Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. 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 “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

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.

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###

 

Some Things are Universal August 1, 2020

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“There can be no doubt, that, in most cases, their judgment may be equal with the other sex; perhaps even on the subject of law, politics or religion, they may form good judgment, but t would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men, although their powers of mind may be equal to the task.”

 

– quoted from “II: Becoming an Advocate” in Observations on the Real Rights of Women , with Their Appropriate Duties, Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense  by Hannah Mather Crocker (published 1818)

 

Believe it or not, Hannah Crocker was advocating for women’s rights when the wrote the above, in 1818, and stated that “It is woman’s peculiar right to keep calm and serene under every circumstance in life, as it is undoubtedly her appropriate duty, to soothe and alleviate the anxious cares of men, and her friendly and sympathetic breast should be found the best solace for him, as she has an equal right to partake with him the cares, as well as the pleasures of life.” Taken out of context, and viewed with a modern mind, it is easy to think that Crocker would have disapproved of Maria Mitchell, who was born today in 1818 (on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts).

Miss Mitchell, as the king of Denmark would refer to her, was the first acknowledged female astronomer. Her Quaker parents believed in equal education for the 10 offspring, regardless of gender, and her father shared his love of astronomy with all of his children. Miss Mitchell, however, was the only one really interested in going deeper into the math and science of what they viewed as “a hymn of praise to God.” She was assisting her father by the age of 12; opened and taught at a school for girls by the age of 17; and starting working as the librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum in her twenties.   On October 1, 1848 she observed what she initially thought was a distant star, but quickly suspected was actually a comet. Further observation proved her correct and, after her father wrote to the Harvard Observatory, her conclusion was reported to the King of Denmark who awarded her a gold medal and named the newly sighted object “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Maria Mitchell would go on to be the first woman appointed to the American Association of the Advancement of Science (also in 1848), the first woman to earn an advanced degree (1853), the first woman appointed to the faculty of Vassar Female College (as their astronomy professor and head of their observatory, in 1865), and, therefore, the first woman in American history to earn a position as an astronomy professor. She is what I refer to this week as an impossible woman (more on that in a later post) and Hannah Crocker may or may not have approved.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

 

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell

Whether or not Hannah Crocker approved of Maria Mitchell’s life choices is kind of beside the point. What’s relevant here is the idea that all things being equal, there are still people who believe there should be different rules (and therefore different rules of moral conduct) for different people based on gender, race, or other external factors. A quick glance at religious and philosophical commandments and precepts, however, indicates that (in most cases) the big commandments and precepts are intended for all, they are universal.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Yoga Sūtra 2.31: jātideśakālasamayānavacchinnāh sārvabhaumā mahāvratam

 

– “[The five restraints] are not affected by class, race, ethnicity, place, time, and circumstance. They are universal and become a great vow.”

There are times when I am quite perplexed by the different ways people will twist things around so that the  rules and laws no longer apply to them. Hold off (for just a moment) on jumping to conclusions and let me be specific. Over the years, I have been involved in several discussions regarding the Buddhist precepts. There are five basic precepts or rules of training for lay Buddhist: non-harming (or non-killing), non-stealing, not engaging in illicit sex, a commitment to truth/honesty, and not imbibing in intoxicants. Notice how the first four overlap with the yamās from the yoga philosophy and how both philosophies overlap with the last five of the 10 Commandments. Also, just as Jewish practitioners adhere to more than 10 commandments (613 in total), there are additional precepts for people on retreat and people who are taking vows.

Regarding what might be viewed as discrepancies in practice, all the categories include non-harming/non-killing, but I have heard people very clearly argue that they are not violating the precept/commandment/yamā if they didn’t actually kill the animal that results in their burger. Here, now, I am not judging that argument except to say that it can be confusing (to me), because I think it all comes down to intent. And, speaking of intent, I have listed the third precept as “not engaging in illicit sex” versus “not engaging in adultery,” just as I refer to bramacharyā in the more literal sense so that (in both cases) the focus is on the cause of the action (i.e., intent), rather than on the resulting action.

Intention is important. Yes, you can unintentional harm someone or something. And, sometimes, that unintentional act can be tremendously more harmful than something you did intentional (knowing it would cause “a little” harm). Most legal systems back me up on this, hence the reason there are different penalties for manslaughter versus murder, and even within each of those categories there are various degrees with different punishments. Intention also comes into play when you look at why there are more commandments in Judaism and why there are more precepts if you are on retreat of taking vows as a monk or nun. Intention is also the key to why some would say, from the outside looking in, that Islām only has one rule: avoid what is harām (“forbidden”). That said, if we are going to be dedicated to the truth (i.e., not lie), we have to be honest with ourselves about why we want to practice – or not practice – some aspect of our particular belief system(s).

Ask yourself why you follow certain rules. Is your intention in following the rule(s) to be good? To be holy? To be saved? To be enlightened? To not be reincarnated? To not have people judge you harshly? To not get in trouble? To mitigate (or lessen) harm to yourself or another?

In the commentary for yoga sūtra 2:31, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and others point to the fact that the intention is always to start where you are, given your particular situation. These practices are intended to set up for success and so the expectation is that you (again) practice with dedication and devotion to the best of your ability. As stated in the sūtra, these restraints can be applied to every situation. They are universal. The last part of the sūtra is equally important, because by practicing where you are and as you are, on every plane of existence, these practices become habit. They become ingrained in your psyche. They become the great vow and you start to think, speak, and act in a way that is mindful of all living beings…without actually having to think about it.

But, of course, we start off thinking about it.

“Killing a human being is murder, but killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is not. Killing a fish is a spiritual offense for a strict vegetarian, but not for a fisherman. Hunting in and around a shrine is an offense, but hunting in the forest is not. For a Hindu, eating meat on the fourteenth day of the moon is an offense, but eating meat on other days is not. In day-to-day life it is a grave offense for a soldier to shoot someone, but it is not an offense for a soldier to kill and enemy on the battlefield.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Speaking of “killing a fish,” today is also the anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. Born today in New York City in 1819, exactly a year to the day after Maria Mitchell, the author shared a love of the sea (and certain other experiences) with Nathanial Hawthorne. During Melville and Hawthorne’s brief friendship, they were both their most prolific and published what would become their most popular works, including Melville’s Moby-Dick and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Both wrote about people who obsessively purposed their goals (something that is encouraged in yoga), but their characters did not always temper their determination with devoted surrender and non-attachment (which is something that is also encouraged in yoga). Lest you think it was only Hawthorne who focused on commandments, read on.

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

 

– quoted from Moby-Dick, or the Whale by Herman Melville

Per my email, I have cancelled class today due to a family emergency. I still have tomorrow’s class on the schedule, but stay tuned here to see how that works out. If you were planning to practice today, please, practice with yoga sūtras 2.30-2.31 in mind. Since this week’s sūtra focus is a continuation of last week’s, you can use last week’s recording. If you are not on my email list, you can request the audio recording from last week via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Last week’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

As this is the anniversary of the 1-35 bridge collapse, please hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds today. So many people are suffering with current events, but let us not forget that some people are still grieving and healing from past events. To quote my dad, “Sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

###” CALL ME ISHMAEL, GOD LISTENS” ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Listening July 28, 2020

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“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

 

– Macbeth in Act V, Scene V of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

There is so much disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world that it can seem hard sometimes to know the truth. We can spend an extraordinary amount of time sifting and searching through all the disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world and, in the end, feel like the aforementioned Scottish king and the inspiration for a novel by William Faulkner. It’s frustrating. We may settle down for a moment and give up or we may rest awhile only to dive back in. But, really, those are two bad choices.

A third option is the oft overlooked option of being still, being quite, and turning inward instead of outward. Yes, every philosophy and major religion in the world emphasizes the importance of being dedicated to the truth. (This is the yamā or external restraint / universal commandment of satya in the 8-limb philosophy of yoga.) Every philosophy and major religion in the world also emphasizes that we carry the truth with us; it is inside of us. So, the key to seeking the truth isn’t turning outward, it is turning inward.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

Tehillim – Psalms (46:11, in some Hebrew texts; 46:10 in Christian texts)

 

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

 

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

Japji Sahib, known in English as The Song of the Soul, is an ancient Sikh text composed by Guru Nanak, the 15th Century founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The text was originally published in 1604 and, as indicated by the name is intended to be chanted. Remember, when we do the 108 Sun Salutations I refer to it as japa-ajapa, which is “repeat and repeat” or “repeat and remember.” Jap also means “understand.” This is a form of meditation which is also recommended in the Yoga Sūtra (1:27 – 1:28) and it allows the mind to use the repetition as a path and gateway into stillness.

I say “a path and gateway” because there are steps. One doesn’t just mumble a few words a few times and find themselves instantly still and quiet. You first have to get through the place where your mind is trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are repeating the same thing, over and over. It has to sift through the object that is the word, the meaning of the word, and the fact that you are focused on the object and the meaning of the word. Then, you start to internalize the word and let go of some of the outside distractions. Finally, you reach a state of pure cognition where, possibly, you and the word are absorbed into each other – in other words, you are the word. A dedicated, uninterrupted practice (also recommended by Patanjali) is helpful in this practice; however, the most important element is trusting and listening.

“By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
The Truth
Of your Inner
Consciousness
Will saturate your psyche
With wisdom
And deep understanding.

By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
You shall dwell
In all mansions
Of learning.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

 

“If you
Trust what you hear
When you listen,
Then you will know
What you see,
How to understand
And act.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 28th) 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 is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Since the mantras that I typically use in class are not available, this is an instant replay of the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and, if you can handle it, I recommend the “Music for 18 Musicians” – which can also be found without interruptions. Another option is to practice without music, which I also highly recommend.)

### LISTEN ###

 

Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

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

 

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

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

“Are you practicing?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Hi! How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Where the practice begins (and ends) July 25, 2020

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“Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.”

 

– Amir, remembering the lessons of his father, in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

 

“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.’ And they ask you what they should spend. Say, ‘The excess [beyond needs].’ Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.”

 

– quoted from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:219), Al-Qur’an al-Kareem

We all have a moral code, an ethical compass, something that helps us navigate through life – ostensibly creating as little harm as possible. The vast majority of people are born with an instinctual “true north,” just like every other creature in the natural world, and it’s calibrated based on the ethical lessons we are given early in our lives. We are given these lessons – about right and wrong and about how to conduct ourselves in the world – at a very early age, regardless of who we are, where we were born and raised, what language we speak, and/or which aspects of the Divine we may or may not honor. We can call them lessons of the father and the mothers, but they are also lessons of the sisters and brothers, lessons of the elders, lessons of the peers. Sometimes we are given explicit instructions, other times we watch the way people conduct themselves around us. Eventually, we recognize them as laws. And, just like Amir in The Kite Runner, there are times when we check in our moral compass and think, “Yes, this makes sense, this feels right” or, “Ooo, wow, this doesn’t make sense, this feels off.”

If you grow up in a society associated with one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islām) then you may think in terms of the commandments (10 or 613) or you think in terms of what is of benefit and what is forbidden (harām). If you grow up in a culturally Buddhist society, you may view things through the precepts. Still, when we get to a certain age, these lessons have been instilled in us and we take them with us wherever we go – even on the yoga mat.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Even if you have never heard of or explored the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, even if you have never been taught that the practice begins with an ethical component, the five yamās, or external restraints, will sound familiar. Along with the five niyamās, or internal observations, the yamās provide a rubric for the practice – that is to say, they give the practitioner direction about how to conduct themselves and how to move through the practice. Even when they are not the explicit focus of the practice, the yamās and niyamās make up the foundation of the practice. If you are not practicing them, or not practicing some form of them, while you are practicing āsanas (poses), you are not practicing yoga. One can also say that if you are practicing them while engaged in something other than āsana, then you are practicing yoga.

“Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”

 

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:1

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 25th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

 

“Talking about a path is not walking that path. Thinking about life is not living.”

 

– quoted from Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu (translation from A Path and a Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin)

 

### WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING? ###

 

If only it was Taco Tuesday… July 22, 2020

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 “I like it when a man puts thought into the kind of restaurant we’re going to. That doesn’t mean it needs to be fancy – some of the best meals of my life have been having a taco on a street corner.”

– Meghan Markle (now, Duchess of Sussex) quoted in an Esquire Magazine article dated Dec. 15, 2016

 

“I like to take a day off and enjoy fast food for what it is. I have to say that in New York I’m really partial about taco trucks. I mean I really can’t handle it. There is something about catching all those ingredients piled on top of each other it puts me in a tizzy. I love it. I’m kind of a taco truck junkie.”

 

– Alex Guarnaschelli (when asked if she eats fast food, TooFab 03/01/2011)

Imagine the perfect taco. “‘What is “The perfect taco?” Alex.’” What makes it perfect? Is it the outside? I mean, I know people who will throw down over hard shells versus soft. (And, just for the record, there’s no such thing as an “open-faced taco” – that’s a chalupa or a tostado, for goodness sake!)

So, maybe, what makes your perfect taco is what’s on the inside. Hmmm… given that everyone has different tastes, different needs, and desires, it seems that there could be a different taco for every person in the world (and two tacos per person on Tuesdays). The poet Emma Lazarus was born today in 1849, so think about what “all your huddled masses” have been seeking over the years. I once heard Bryan Kest say that there’s at least one version of a pose for every person in the world; he estimated 8 billion ways to do every pose. And, it turns out that practicing yoga is a lot like searching for “the perfect taco.”

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I’m not much for beer, but I’m a huge fan of a well-made taco and I’m a huge fan of Tom Robbins’s fourth novel, Jitterbug Perfume. Born today in 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Robbins is a self-described “hillbilly” who grew up in a Baptist household, went to a military college prep school, studied journalism in college, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent a year as a meteorologist in Korea and two years in Nebraska before being discharged. He returned to Richmond, Virginia (where his family had moved during his early childhood) and started reading poetry in a coffee shop.

Robbins returned to school and also put his journalism degree to good use, while (occasionally) hitchhiking, researching a book on Jackson Pollack, and (eventually) hosting a weekly alternative radio show for KRAB-FM, Seattle. All the while, Tom Robbins was writing – searching for his perfect writing style, his voice. He found it and used it to write Another Roadside Attraction, a novel that you could theoretically say is “just” about a kind of wacky couple who open a hot dog stand. His first novel had all the elements you will find in most of his novels: wacky, bohemian characters; strong-willed women; animals; religion; existential philosophical musings; science; food (always food); and the occasional mythical character.

Jitterbug Perfume definitely has all of the elements described above and, to me, it is one the most visceral novels by Robbins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and yet, when I look at “Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper (who was born today in 1882), I may feel a lot, but I smell very little. On the flip side, I can’t even think about Jitterbug Perfume without smelling it. I know, I know, you’re thinking well, of course, the word “perfume” is in the title and it’s all about perfumers trying to capture this magical essence. That’s the way the brain works.

Yeah, no. When I think of this particular novel, I’m thinking about another element that shows up in all of Tom Robbins’s work: s-e-x. And Pan.

“The word desire suggests that there is something we do not have. If we have everything already, then there can be no desire, for there is nothing left to want. I think that what the Buddha may have been trying to tell us is that we have it all, each of us, all the time; therefore, desire is simply unnecessary.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As we’ve discussed before, suffering is a part of the human condition. We can say, as the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies instruct us, that suffering comes from attachment; however, what we are really saying is that suffering comes from desires. There are lots of different kind of desire, and they can lead to all different kinds of attachment (rooted in pleasure or rooted in pain); but Robbins suggests in Jitterbug Perfume that the desire itself isn’t the problem. Robbins suggests that maybe we suffer because “we do not desire wisely.” It’s an interesting thought – especially if you consider that we are psychologically and physiologically wired to desire, to want certain things and to not want other things.

Considering that there may be a better way to desire, makes me think of certain Buddhist and/or Yoga practices. For instance, shoshin is the Zen Buddhist practice of “beginners mind” and I often liken it to the niyama (internal observation in Yoga) santosha, which is the practice of contentment. Just as Robbins says (above) the practice focuses not on the idea that we are missing out on something but focuses instead on the fact that in this moment there is something, something extraordinary, something… perfect. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki explains that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few.” When we show up and practice shoshin and/or santosha we open ourselves up to find something perfect in the moment, be it the perfect scent, the perfect quantum physics equation, the perfect taco… or the perfect pose.

“If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. The dull and prosaic will be granted adventures that will dice their central nervous systems like an onion, romantic dreamers will end up in the rope yard. You may protest that it is too much to ask of an uneducated fifteen-year-old girl that she defy her family, her society, her weighty cultural and religious heritage in order to pursue a dream that she doesn’t really understand. Of course it is asking too much. The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Go back to the questions at the beginning of this post and think about them in terms of the “perfect” yoga pose. Even better, think about your pursuit of the perfect expression. Do you think about the inside first, or is your primary focus on the outside? Do you recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of elements, which translate into millions and billions of expressions? Do you recognize that there is no one way to do something and so, therefore, there can be billions of perfect poses? There is, however, an even more important question (inspired by one of my yoga teachers). Seane Corn said, “It’s not about the pose. It’s about the purpose. Be In Yours.” So, the better question as you seek your so-called perfect pose, is “What’s the purpose?”

When we get around to asking that question, we find that sometimes the perfect pose isn’t a taco at all… It’s a chalupa (or a tostado).

“When we accept small wonders, we qualify ourselves to imagine great wonders.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As a former meteorologist, Tom Robbins would be familiar with chaos theory (the idea that small changes in initial conditions can translate into big outcomes) and it’s those little things that make a difference, unexpected differences, in his stories. Those little changes can also make a difference in your yoga practice…and in your meal preparation.

In the TV show Ugly Delicious, David Chang says, “The dishes that we’re making… it’s about telling a story.” The practicing yoga is also about telling stories, it’s about your body and mind telling your story. It’s about finding your voice, your themes your ingredients, as Tom Robbins has done all his life, and then putting it out there. It is, also, about listening – really, truly, deeply listening to your own heart, your own soul, and your own story. If you really listen, you can also hear the stories around you. And, it is delicious (even when it smells a little ripe).

“He was becoming unstuck, he was sure of that – his bones were no longer wrapped in flesh but in clouds of dust, in hummingbirds, dragonflies, and luminous moths – but so perfect was his equilibrium that he felt no fear. He was vast, he was many, he was dynamic, he was eternal.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where will find your “breathe properly,  stay curious, and [afterwards] eat your beets.” 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.

In case you were confused or missed it (above), only one of the Alex’s mentioned above is celebrating an 80th birthday today!

 

 

### WHAT’S YOUR PERFECT TACO? ###