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Because Every Vote Counted (Part 1) July 1, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. These ideals form the basis of every Eastern philosophy and, one can argue, they are cornerstones of human existence. They are definitely supposed to be the cornerstones of the United States of America – after all, the country was founded on these principles. So, it’s not surprising that when my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience there’s some extra energy. You may even call that energy excitement, as I definitely get jazzed by the idea of all people everywhere experiencing absolute freedom, liberty, and independence.

There’s one little hitch – and it’s something, I admit with some chagrin, that I don’t often mention explicitly when I have taught previous classes on freedom, liberty, and independence: When my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience it also overlaps with my experience as a Black American. In other words, I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence fully aware that everyone in my country of birth wasn’t originally intended to be free. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence knowing full well that the Committee of Five, which drew up the Declaration of Independence, decided it was more important to present a “united front” than it was to condemn slavery. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence with a very definite understanding that the majority of the forefathers who signed the declaration never considered fighting for the freedom, liberty, and independence of people who look like me. So, all of that energy is churning up inside of me – along with the awareness that some people in my country of birth take their freedom for granted, while others are still fighting to experience that which they are (now) legally entitled to experience.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

In any given year, for the last decade or so, I have taught at least 9 classes specifically related to freedom, liberty, and independence as it relates to the United States (plus classes related to the Civil Rights and Suffragists Movements, as well as classes related to freedom in a religious or philosophical context) and most people have never given a second thought to what’s going through my mind (or heart) as I do it. More importantly, most people never give a second thought to why I do it (let alone that I love doing it) given all that’s in my heart (and on my mind).

So, of course, now you’re wondering why….

I do it, and I usually love doing it, because I think history is important. I think it is important to understand, as much as we are able, how we got where we are as a country and as a community of people. (This is the same reason I teach so much about various religions.) With respect to the United States, I think it is particularly important to understand our history, because this country has never lived up to its ideals. While that can be seen as hypocrisy – and on a certain level it was and is – we still hold the ideals up as a standard. More importantly, we still have the possibility of dwelling within those ideals. But, we can only “dwell in possibility” if we understand that we are not currently “living the dream.”

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

I say all of this, online, knowing that there are people who can easily take my words out of context. More importantly, I say this knowing that we are living during a time when certain people relish taking such statements out of context. And, even though I doubt very many of the latter will see this, I still want to address people who might say, “See, see, here’s a black person who understands the importance of history.” To those people I say, “Yes, that is correct; I understand the importance of history.” To those same people I also say, “I understand the importance of history AND I also understand the importance of myth. So, when I teach, I make sure to distinguish one from the other. Give a statue of Robert E. Lee horns and wings and I will gladly teach the importance/significance of that.” {NOTE: I am not suggesting here that General Lee was a devil – although certain Union soldiers might disagree –rather, I am pointing to the fact that statues of him play the same role in society as artwork and literary references depicting a certain fallen angel.)

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Even though he wasn’t riding specifically for me and most of my ancestors, Caesar Rodney, the distinguished gentleman from Delaware, spent two days on a horse in order to vote for freedom. He did it while experiencing great pain and dis-ease. He did it because he knew that his vote counted. And, the fact that he did it means there’s a possibility – somewhere down the line – that people who look like me will one day experience true freedom, liberty, and independence in “the land of the free.”

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 1st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Stay tuned for more on Caesar Rodney and why John Adams thought future generations would be celebrating July 2nd!

 

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

 

Hard to watch, harder to live.

 

Easier to watch, still challenging to live.

### PURSUE HAPPINESS WITHOUT SUFFERING ###

Pause…. June 29, 2020

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“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It may seem odd, paradoxical even, to feel the need to pause during a time when the pause button has been pressed on the whole world. That need, however, is what I’m feeling right now. Maybe some of you are feeling it too. A moment of reflection highlights the fact that while some things have been on pause during this pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, the world hasn’t actually stopped. We haven’t actually stopped.

Most of us have still been bombarded with external and internal stimuli. We’ve still had to figure out what to do next. We’ve still had to adapt to new information. We’ve still had to process grief, anger, astonishment, confusion, and yes, even joy. Maybe there’s even been some disappointment, fear, disgust, guilt, and loneliness. It’s not all bad – during this time people have experienced great amounts of love and kindness, friendliness, compassion, generosity, and (as mentioned before) joy. Sometimes we’ve experienced all of this in the space of a day…or in one hour… or in a matter of minutes. It can be overwhelming. And, more to the point, all of what we are feeling is occupying space in our minds and in our bodies – which can be exhausting.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

In Eastern philosophy, human beings can experience vedanā, which can be translated as “feeling,” “sensation,” or “vibration.” Different philosophies address, and even describe, these sensations in different ways. However, what is consistent about these embodied experiences is that thoughts simultaneously arise with these sensations and these thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. The only problem with looking at these categories from a purely psychological viewpoint is that what may seem functional in a given moment may still create suffering – even in that moment – and the philosophical viewpoints (in this context) are specifically concerned with how the afflicted thoughts create suffering. This idea, that there are types of thoughts which create suffering (not only in our selves, but also in others) is also consistent between the philosophies.

I say it all the time: sensation is information. In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collection information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

That’s a lot of sensation, a lot of information. Now, consider that our thoughts around what we experiencing (externally) and feeling (internally) may be based on avidyā (“ignorance”). We may or may not have correct information around a certain experience, but/and we may add a level of imagination and/or be unconscious to certain aspects of our experiences. Finally, we may remember an experience, or even a thought and feeling, in a way that creates more layers of sensation – even more layers of ignorance. We can, and will eventually, get into how all this manifests in the body – and the fact that there is action associated with the senses, but notice how even just getting into the basics is exhausting.

What happens if you pause? What happens if you just take a moment out of every day to just let all the sensation wash over you? It doesn’t have to be a full practice of yoga or meditation, although a full practice can be extraordinarily helpful. What is most important is to stop; notice what you are experiencing; appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering.

“I think this is an interesting time and an important time for all of us to check our perspectives and where we’re coming from. For me and my people, for the Black community, this is not an exciting time for us. And this isn’t a time that we get to really reflect. We’re dealing with a lot of trauma. We’ve lost a lot of lives. We’ve been losing lives for decades, for centuries. And I think, for me, I am trying to figure out how to channel my anger…. I’m also mourning with my people… and I’m not settling….”

 

– Janelle Monáe, during a “Drama Actresses Roundtable” with Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, Reese Witherspoon, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rose Byrne (hosted by The Hollywood Reporter June 2020)

Sandra Razieli and I were recently discussing the ubiquitous presence of the Yoga Sūtras in Western yoga and people’s love of lists. I think, a love of acronyms (as a way to remember the list) is included in that love of lists. Here I offer you both. SNAP: Stop; Notice what you are experiencing; Appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); Press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering. Just as in modern day vernacular, this type of snap reinforces the need to pay attention to what is in this moment. It can be abrupt, even abrasive, but it is a reminder not to look away. (In this case, it is also a reminder that looking away just adds another layer of sensation – and, perhaps, another layer of suffering.

“The Purusha, when it identifies itself with nature, forgets that it is pure and infinite. The Purusha does not love, it is love itself. It does not exist, it is existence itself. The Soul does not know, It is knowledge itself. It is a mistake to say the Soul loves, exists, or knows. Love, existence, and knowledge are not the qualities of the Purusha, but its essence. When they get reflected upon something, you may call them the qualities of that something. They are not the qualities but the essence of the Purusha, the great Atman, the Infinite Being, without birth or death, established in its own glory. It appears to have become so degenerate that if you approach to tell it, “You are not a pig,” it begins to squeal and bite.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom. There will be a lot of space (to breathe and to feel) in today’s 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.

 

 

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It’s There (Even When You Can’t See It) June 27, 2020

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Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

 

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born yesterday (June 26th) in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.) She also co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era. In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy.

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

 

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

 

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

 

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post. No, don’t read it… just look at it. What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

 

– Virginia Satir

 

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, today in 1880, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

 

– from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

 

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (10/20/1936), and Thomson (03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

 

– from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912)

Helen Keller, like Pearl S. Buck, is notable for many reasons, but both women were (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about their family histories and some of their views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda. Keller’s father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, history has shown us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics, the idea that we could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Besides the basic humanitarian issues, one of the problems with eugenics is that at its core there is a lack of faith in humanity.

In referencing the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, Keller wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that you are connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside one’s self. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us right – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

Please join me for a little discernment in the form of a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 27th) 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 playlist is dated 06032020.)

 

 

### STILL HUMAN ###

Are You Dreaming or Not Dreaming? June 23, 2020

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

 

A Hand-book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RE: Being Centered & Grounded June 22, 2020

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“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Like many people, I often paraphrase Galileo’s quote about helping a man find something. Sometimes I use the word discover, but that’s mere semantics. What most people do when they paraphrase is to change the end and, in saying “find for himself,” what we do is change the meaning. Galileo’s statement dovetails with the information in the Yoga Sutras in that turns us inward. Specifically, Patanjali indicates that all the information we need to know the truth comes through our senses and all the mental and emotional acuity we need to analyze the information is already inside of us. The problem, which Patanjali also points out, that we can only see what is staring us right in the face if our brain shows us what’s right in front of our face. Think about it this way: Some people were able to see an incredible “ring of fire” eclipse last night; others can hold their finger up to the sky and blot out the sun. Consider your perspective, but also consider what is important to you.

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

 

– Anonymous

Today in 1633, the Holy Office in Rome forced Galileo Galilei to recant his views that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the Universe. The fact that the Earth and other plants revolved around the Sun was not new information, nor was it the first time Galileo found himself in hot water with the Catholic Church. Nicolaus Copernicus formulated and published the idea back in 1543, and it was a widely held belief throughout Galileo’s life – just not in the Church. To get around threats of heresy, Galileo wrote his Dialogue on the Ebb and Flow of the Sea as a conversation between two philosophers and a layman, named Simplicio. One philosopher presents Copernicus’s ideas, one philosopher starts off neutral, and the layman offers the Church-held beliefs of Ptolemy and Aristotle. Forced by the Inquisition to change the title to Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo still insisted that Simplicio (as in “the simple minded”) was not a caricature of Pope Urban VIII. He also denied that he himself believed Copernican theory and instead defended the treatise as simply a discussion. The idea that he was only presenting historical theories worked when Galileo was accused of heresy in 1616. In 1633, however, the Church decided that the issue was not even up for discussion.

“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”

 

– The Holy Office, Rome, June 22, 1633

Now, with a few notable exceptions, most people reading this will shake their heads at the idea that anyone believed such “nonsense.” They may think it was travesty of justice that Galileo was forced to recant his beliefs, never teach heresy, recite the Seven Penitential Psalms once a week for three years, and spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Some people may even be shocked to learn that it took the Church over 300 years to clear Galileo’s name. Yet, if we pause for a moment, we may see that while it may be awful, it’s not that hard to believe. Remember, we can only see what our brains show us.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in Angels in the Workplace: Stories and Inspirations for Creating a New World of Work by Melissa Giovagnoli

 

Every one of us has a center – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically. Every one of us believes something is solid and true – even if we what we believe in is the impermanence of all things. We view everything we experience through the lens of our belief. This, more often than not, causes us to cling tightly to our beliefs. We cling tightly even when there is something inside of us that quietly whispers, or loudly shouts, that that to which we cling is wrong. We hold on to what is familiar, even if it no longer serves us, but we also hold on to that thing that we believe centers and grounds us. Sometimes we cling so tightly that we are unable to see we are off-center and completely ungrounded. Because, what we miss in holding on is that we have essentially told our mind/intellect, “This is the part that’s important; don’t bother me with anything else.”

Remember, the public knew the truth back in 1633 – and all throughout the over 300 years it took for Galileo’s name to be cleared of the heresy charges. But, no one wanted to face up to the authority of the Church. No one else wanted to become the target of the establishment. Furthermore, some people were simply comforted by the idea that they are were the center of the universe. Yes, I said it, there is comfort and safety in ignorance… but only if you are already safe and comfortable.

Yoga Sutra 2.24: tasya heturavidyā

 

– “The cause of that [union, alliance, or relationship] is ignorance.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.25: tadabhāvāt samyogābhāvo hānam taddŗśeh kaivalyam

 

– “Due to that lack or absence [of ignorance], the union or relationship [between our power to see and what is seen] ceases, and this leads to freedom known as absolute freedom, liberation, or enlightenment.”

 

If you are interested in exploring within yourself, please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 22nd) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

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.

 

“As long as our mind is contaminated by likes and dislikes, fear and doubt, we are bound to experience pain. Getting rid of this contaminated mind (chitta nivritti) is the ultimate pain reliever. We acquired a contaminated mind by embracing avidya. As soon as we renounce avidya, mental contaminants evaporate.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.25 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

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Here Be The Wild Things June 10, 2020

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“And so we have…this critical problem as human beings of seeing to it that the mythology—the constellation of sign signals, affect images, energy-releasing and -directing signs—that we are communicating to our young will deliver directive messages qualified to relate them richly and vitally to the environment that is to be theirs for life, and not to some period of man already past, some piously desiderated future, or—what is worst of all—some querulous, freakish sect or momentary fad. And I call this problem critical because, when it is badly resolved, the result for the miseducated individual is what is known, in mythological terms, as a Waste Land situation. The world does not talk to him; he does not talk to the world. When that is the case, there is a cut-off, the individual is thrown back on himself, and he is in prime shape for that psychotic break-away that will turn him into either an essential schizophrenic in a padded cell, or a paranoid screaming slogans at large, in a bughouse without walls.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

How do we keep from becoming, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, a screaming paranoid person? How do we face trauma, loss, and disability with a smile on our face, as Wayman Tisdale did? Maybe we have to go all the way back to the womb to figure out why some people survive the challenging circumstances they face in life. Maybe we have to go back even farther than that to see why some people just inherently know how to stay connected to their “inside stuff” even when life throws them one curve ball after another fast ball. Whatever the reason some people rebound and some people don’t (or don’t as easily as others), trying to figure out that reason has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, born today in 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, once said, “I only have one subject. The question I am obsessed with is: How do children survive?” Like the poets mentioned during Sunday’s class (06/07/2020), Sendak wrote about what he saw – and what he saw was a family decimated by the Holocaust and trying to acclimate to a new country and a new culture. He saw kids being kids, being alive and full of so much life despite the overwhelming and pervasive feeling of perpetual mourning. The adults called the unruly children “vilde chaya,” which is Yiddish for “wild animal.” Sendak turned it into “wild things” and wrote a children’s book that become the center of a trilogy about (you guessed it) how children survive and thrive.

“I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.”

 

– Maurice Sendak in a 2002 interview with children’s book historian Leonard Marcus

 

 

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, tells the story of preschool-age Max who, as adults would have said during my childhood, gets a little too big for his britches. He is sent to his room without his dinner because he can’t behave and, as children do, he lets his imagination take over. His bedroom becomes a magical land full of wild animals, beasts, monsters….

My amazing friend Julie K just sent me a recent essay in The New Yorker about metaphorical monsters. I found it problematic because the identity of the monsters is too vague. Sendak, however, was always very clear; the monsters in his first book were the perpetually mourning and stern adults in his family. He just exaggerated them into something endearingly grotesque. As Max manages his emotions, becoming “king of all wild things” (a. k. a. the “most wild thing of all”), he finds his way back to the regular world. Managing one’s emotions, it turns out, is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

As I mentioned before, Where The Wild Things Are was the first of a three-part series to be published, but it is actually the centerpiece to the trilogy. In The Night Kitchen (published in 1970) follows toddler-age Mickey as he falls, naked, into the Night Kitchen, where he has to avoid getting baked into the cake batter and eaten up. Max, again, is preschool-age. Outside Over There (published in 1981) features pre-adolescent Ida, who shirks her responsibility and then has to face the consequences of making things right. It is interesting to note that while there is always a symbol of a mother and evidence of a mother’s love in all three books, Ida is the only real-live human girl featured prominently in the books and she is given (in the book) the mother’s role of caregiver – a role she initially fails to take seriously.

“When Papa was away at sea and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.”

 

– from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak’s trilogy is recognized as a series which traces the psychological development of children. Each protagonist has age appropriate responsibilities, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Each protagonist also has to navigate and find balance between the (age appropriate) expectations of the simultaneously present yet absent parent(s) and their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of the emotions that figures prominently, especially in Where The Wild Things Are, is rage and one of the themes that figures prominently in the books is how to manage emotions like rage. Because, as I sated before, managing one’s emotions is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world. It is the boon, as it were, of this particular hero’s journey/cycle.

“But it is more than mere survival that Sendak aspires to, for his children and for himself. He asks the question of resilience: How do children surmount and transform in order to prosper and create? It is tempting to imagine that Sendak conceives of the trajectory of his own life and art as a model for the way he has handled these questions in his works.”

 

– from a 2009 The Psychologist article by psychoanalyst Richard Gottlieb

 

When Where The Wild Things Are was turned into a movie, therapists like Richard Gottlieb offered their clinical take on the book and the movie. Psychoanalyst and attorney Stanton Peele noted in a 2009 article for Psychology Today that Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a psychologist who focused on addiction, “specifically developed mindfulness as a relapse prevention technique, one that assists addicted people to combat cravings. In brief, a user may imagine the urge to use again as a physical challenge – like a wave – that he or she rides out.” Then, Peele called Sendak’s work “a model of mindfulness.” For his part, Gottlieb did not think it was an accident that Sendaks’ work was so psychologically applicable. In fact, he specifically highlights various “psychological proddings and teachings” which influenced Sendak’s life – including the fact that his partner (for over 50 years) was psychoanalyst Eugene Glenn – and shares bits of conversations with colleagues who also see the value in the book.

“I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!”

 

– Mickey in In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

Call it a coincidence, a coinkydink, God winking, or serendipity, but it is interesting to note that Maurice Sendak, whose seminal book has been hailed and praised by addiction experts, was born on the anniversary of Dr. Bob Smith’s last drink, which is also the anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today in 1935, Bill Wilson and Smith’s wife Anne gave a severely hung-over Smith (a. k. a. “Dr. Bob”) a beer so that he would be “steady enough” to go into surgery. Hours beyond when the surgery should have ended, Smith announced that yes, the surgery was successful and that he had spent the remaining time reaching out to creditors and others he had hurt when he was drinking. Founded by Smith and Wilson, with support from Smith’s wife Anne, Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step rehabilitation program that has helped some people cope with alcoholism. It is also the model for other 12-step programs. While I have not counted the steps as they apply to Maurice Sendak’s work, there are very definite parallels in the way the main characters acknowledge their problems, turn inward, and offer restitution and express remorse. There are also, in the books and in recovery, humongous amounts of love and forgiveness (in particular, self-love and self-forgiveness).

“Quiet down there!”

 

– Mickey In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

“If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune, she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

 

– Papa’s song in Outside Over There

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice inspired by the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind. 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.

Since music soothes the wild beasts, the goblins, and the cooks, Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: YouTube is the original playlist and includes the video below.)

 

My all time favorite rendition!

 

### “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”• “I LOVE YOU!” ###

Not So De-Lovely Circumstance(s)? June 9, 2020

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“You can never give up because quitting is not an option. No matter how dark it is or how weak you get, until you take that last breath, you must fight.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale, professional musician and basketball player

 

“Sad times, may follow your tracks
Bad times, may bar you from Sak’s
At times, when Satan in slacks
Breaks down your self control

Maybe, as often it goes
Your Abe-y, may tire of his rose
So baby, this rule I propose
Always have an ace in the hole.”

 

– from “Ace in the Hole” by Cole Porter

 

Here’s a question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability? We all have, on some level, and we all will before we leave this earth.

So, here’s a better question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability that changed the way you viewed yourself and the world? Many who would have answered “no” to that question a month or two ago (or even a year ago), might answer “yes” now.

I specifically mention two months ago, rather than two weeks ago, because two months ago I was participating in the seventh annual Kiss My Asana yogathon, which benefited Mind Body Solutions. Known for their adaptive yoga program, which includes teacher training, and training for care givers Mind Body Solutions “helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.” Founding teacher Matthew Sanford is constantly reminding us that at some point we are all going to experience trauma, loss, and disability. Even if we do not become physically disabled, we can experience trauma and loss that disables us and makes it impossible to do things the way we did them before. The practice of yoga, especially as it is applied by the teachers at MBS, is both simple and complex – because the way we deal with trauma, loss, and disability is simultaneously simple and complex… because humans are both simple and complex. Ultimately, it’s not the if/when/how we experience the trauma, loss, and disability that’s important. Ultimately, what’s important is how we deal with it.

“I am only half a man now.”

 

– Cole Porter to his friends in 1958

 

“Cancer might’ve taken my leg, but it can’t take my smile.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before he died (The reporter noted that he followed the words with “that famous, ear-splitting grin.”)

 

Depending on how you look at them, Cole Porter (who was born today in 1891, in Peru, Indiana) and Wayman Tisdale (who was born today in 1964, in Fort Worth, Texas) don’t have a lot in common. Except for the whole birthday thing… and the fact that they were both professional musicians whose parents started their musical training at early ages. (Porter’s mother started him on violin lessons at 6 and piano lessons at 8. Tisdale’s father bought him his first bass guitar at age 8.) Tisdale said music was his “first love” and, undoubtedly, Porter would have shared the sentiment. They both ended up being known for jazz – although slightly different kinds of jazz. Oh, then there is the fact that they both engaged in highly physical activities (outside of music); Porter as an equestrian, Tisdale as a professional basketball player who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2009), the Oklahoma Hall of Fame (2009), and played in both the Olympics (1984) and Pan American (1983) Games. Both men were extremely well-liked and remarked upon because of their sunny dispositions.

Oh, and they were both (right leg) amputees.

Weird coincidence, huh? But, that’s not really the point today. The point today is how they dealt with their trauma, loss, and disability.

“The doctor had never given anyone chemo that was my size. They just calculated how much chemo to give me and said, ‘We hope it doesn’t mess up your kidneys. If it does, sorry.’”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before his death

In 1937, a horseback riding accident resulted in the horse crushing both of Cole Porter’s legs. In 2007, Wayman Tisdale fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg – an accident that revealed he had osteosarcoma in his knee. Both men were bound and determined to live, despite their situations – which involved immense amounts of pain and uncertainty. By all accounts, including his own words, Wayman Tisdale accepted the amputation and focused on using the support around him to help him heal and move forward. He even appreciated the attitude of one of his master teachers/precious jewels, who he didn’t think wanted him to get better, stating in a 2008 ESPN interview, “At the time, I frowned on that. I look at it today that had I not persevered through a lot of the stuff [USA Team coach Bobby Knight] put me through, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I thank God for that dude because he pushed me.” Cole Porter, on the other hand, seems to have given up. He fought the amputation until he was given no other choice and, while he wrote an immense amount of music after the accident that ultimately cost him his leg, he wrote (so far as we know) not a lick after the amputation.

“The lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face…I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly.”

 

– Noel Coward writing in his diary about his friend Cole Porter, after Porter’s leg was amputated in 1958

 

“But when we first talked on the phone, he [Wayman] made me feel better. Ninety-five percent of us would’ve gone into a deep depression, but he didn’t.”

 

– Arthur Thompson, drummer and friend of Wayman Tisdale, in a 2008 ESPN interview, after Tisdale’s diagnosis and amputation

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 9th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where you can check in with your attitude. 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. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page, with links, shortly before the Noon class. NOTE: Spotify users may have 2 Eartha Kitt songs. Enjoy.)

 

“For a man who lives by schedules to not know the next day because of being so fatigued, that puts things in perspective.”

 

– Dolphin Davis, Sr., Wayman Tisdale’s friend and personal trainer

 

 

### ??? ###

Building From the Ground Up (II) June 8, 2020

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

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Yoga is the Sanskrit word for union – and we could spend all day talking about what that means in a literal sense, let alone in a spiritual or metaphorical sense. But, let’s just focus on the spiritual for a moment. The 8-limb philosophy of yoga contains several references to a spiritual (or metaphysical) element. That is to say, there is an acknowledgement that people are more than bodies and more than minds. Furthermore, within that acknowledgement is the awareness that inherent in the mind-body connection is the “more,” whatever that means, and that the end goal of the philosophical practice is to be fully aware of not only the “more” but also of our connection to it. Simply put, the end goal can be defined as “spiritual union.”

Born today in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect, interior designer, writer, and teacher who designed over 1,000 structures. Over 500 of his designs were actually built, 50 of which were private houses and ~10 of those houses (plus a gas station) are in Minnesota. Almost 60 of his designs were built in his birth state of Wisconsin. Wright believed in organic architecture, the idea that a building should be in harmony with nature/environment and humanity. He pioneered the Prairie School architecture movement in the late 19th / early 20th century and would not only design the structure, but also the furniture contained within the structure.

Wright’s work and work-philosophy is a great reminder to build from the ground up and also to consider how everything works together. We need the reminder, because, sometimes we forget our purpose. Sometimes we get so far into an idea or the development of a thing that we forget its original function. Sometimes we get so distracted by the form that we forget the original intention. And, this way of thinking can become such a habit that we may forget there was/is another way to work.

“Get in the habit of analysis – analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.”

 

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

On a philosophical (and political) note, people all over the US – and especially here in the Twin Cities – are talking about scrapping something and starting over from scratch, versus fixing what exists. I’m not intending to weigh in here on my personal opinion regarding defunding versus reforming an existing part of our government and infrastructure. What I will say is that, both require considering the original blueprint. Also, as a whole, I think we are a society that is in the habit of building and engaging without analysis (which could be considered a type of mindfulness). To me, the question of defunding or reforming is moot if there’s no analysis or consideration of the underlying foundation – which is shaky at best. How do we, as a society, build from the ground up and build in harmony with humanity and our environment if we haven’t really considered the elements which make up our environment?

Frank Lloyd Wright conceived of a utopian America, which would be a reflection of (and reflected by) the architecture. Form and function would be one; people would live, work, play, and pray in harmony with one another and with their environment. The open format of the structures would allow for interaction between family members, even as they engaged in their own pursuits. He called this concept of America “Usonia,” which is very close to the Esperanto name for the United States. (Esperanto being the language L. L. Zamenhof created in order for the world to have a shared language, which he believed would lead to a more unified society.) While Wright’s Usonian designs still influence home and workspace designs to this day, he couldn’t seem to maintain an idyllic home life for himself and his family, let alone idyllic professional relationships.

“Space is the breath of art.”

 

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Let’s breathe together and build (each pose and every sequence) from the ground up. If it’s possible, please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 8th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

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.

[Here’s a previous post on building a practice from the ground up. Please note that we have continued this tradition on Saturdays, but are in a different phase. You are free to join us.]

 

#### MAKE ANALYSIS A HABIT ####

 

Let’s See… What We See May 16, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

If you take a moment to consider the anonymous quote above from two different angles (first as if you are “I” and then as if you are “other people”), you realize that the statement holds true for everyone. In other words, each one of us can only understand (anything) from OUR level of perception (or awareness). We might even add “from OUR conscious level of perception (or awareness).” Patanjali states, at the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, that yoga (the philosophy) quiets the mind and allows us to “rest in our own true nature” and that at all other times we identify ourselves as “the fluctuations of the mind.” Through the practice, we elevate our level of perception (and awareness) and, in doing so, elevate our level of understanding.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The ‘gunas’ fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

Remember, Patanjali explains in earlier sutras that everything we do creates an impression (samskara) and that we have constructed the world and ourselves – as well as our understanding of the world and ourselves – from a lack of knowledge (avidyā) and attachment that is rooted in (either) pleasure (rāgah) or pain (dveşah). There is a part of us that is pure consciousness, but our connection to that part of us lies behind the veils of samskara. Until the veils are lifted, we will only ever see what the mind shows us. That is to say, we will only ever see what the mind understands – and the mind is often clouded.

 “You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs)

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 16th) at 12:00 PM, when we will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand.  You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for playlists dated “March 31.” If you are so inclined, the playlist dated “05032020” also works for this practice.)

 

### OM OM AUM ###

What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###