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Compassion and Peace (with regards to Ralph Waldo Emerson) July 15, 2020

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“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödön

When I was growing up, as a Black girl in the South, I got my hair done. You might say I was getting a permanent, getting a relaxer, or getting my hair processed. Either way, getting my hair done was a lengthy (and relatively expensive) endeavor which, as it did in the 70’s, involved lye. Lye, can refer to a variety of metal hydroxides; however, in this case I’m referring to sodium hydroxide (NaOH). The same chemical used in soaps, detergents, and drain cleaner (specifically because it can breakdown hair clogs) was included in most commercial hair straightening products for African Americans with a certain texture of hair. These products could, and often did, result in chemical burns on the skin of men, women, and children. Sometimes the physical scars were permanent; sometimes you were just left with the memory of the horror of feeling like your scalp was being burned off your head. Obviously, this was an experience people wanted to avoid – so, everyone had to keep their cool in the beauty shop. This made some subjects off limits. Specifically, we didn’t talk about sex, religion, and/or politics.

Talking about sex, religion, politics, and any subject that combines one or more of the three is a guaranteed way to “get a rise out of someone.” And, what is inevitably rising is your blood pressure, your body temperature, and your passion (“suffering”). Talking about sex, religion, politics, and any combination of the three is a great way to get “hooked” – which means conversations involving those subjects are great times to practice “compassionate abiding” and the Four R’s (Recognize, Relax, Refrain, Resolve). I would even suggest that if you have a way with words, or you are engaged in conversation with someone who has a way with words, it might be helpful to start the practice before you even start the conversation.

I know, I know, to some my suggestion sounds ridiculous. Yet, people who have a way with words have a way of getting a rise out of you. Words have power. Remember, words are related to the first two powers (siddhis) unique to being humans. People who have a way with words can be very powerful.

“A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man when his heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue. Then he is instructed in what is above him. He learns that his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness. That which he venerates is still his own, though he has not realized it yet. He ought. He knows the sense of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render account of it.”

 

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson had a way with words. He was one of the leaders of the Transcendental Movement of the 19th century and consistently encouraged poets, scholars, the clergy, and everyday people to turn inward, to take a look at themselves. He was a teacher of “Young Ladies” and influenced naturalists and pioneers of the environmental movement, like John Muir, and political and social theorists, like Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. He inspired people like Walt Whitman to write poetry, to properly capture the spirit of the United States. He supported abolitionists like John Brown and inspired people like Henry David Thoreau to go into the woods to live deliberately and to discover, through Nature, who/what they were and from whence they came. He believed all things were connected to God and, therefore, divine – radical religious thinking for a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. Yet, he was invited to speak to Harvard students twice, in 1837 and 1838.

Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature” resulted in an invitation from Harvard College’s Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1837. By most accounts, “The American Scholar” went off without a hitch. It was an introduction to Transcendentalist and Romantic views on Nature, as well as the American scholar’s relationship with and responsibility to Nature. He talked about cause and effect, history, and the scholar’s role in writing history. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. called the speech “the declaration of independence of American intellectual life” and, 95 years later, Phi Beta Kappa would name its newly established literary magazine after the speech. The speech also resulted in an invitation to deliver the commencement speech for his alma mater, Harvard Divinity School.

“The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus; in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today in 1838, eleven months after receiving a lifetime of accolades for his “The American Scholar” speech, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed six of the seven members of the Harvard Divinity School graduating class, Unitarian theologians like Andrews Norton and Henry Ware, Jr., and the Divinity School Dean John G. Palfrey. Keep in mind that, at the time, Harvard Divinity School was closely associated with the Unitarian church (having originally been established as a Unitarian school) and that Emerson was a former Unitarian minister. The fact that Emerson had left his position at a Unitarian church was no secret – in fact, some would say that “The American Scholar” speech was a reflection on his own spiritual crisis. Perhaps, the scholarly aspect of his relationship with Nature was so inspiring that no one paid much attention to the religious part. With the commencement speech, however, Emerson left no doubts about his beliefs.

He outlined how Transcendentalism and Unitarian theology didn’t fit together and proclaimed that moral intuition was a better guide than religious doctrine. Furthermore, he discounted the need to believe in the historical miracles of Jesus (who he defined as a great man, but not God); denied the need for a “personal God;” and basically declared that the clergy (including those in attendance) had killed God and killed the Church with ministry devoid of life.

 “Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. On the contrary, the absence of this primary faith is the presence of degradation. As is the flood so is the ebb. Let this faith depart, and the very words it spake, and the things it made, become false and hurtful. Then falls the church, the state, art, letters, life. The doctrine of the divine nature being forgotten, a sickness infects and dwarfs the constitution.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson expected his speech to inspire debate, maybe even a third invitation back to Harvard. Instead, today’s 1838 commencement speech pushed people’s buttons and got them so “hot” (or hooked) his critics started attacking him personally. He was called an atheist and someone who poisoned young men’s minds. It was implied, in print, that his speech was barely intelligible and “utterly distasteful.” Norton called Transcendentalism “the latest form of infidelity,” and Ware (who had been Emerson’s mentor during his time at Harvard) delivered a sermon a few months later that was seen as a point-by-point rebuttal to Emerson’s speech. Instead of an invitation to come back, the 35-year old Emerson was banned from Harvard for 27 years (and 6 days). When he returned to deliver the 1865 commencement speech, his words were a reflection of a country that had been at war with itself, as well as a reflection of a man whose spiritual community had been at war with him.

“MR. CHAIRMAN, AND GENTLEMEN : With whatever opinion we come here, I think it is not in man to see, without a feeling of pride and pleasure, a tried soldier, the armed defender of the right. I think that in these last years all opinions have been affected by the magnificent and stupendous spectacle which Divine Providence has offered us of the energies that slept in the children of this country, – that slept and have awakened. I see thankfully those that are here, but dim eyes in vain explore for some who are not.”

 

– quoted from the 1865 Harvard Divinity School commencement speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 15th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where I just might push your buttons. 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.

 

“I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty, which ravished the souls of those eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also. The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures contain immortal sentences, that have been bread of life to millions. But they have no epical integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order to the intellect. I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.”

 

– quoted from the 1838 “Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

### TRUTH BEAUTY RIGHTEOUSNESS ###

Compassion and Peace for Pema July 14, 2020

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“I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others.

Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however… it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

There’s a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the last few years: persistence, staying with it, stick-to-itiveness, leaning in, being present. I would argue that the ability to be present is part of being human, but so is the ability – even the desire – to get away from something (or someone) that is toxic or challenging. You could say that these two sides of the coin are two sides of human nature and, so, it’s natural that abiding (i.e., enduring) is part of the practice. The problem we run into when we move aspects of human nature from the practice – be it Buddhism or Yoga – and into business or personal relationships, without the benefit of the practice and/or an understanding of human nature, is that we take it out of context.

Born today in 1936, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is the author of almost two dozen books and countless articles. She is one of the teachers credited with spreading the teachings of the Buddha into the Western world. She was married and divorced, twice, in her early twenties and thirties and calls her second ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. She is a mother and a grandmother, as well as the principal teacher and director at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in North America for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She might appear to be the poster child for “leaning in” – and yet, she recently resigned (in protest) from her leadership role at Shambhala International after a series of accusations related to the misconduct of other teachers and leaders led her to conclude that the governing organization was going in an “unwise direction.”

Just to be clear, calling something “the unwise direction” is very definitely calling it antithetical to the tenets of Buddhism.

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings often center around the concept of shenpa, a Tibetan word she defines as “attachment” and the practice of the 4 R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve), which is the practice of getting unhooked. From the outside looking in, this could look like the opposite of stick-to-itiveness.  Yet, the core of the teachings is what she refers to as “compassionate abiding.” It is being present with what is, leaning in (if you like that phrase), but without engaging the additional layer of suffering that can come from dealing with a toxic or “unwise” situation. It is, absolutely, recognizing the reality of the situation and also offering oneself the opportunity to let go of what no longer serves them. It is breathing in to what is, recognizing and acknowledging it, and then breathing out, relaxing and “giv[ing] the feeling space.”

That’s it, that’s the practice. I realize that sometimes I may explain this in a way that seems opposite of what Chödrön teaches; so let me clarify. Both the inhale and the exhale are opportunities to recognize/acknowledge what is and relax into it. Both the inhale and the exhale create space around what is. When I say, “let go of what no longer serves you” (on the exhale), it is not a suggestion to run away. Instead, it is an opportunity to release the tightness that comes from the shenpa: It’s an opportunity to get unhooked. As attachment is the root of suffering in Buddhism (and in the philosophy of Yoga), the ultimate act of self-compassion is any act of non-attachment or detachment. This, the compassionate part, is what is missing when we take the practice and/or human nature out of the “leaning in” equation. After all, we can leave a toxic situation and still be attached to the toxicity.

“This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

 

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct.”

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

“Compassionate abiding” is sustained by metta/maitri (“loving-kindness”) and it is an inherent part of the practice of the Four R’s. Ani Pema Chödrön says that it can be a stand-alone practice and also a way to prepare for tonglen meditation, a form of compassion often defined as “taking in and sending out” or “giving and receiving.” Either way, it is breathing with intention and that intention is related to the end of suffering. It is, again, recognizing/acknowledging the ways in which we are suffering and, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others are suffering in this same way. It is recognizing/acknowledging our own desire to be free of suffering while, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others also want to be free of this same suffering. It is simultaneously working towards our own liberation as a means of liberating others – and it opens us up to the reality of people whose suffering is different and/or greater than our own. The desire, the work, the effort are not separate. In fact, the minute we start separating our own needs, desires, and suffering from the needs, desires, and suffering of others is the minute we create more avidyā (“ignorance”) and therefore more suffering.

“By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 Please join me today (Tuesday, July 14th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom to experience a little heart melting. 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.

 

“Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 

Check out the full article at Tricycle and

 

Fill your cup with Ani Pema and Oprah

 

 

 

### “May [all of us] be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” ###

 

Fill Your Cup! (It’s Compassion and Peace Week) July 13, 2020

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It’s Compassion and Peace Week! At least, that’s what I’m calling this week.

It’s an opportunity to practice peace and compassion on several different levels. I’ll explain later this week the reason why I often place a special focus on this time, but (for now) let’s just dive into the practice.

 

“We have the capacity to discover the tools and means to overcome our sorrow.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.24 (referencing one of the six “powers unique to human”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Just so we are all on the same page, remember that in the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali identifies afflicted (kleśāh) thought patterns as the cause of suffering; breaks down those afflicted thought patterns into five specific types of thought (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death); and further breaks down ignorance (avidyā), as it is the bedrock of the other four afflicted thought patterns. He then proceeds to outline ways to end ignorance, and therefore suffering.

If you’ve studied or practiced any Buddhism, this all sounds very familiar for a reason. I have heard that the Buddha was aware of the philosophy of yoga, maybe even practiced it for a bit, but found that it was not practical. Keep in mind that during Prince Siddhartha’s time practicing yoga stereotypically involved renouncing the world and renouncing the daily activities of the general populace. There were no classes you slipped in during your lunch hour or streamed before work. There was no separation between the physical and philosophical practices.

And this, some commentators say, is exactly why modern practitioners run into a problem. The problem being, perhaps, that we are already not on the same page. Take a moment to consider what you believe to be the state of absolute liberation and freedom from suffering.

After you’ve paused, and really considered yourself in a state devoid of freedom consider the following: Are you still in the world? Or, is your idea of enlightenment/heaven some place outside of this physical existence? Does your viewpoint make the achievement accessible or nearly impossible to achieve?

“The wisest course (so we are told) is to attain moksha, salvation, which in effect means extricating ourselves from the world as quickly as possible.

Patanjali’s understanding and experiences are antithetical to this view. According to his predecessor, Kapila, the impetus behind our birth and manifestation of the universe is anugraha, divine grace. Divine grace is suffused with unconditional love and compassion. Purusha, the intrinsic intelligence of [primordial matter/power], knows everything about each individual soul…. As purusha is spontaneously moved by its own realization, [primordial matter/power] begins to pulsate….

Compassion is the sole cause of the initial pulsation – the power of compassion is itself the pulsation (anugraha shakti). Thus, spiritually speaking, the power of compassion is our origin…. And we thrive due to the power of compassion inherent in us. The power of compassion is the power of the divine.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.5 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Remember, just last week, I quoted the 14th Dalai Lama, who said “that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Makes sense, right, that once again the Eastern philosophies mesh. But, before we get into that part of the practice, let’s take a side trip from Eastern philosophy into Western religion. (Consider this the scenic route.)

Because of where and how I was raised (Hello, Bible Belt!), so much of the language above reminds me of the language in The Gospel According to John. Specifically, in John 17, theoretically written by the youngest of the apostles, Jesus lays out a prayer and some very specific (although, I guess, easily forgotten or misunderstood) instructions. John the Apostle recounts Jesus foretelling his own death and asking that his disciples be protected by the same power he (Jesus) used to protect them in life. He then goes on to state, repeatedly (for emphasis), that he and they are not “of the world,” but that he and they have been sent “into the world” with a purpose. That purpose, again, is salvation and the end of suffering – through love (and many traditions agree). Note, however, that in the very middle of this passage, Jesus explicitly states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world….” (John 17:15, NIV) So, here, again, the instruction is to find, seek, teach, and discover the end of suffering in the material world. Patanjali even explicitly states that that is the purpose of the material world. (YS 2.18)

“Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

 

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Compassion comes to us from the Latin phrase, by way of Old French and Middle English, for “to suffer with.” Take a moment to consider with whom you ALWAYS suffer. Take a moment to consider with whom you are closest. Take a moment to consider who you know the best.

The answer should be obvious, but for many it’s not: it’s us. Likewise, we ourselves are in the position to be the most respected by us, the most loved, the “most dear,” and the one we understand to have “the right to be happy and overcome suffering” – and yet, somehow we lose sight of this. Somehow we think that someone else is more worthy of happiness or the end of suffering. It used to seem odd to me that while the traditional way to practice “Metta” (loving-kindness) meditation is to start with oneself and work outwards to those who are most challenging for us to be loving and kind, “Karuna” (compassion) meditation traditionally starts with the one who is enduring the most. It seemed especially odd when you consider that the person suffering the most is sometimes the most challenging person in our lives. But, ultimately it’s not odd; it’s just a reflection of human nature.

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, NIV)

 

“I want you to know that I love you very much, and I’m very proud of you. I want you to know that if you can love me, you can love your… self. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to do a little mantra with you. I want you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything.’ I really want you to say that, because I believe that we can save the world if we save ourselves first.”

 

– Lizzo at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England

 

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 – from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Today is a good day to train your mind to offer yourself compassion. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 13th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice that begins with yourself.

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.

 

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles. If you are hungry, you have to find something to eat. But everyday problems are very mixed – they’re not clear. The Cube’s problem depends just on you. You can solve it independently. But to find happiness in life, you’re not independent. That’s the only big difference.”

 

– Ernő Rubik (b. 07/13/1944)

 

### MORE HEARTS ###

 

Introducing…. July 11, 2020

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“Place yourself in the background; do not explain too much; prefer the standard to the offbeat.”

 

– from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (b. 07/11/1899)  

Think about your body for a moment: how it works, how it functions.

Of course, you can’t think about your body – how it works, how it functions – without thinking about your mind. So, think about your mind for a moment: how it works, how it functions.

Now, think about the breath… connecting the mind and the body. Notice how that all works.

Notice yourself, noticing yourself: your mind, your body, your spirit at work. Or at play – the way you think about it is up to you. I just want you to think about it for a moment.

I want you to think about how everything works together – even when it doesn’t.

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.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

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

 

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

 

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom].”

 

There’s an experience we’ve all had, at various times throughout our lives. We can call it “being in the zone” or “zoning out.” We can call it “going with the flow” or “being in the flow.” We can call it any number of things, but it is that moment when everything (including ourselves and our sense of ourselves) collapses and converges into a single moment and a single activity. We can call that experience of those moments anything – as it has been called a lot of different things – but, just for this moment, let’s call it “a yoga moment.” What I mean by calling it “a yoga moment” is that in that moment, everything (including ourselves and our sense of self) is united – there is no separation.

Think about that for a moment: union = no separation. No separation… but also no confusion or delusion.

Now, consider your mind-body-spirit again. At the beginning, we separated it out – only to realize that we are talking about one unit. When every aspect of the unit is in good working order, it is easy to have “a yoga moment” – we just need a focal point (a seed, if you will). However, when something isn’t working properly, it’s a little harder to get in the zone. We can do it; it just takes more effort.

The more parts that don’t work together, the harder we have to work to get into the pocket. Or, you can think of it as the harder we have to work to get out of our own way. After all, the mind-body-spirit is connected – that’s the way we were all created – but we think of the parts of ourselves as being separate parts. In thinking of ourselves as separate parts, we sometimes miss how the parts interact and affect our ability to be productive, satisfied, happy, or even healthy. In thinking of ourselves as separate parts, we make the process of being whole harder.

Of course, I’m not just talking about our selves here; I’m also talking about the practice of yoga.

There are eight parts or limbs to the philosophy of yoga. Each part leads to the next part and also is intended to work with the other parts. I often use the image of a climbing tree: There are the limbs you use first, to get into the tree, and the limbs you use to climb up high; and, anywhere along the way, you can pause – standing on one limb, while holding on to another for extra stability. That’s the practice. If there were no low limbs, it would be impossible for a regular person to start climbing. If there were no sturdy limbs towards the top, you would be stuck with the same view you see when you are on the ground. If the limbs were not appropriately spaced and connected you would be hampered going up or coming down. Which (tree) limbs you use the most also depends on how your body-mind-spirit is working. After all, you don’t have to physically climb the tree to reach the top of the tree.

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

 

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (b. 07/11/1967)

Of course, I’m not just talking about our selves or the practice of yoga here; I’m also talking about ourselves as a community, but we’ll get to that later. What’s important is to remember that what affects the body affects the mind; what affects the mind affects the body; and both affect the breath – and you have some control over the breath, which affects the mind and the body. It’s all connected. That’s what I want you to remember (if you remember nothing else).

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

 

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

You can look at this week’s yoga sutra as an opportunity to review some of what’s come before or as a teaser of what’s about to come. Either way, it is an introduction to the practice. Really, truly, everything up until now has been an introduction to the practice. Just consider the first chapter and a half as the back story.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 11th) 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.

[Full disclosure, this will not be an E. B. White / Jhumpa Lahiri themed class.]

 

### OM OM AUM ###

 

The best thing since… July 7, 2020

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“He showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’”

 

– from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

When people like something (or someone) – I mean, really, really like something (or someone) – they sometimes say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” – which is funny when you consider that there’s only one day honoring “sliced bread.” On the flip side, there are at least ten days devoted to chocolate:

  • Bittersweet Chocolate Day (January 10th)
  • Chocolate Day in Ghana (the second largest producer of cocoa) (February 14th)
  • World Chocolate or International Chocolate Day (July 7th and/or 9th)
  • World Chocolate Day in Latvia (July 11th)
  • Milk Chocolate Day (July 28th)
  • S. National Confectioners Association’s International Chocolate Day (September 13th)
  • White Chocolate Day (September 22nd)
  • National Chocolate Day in the United States (October 28th)
  • Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16th)

Chocolate contains phenols, which may act as antioxidants in the body and reduce “bad” cholesterol. Other documented health benefits to eating chocolate include the fact that chocolate can cause the brain to release all four of its so-called “love chemicals” (oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins). That, however, doesn’t explain why there are so many different kinds of chocolate. I mean, when you really get down to it, there are probably as many kinds of chocolate – and ways of enjoying chocolate (or, in my opinion, ruining chocolate) – as there are people on the planet. We can break it down as chocolatiers do into real chocolate (made from chocolate liquor and cocoa butter) and compound coatings/chocolate (cocoa powder and vegetable oil); however, even then there are different kinds of chocolate.

Some people say mass produced chocolate in the USA tastes like plastic compared to chocolate from Europe. (It kinda does, see previous paragraph to understand why.) Some people only like chocolate in candy, while others only appreciate it in cake or brownie form. Dogs can only eat white chocolate, because, well… it’s not actually chocolate. And some people will eat anything – and I do mean anything – covered in chocolate. Chocolate has a long history of being used as a gift / token of affection and friendship. It also has a long wartime history as it was consumed during the U. S. Revolutionary War and has been a standard part of the United States military ration since the original ration D or D ration bar of 1937. The D ration bar was intended to “taste a little better than a boiled potato.” Arguably, it did not (but the K ration bars arguably did.) Allied soldiers reportedly gave bits of chocolate to people they freed from concentration camps and it is still something soldiers use to establish connections in the field. According to The Chocolate Store, (US) Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate per year (over 11 pounds per person), which is significantly more than our European counterparts – who, I’ll add again, arguably have access to better mass produced chocolate.

Maybe one of these (chocolate) days, I’ll do a deep dive into why there are so many different days celebrating chocolate. (I mean, other than the obvious commercial reasons and well… because it’s chocolate.) Today, however, I just want to point out that people are as particular about chocolate as they are about beer, wine, and burgers – which makes yoga a lot like chocolate.

None of that, however, points to why we compare really amazing things to sliced bread instead of to chocolate.

“He was a very patient, inventive man.He had an office in the basement of this big house they lived in, in Davenport, Iowa, that he called his dog house. He went there every time he got in trouble with my grandmother. When he was there, he was inventing or thinking about inventing things.”

 

– Susan Steinhauer Hettinger  talking about her grandfather Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, born today in 1880 in Davenport, Iowa, invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial use. Rohwedder was an inventor and engineer who studied optometry and spent a short period of time as a jeweler. His work with jewelry and watches inspired him to create machines that would make life easier for people. After a delay, due to a fire that destroyed his original blueprints and prototype, Rohwedder was able to apply for a patent and sell his first bread-slicing machine, which also wrapped the bread to ensure freshness. He sold his first machine to his friend Frank Bench, owner of Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri and his second machine to Gustav Papendick in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1928. Papendick reportedly improved upon the way the machine wrapped the bread and applied for his own patents. While there is some argument about who sold the very first loaf sliced bread using Rohwedder’s machine, documented evidence points to Bench selling the first loaf today in 1928. It was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”

Texas Toast not-withstanding, commercially sliced bread was thinner and more easily accessible than a regular loaf of bread – so people ate more bread. Like chocolate, sliced bread was rationed in the United States during World War II. In fact, sliced bread was briefly banned in 1943. Whether the ban was lifted because of the huge outcry from regular every day housewives and people like New York City Mayor Fiorello Henry La Guardia or because there just wasn’t that much saved in the ban is a matter of opinion.

Bottom line, sliced-bread changed people’s lives and the way they moved through their days… kind of like yoga.

In addition to being World Chocolate Day and (what I’ll call) “the best day since sliced bread,” today is Ivanа-Kupala in the Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It is a Slavic summer holiday that combines the pagan celebration and fertility rituals of Kupala with Orthodox Christian observations of the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist. The observing countries use the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar) so their celebration actually occurs (for them) on June 23rd – 24th (as opposed to July 6th and 7th, in non-Slavic countries). One of the elemental aspects of the celebrations focuses on the combination of fire and water.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 7th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may be the best thing since sliced bread. 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. (This is the playlist dated 06/24/2020. If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

It’s Blackout Tuesday so consider buying chocolate from here today!

 

### C7H8N4O2 ###

 

Lessons of the Teachers July 6, 2020

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“What is the purpose of life?”

 

– A question people ask (or want to ask) their Gurus and gurus

Yesterday was all about teachers and all the ways they teach us to remove the darkness. And, speaking of teachers, one of the “Big G” Gurus I mentioned turns 85 today! Born today in Tibet in 1935, Lhamo Dhondup was given the religious name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (which is shortened to Tenzin Gyatso) and he is known to the world as the 14th Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, although he is currently exiled in India. Lama is the Tibetan word for Guru. Dalai is a Mongolic word for “ocean” or “big.” “Dalai Lama” is the highest spiritual title assigned to individuals believed to be the incarnation of the last Avalokiteśvara (or Padmapani), the bodhisattva of compassion.

Avalokiteśvara is considered a “Big G” Guru in a variety of culture and is sometimes identified as male, sometimes as female. He is called Avloketesvar in Cambodia; Nātha in Sri Lanka; and Seto Machindranath, Janabaha Dyo, and Karunamaya in Nepal Mandal. He is called Lokanat or Lokabyuharnat in Myanmar and Lokesvara in Indochina and Thailand.

She is called Guanyin (a shortened version of Guanshiyin, which means “Contemplating the World’s Sounds”) or Guan Yin (various spellings include Kuan Yin) in Chinese Buddhism. She is Kannon or Kanzeon in Japan, where at least 29 notable temples are dedicated to her; Gwan-eum in Korea; and Quan Am in Vietnam. I could go on. The point is this is someone who is honored by many people, in a variety of cultures, because it is believed that they prolonged their ultimate enlightenment in order to ease the suffering of the world.

In Tibet, Avalokiteśvara is called Chenrezig or, sometimes, Şaḍākşarī (“Lord of the Six Syllables,” as he is associated with the lotus-focused mantra “OṂ MAŅI PADME HǕṂ”). Sacred text in Tibetan Buddhism explains the special relationship the original bodhisattva had with the people of Tibet; the story behind his prolonged enlightenment; and clues to finding each successor. Additionally, researchers will examine the writing, words, and the memories of close friends and relatives to find the next successor – as well as the Dalai Lama’s advisors. Gendun Drup was designated the “First Dalai Lama” 104 years after his death; in part because of the verification of his successor who announced himself at age 2 (not that anyone believed him at the time). The 2nd Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso, died in 1542 and the lineage has continued from then onward – as has the teachings.

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

The current Dalai Lama was selected at 2 years old and publicly presented at 4 years old. He assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5 and his full political duties at age 15. He fled his homeland at the age of 18, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and became a refugee. He received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize (at 54 years old) and the 2006 United States Congressional Gold Medal (at 71 years old). Like any other religious and political figure, the Dalai Lama has weighed in on a variety of world issues, including the rights of women, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA+ community; the practices of the United States CIA; the importance of caregivers; and the current global pandemic. Sometimes his words are comforting to people, other times they are confusing – and, like anyone else, he has made mistakes and had to decide how to respond to the suffering.

“From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion….

Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

Yesterday, in anticipation of his birthday, the Dalai Lama was asked to give “A Short Teaching on Mind Training” to a group in Taiwan. (He was in India.) He focused his dharma talk on the end of Geshé Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses for Training the Mind. In Tibetan Buddhism, lojong are “mind training” techniques to prepare a practitioner for a variety of loving-kindness and compassion practices. They are aphorisms designed to cultivate bodhicitta (the awakened of enlightened mind/intellect). The most common lojong practices in the West are approximately 59 statements found in a 12th century text by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. Geshé Chekawa based his instruction on the teachings of Geshé Langri Tangpa (which is whole story unto itself). While the Dalai Lama spent part of yesterday focusing on the end of the text, he has previously taught and written about the entire text – and in particular, the eight verses.

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice focused on “the 8 verses” with commentary from the Dalai Lama.

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.

Mo’ Mettā

 

### METTĀ • KARUNĀ • MUDITĀ • UPEKŞĀ ###

Wait…what exactly are we celebrating? (blink and you’ll miss it) July 4, 2020

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“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

“…such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn….”

– from the “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech by Frederick Douglass (July 5, 1852)

On Wednesday, July 3, 1776, the future President of the United States, John Adams, wrote two letters to his wife Abigail. In one of the letters he theorized about the pros (like Canada being included in the declaration) and cons (like still having to deal with “The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest well meaning tho weak and mistaken People…” ) of making the declaration earlier. He then wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Meanwhile, Caesar Rodney rested and, on Thursday, July 4, 1776, he wrote a letter to his younger brother Thomas indicating, “I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.” He, like a good majority of the signers, would sign the finalized “Declaration of Independence” on August 4th – although others would sign all the way up until November.

“‘I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.’ I had written to these friends. ‘I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.’”

– from The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley  (in reference to a 1964 letter to friends)

On Monday, July 4, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson announced to the American people that the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had signed the Louisiana Purchase, thereby selling the territory of Louisiana. Per this agreement, the United States of America nearly doubled in size and France received 15 million dollars (approximately $18 per square mile) in exchange for 828,000 square miles – even though France did not control the majority of the land. The majority of the land was inhabited by Indigenous Americans. The land included in the agreement now makes up portions of 2 Canadian provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and 15 states, including the entire states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the majority of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming; as well as parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, and (of course) Louisiana.

On Tuesday, July 4, 1826, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died. Adams’s last words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” However, Jefferson did not; he had died mere hours earlier. While the may not have been his very last words, Jefferson had asked (the night before he died), “Is it the Fourth?”

On Monday, July 4, 1831, President James Monroe died. (His last words reportedly were a lament that he would never see his friend President James Madison again. Madison would die 5 years later; however he was a few days short of July 4th.)

On Saturday, July 4, 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to retreat from Gettysburg, which the North took as a sign that the Confederacy had lost the war. Lee’s retreat came after Union soldiers defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, July 1 – 3), the Tullahoma Campaign (Tennessee, June 24 – July 3), the battle in Helena, Arkansas (July 4), the Fall of Vicksburg (Mississippi, July 4). The United States Army credits the Union success to skillful military strategy and the introduction of Christopher Spencer’s newly invented, seven-shot “Repeating Rifle,” which gave the Union soldiers the ability to shoot up to 14 rounds per minute (as a opposed to three rpm with the traditional muzzle-loading muskets).

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom]”

Yoga Sūtra 2.27 picks up on the idea that discerning knowledge or insight, which nullifies sorrow (or suffering) created by ignorance by breaking down the different levels, stages, or degrees of awareness/insight that lead to complete freedom. The seventh stage, the ultimate freedom or liberation from suffering, is a great accomplishment (siddhi) in itself comes with an extra boon: knowing the exact response to all situations. To understand the seven (7) stages, we go back to the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras (1.17 – 1.18 and 1:42 – 1.51) where Patanjali breaks down two types of concentration/meditation – referred to as “lower Samādhi” (which requires a “seed” or object of focus) and “higher Samādhi” (which is “seedless”) – and notice how continuous, dedicated, and devoted practice without interruption changes the way we think and the way we perceive the material world.

The (4) “seed” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Thins:

  1. The practitioner begins to see cause and effect (of suffering) and cultivates “not afflicted” (or functional) thoughts in order to move away from suffering.
  2. The practice of cultivating “not afflicted” or functional thoughts attenuates or scorches the cause and conditions of suffering.
  3. The habit of the practice gains momentum and that realization fills the practitioner with unshakeable faith; one now practices for the sake of the practice.
  4. There is less inquiry (into cause and effect), because there is less anxiety. One is rooted in the thought-practice and is “…at peace. At this stage, trustful surrender becomes our nature.”

The (3) “seedless” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Begins to (and ultimately does) Disappear:

  1. The mind/intellect (which may now be referred to as buddhi) is illuminated, and fully aware of the true nature of all things – including itself.
  2. The buddhi becomes buddhi sattva, wise and stable there is no fluctuation of the mind, instead there is yoga (“union”).
  3. Samādhi as “Union with Divine” whereby pure consciousness (Purusha) enables the practitioner to see all as one.

“Commenting on this sutra, Vyasa makes a point of dismantling widespread confusion about yogis and their achievements. Long before Patanjali, and up to this day, poorly informed spiritual enthusiasts have been fantasizing about high-caliber yogis sitting in caves with their eyes closed, completely unconcerned with the outside world. Contrary to this stereotype, Vyasa calls the accomplished yogi kushala, one who is skillful. A yogi is skillful, for she knows the true nature of the world; the true nature of her body, mind, and senses; and the true nature of her core being. A yogi is free from all illusions, including the illusion of expecting more than what this world can offer. At the same time, a yogi is able to identify the wonderful gifts contained in the body, mind, and senses, as well as in the phenomenal world. Therefore, a yogi is able to discern, decide, and act in the light of her prajna. Because she is operating at the level of pure and penetrating wisdom of inner reality, she is confident about the appropriateness of her actions and their consequences.

While living in the world, a yogi is active as – if not more active than – anyone else. The only difference is that the actions of an accomplished yogi are free from doubt and fear, whereas our actions are contaminated by them. An accomplished yogi is comfortable while performing actions and equally comfortable when refraining from action. A yogi’s accomplishment is characterized by freedom, not by action or the absence of it.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.27 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me, on the path to freedom, for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 4th) 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. (The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos below do not appear on Spotify.)

Who are you not seeing?

 

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (descendants in 2020)

 

What to My People is the Fourth of July

 

 

### Rest in Power, Rest in Peace: Elijah Al-Amin ###

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 ###