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For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) at 2:30 PM. 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 or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Fitness, Health, Life, Loss, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted on October 26, 2020. Class details and links (including the video link) have been updated for today.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 26th) at 12:00 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. 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

The practice begins ~5 minutes in….

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

Lesson 1.34 October 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Philosophy, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me today (Monday, October 25th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

The author Anne Tyler turned 80 today! Here’s last year’s post inspired by our lives and her writing.

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### Breathe In (Know That You Are Breathing In); Breathe Out (Know That You Are Breathing Out) ###

The Purpose of Naming (the Saturday post) January 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Mantra, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[Happy 2021 to Everyone!]

[This is the post for Saturday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]

 

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet….

 

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

 

– Juliet (on the balcony) in Act II, scene I of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Here we are, a New Year and a new beginning – but we still have a big mess leftover from before. The world has been here before. In fact, Johannes Mercurius found himself here in 533 AD. He was a native of Rome, who became a priest at the Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) on Caelian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The basilica has an interesting history – not the least of which is that contains memorials and references to “Johannes surnamed Mercurius” and “Presbyter Mercurius.” I might dive into that rabbit hole one day, but I mention all this today, because Johannes made quite a name for himself in the church.

Quite literally, he made a name for himself: Today in 533, he was elected pope and decided to change his name to Pope John II. Nowadays, someone changing their name when they are elevated to the Papacy is the ruler rather than the exception. However, Pope John II was the first pontiff to take a new name to mark the beginning of his Papacy and he did it for two reasons. First, he was named after the Roman (and therefore “pagan”) god Mercury; which made his birth name highly inappropriate. Second, he wanted to send a message to the Church and the world about his intention and expectations as Pope.

Pope John II started his Papacy during a time when everything and anything within the Church was for sale. “Simony,” named for a Simon who is associated with sorcery in The Acts of the Apostles, is the practice of purchasing or selling religious appointments, offices, and positions. According to The Catholic Catholic Encyclopedia: Infamy-Lapparent (as published in 1910), the Church’s highest office was unfilled for two months and, during that time, people were very openly, and “shameless[ly] trafficking in sacred things…. Even sacred vessels were exposed for sale.” Given that the position was ultimately filled by a man bearing a Roman god’s name, who had given the Church quite a few “gifts,” one can’t help but wonder how Pope John II came into his position. Either way, simony was outlawed by the Church and the teenage king, Athalaric, right around the time the new pontiff was elevated.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (8:18 – 8:22, KJV)

The 533 decree outlawing simony is interesting in that this rule banning bribery required that whenever there was a disputed election, the Church had to pay the poor three thousand pieces of silver. King Althalaric gave Pope John II the responsibility of overseeing the collection and distribution of such penalties. At the same time, the new pontiff had to deal with an adulterous bishop and also decide whether or not to reinstate bishops in Africa who had started teaching and practicing a form of Christianity that rejected the theology of the Holy Trinity. Clearly, he had a lot on his plate and he wanted – nay, needed – a name that sent a very definitive statement about his intentions moving forward. He needed a name that held some esteem, especially as it related to the bishops in Africa. Ultimately, he choose to name himself after Pope John I, who had been beatified and venerated as a martyr after establishing a precedent in relation to Christians who denied the divinity of Jesus in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire.

Pope John II did not have a chance to make a ruling on the issue of bishops in Africa, as the controversy was brought to him shortly before his death on May 8, 535. But the practice of changing one’s name had been established. It didn’t take right away. In fact, it would be 450 years after Pope John II changed his name before another pontiff (this time, birth name Pietro Canepanova – a very good Catholic name, as he was named after the first Pope) would change his name: also to John. This Pope John (XIV) would immediately be followed by a “John” who actually kept his birth name, Pope John XV (born Giovanni di Gallina Aba), who would be followed by a series of pontiffs who would change their names. Thus far, Pope John is the most popular papal name, with 23 (excluding the ones known as John Paul).

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called , by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”

 

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

There is something to be said for naming things, and people – even, maybe especially, ourselves. January 2nd is a day when I usually ask people to consider what name they would use to indicate how they would like to move through the new year. The name would be something positive and active – something from the heart – that can serve as a message to others and a reminder to one’s self: something to bring the awareness back to your purpose, mission, or guiding principle. Something to keep you focused.

Yoga, Buddhism, and even modern Psychology all have practices centered around the naming of things. The naming, or sometimes labeling, of an object (even a non-tangible object) is a way of bringing awareness to awareness and also to one’s understanding (or lack of understanding) about the nature of things. This practice can be a vital aspect of practicing non-attachment. It can also help someone stay focused, in particular by continuously turning the awareness back to a single point and/or away from that which may be distracting.

You can try this by doing “that 90-second thing” with the intention of focusing on your breath and anytime your mind drifts away bring it back by thinking, “Inhale. Exhale,” along with the breath. Alternately, you can think there word, “Thinking,” or some combination thereof. There more you do this the less you may need to do this in order to stay focused, but never forget that there is merit/benefit to doing this type of practice every time you sit (if that’s what the mind-body needs).

“‘Every act of perception,’ [Dr. Gerald] Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

 

“Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness…. There is an analogous phenomenon in those who lose their sight; some people who become blind may have, paradoxically, heightened visually imagery.”

 

– quoted from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of the 8-limbed Yoga Philosophy, is often defined as sense withdrawal. People may think of it as suppressing the senses or ignoring sensation, but in fact the practice is more about acknowledging all that is and choosing on what to focus the mind. Additionally, the yoga tradition understands the experience of sensation as being an engagement of the sense organs and also the mind. So there is internal and external action, which makes the practice two-fold and as much, if not more, about turning inward as about turning away from something outward.

In the commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, explains that, “Following the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, it is translated from back to front: hāra means “to pull, to withdraw, to bring, to carry”; ā means “from every direction in every respect”; and prati means “toward.” Thus pratyāhāra means “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point.” The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali not only defines and lays out a path towards the practice; it also offers instruction on some beneficial focal points.

One point that consistently stands out as beneficial is the practice of drawing all awareness to the breath and the experience of breathing. (YS 1.34) Remember, however, that before one can really focus all awareness on the breath and the experience of breathing one’s mind-body has to stable and comfortable, steady and at ease, balanced between effort and relaxation. (YS 2.47) Even then, one has to be aware of all the parts of the breath and the different experiences of breathing in order to transcend the experiences of the various parts. (YS 2.49 – 2.51) Even then, one has to be willing to put in the time and effort… especially the time, because there is a bit of math related to the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah

 

– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.

 

“A minimum of 48 seconds is required for the bonding between prana and mind to fully mature. Thus pranayama is not defined by how long we hold the breath but rather by how long we hold our mind on the subtle movement of prana in the pranic field.

 

When mental concentration is 12 times longer than the period of concentration defining pranayama, it is pratyahara…. Dharana, concentration, is 12 times longer than pratyahara. Our capacity to concentrate increases with practice, allowing dharana to mature into dhyana and Samadhi.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.54 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”

 

– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

 

 

### CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND ###

How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart (the Saturday post) December 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephens Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

[This is the post for Saturday, December 26th (and a prelude for Sunday the 27th). You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)]

 

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! This Friday (January 1, 2021) is the First Friday Night Special in 2021! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2 ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2020

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Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, October 26th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual 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 deductible.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

First Step: Breathe In, Second Step: Breathe Out October 25, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“People always call it luck when you’ve acted more sensibly than they have.”

– Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler, born today in 1941, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, grew up in a way that was very different from the way most people reading this grew up. Her family was Quaker and she spent much of her childhood in intentional communities, where people raised their own food, created folk art, and sang traditional music. It wasn’t just the level of community that made life different, it was that every interaction – with herself, the environment, and the world – was different than it was when her family left commune-life. For instance, Anne Tyler was 11 years old before she used a telephone, went to public school, or regularly wore shoes.

Even though I also moved around a lot as a child, my life experiences were very, very different. Some differences could be easily attributed to race and education (one of the motivating factors behind our moves was that my father was earning his PhD), but then you have to explain some of the similarities – like our love of reading and writing, and our habit of observing people in order to tell their stories. If you take a moment to think about it, you too could categorize all many of ways in which you are also different from us…. But, then, what about the similarities.

“Missouri made an exasperated face. ‘You don’t know,’ she told her. ‘You don’t know how it would work out. Bravest thing about people, Miss Joan, is how they go on loving mortal beings after finding out there’s such a thing as dying. Do I have to tell you that?’”

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– quoted from The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler

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“‘Everything,’ his father said, ‘comes down to time in the end – to the passing of time, to changing. Ever thought of that? Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn’t it all based on minutes going by? Isn’t sadness wishing time back again? Even big things – even mourning a death: aren’t you really just wishing to have the time back when that person was alive? Or photos – ever notice old photographs? How wistful they make you feel? … Isn’t it just that time for once is stopped that makes you wistful? If only you could turn it back again, you think. If only you could change this or that, undo what you have done, if only you could roll the minutes the other way, for once.’”

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– quoted from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

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“You wouldn’t question your sanity, because you couldn’t bear to think it wasn’t real. And you certainly wouldn’t demand explanations, or alert anybody nearby, or reach out to touch this person, not even if you’d been feeling that one touch was worth giving up everything for. You would hold your breath. You would keep as still as possible. You would will your loved one not to go away again.”

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– quoted from The Beginner’s Goodbye

As different as our circumstances, our appearances, and personalities – and therefore our lives may be – there are certain things we all have in common. We all live and die, love and are loved, experience great wins and great loss. We are also, to paraphrase First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, all in this together – even when we feel alone, isolated, and going through things we can’t imagine anyone else understanding. Yet, here we sit and stand and lie – here we are, struggling together and apart; finding our way together, even though we are apart.

Over the last few days, I spoke to some friends and we reflected on what how we’re getting through our current circumstances and constant changes versus how we were getting things in the middle of March… or the end of May and the beginning of July. Even with all of our differences and distances, we can all chart the highs and lows of what LG and S call the “coronacoaster.” I mentioned that at the beginning – or at what some might refer to as “the end of before” – I was firmly entrenched in the group of people who emotionally wanted bits of before, something familiar. By April, however, my body wanted (and needed) something a little different – but my mind wasn’t completely on board. So, I had to figure out how to compromise and navigate the conflict – just as if my body and mind were an old married couple (or new friends) suddenly finding themselves in lockdown together.

Then there were more changes, more challenges, more conflicts, and more compromises. And, through it all, I did the same thing you did – I kept breathing. What was helpful (and continues to be helpful), above and beyond everything else, was knowing how to breath and being surrounded by people who also were focused on knowing how to breathe. Breath, after all, is life. It’s not enough just to breathe, however, because how we breathe determines how we live.

“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

There is a whole industry built around teaching people how to breathe when they are giving birth. Certain techniques not only lower stress, and therefore trauma, they can also help everyone in the room stay focused on that task at hand – keeping everyone healthy and whole. Funny thing is, proper breathing techniques in our day-to-day lives also lowers stress; decreases our trauma-sensitivity (which means we may have a better recovery experience, even when the initial trauma is significant); and helps us stay focused on the present moment. Research has shown improper breathing leads to physical and mental fatigue, high blood pressure, brain fog, increase stress levels, and (ironically) poor sleep. Some people eat more when they are stressed, others eat less – but, either way, poor breathing can disrupt digestion: the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and expel waste. All of this leads to poor health – something the ancient yogis, Buddhist, and contemplatives documented long ago.

Patanjali specifically states, in yoga sūtra 1.34 that clarity of the mind comes from focusing on the breath. So, take a moment, to notice your breath. If you are not breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out, consider what you need to relax the tension in your body in order to breathe more fully. I’ll give you a hint: start with your belly, your fingers, and your toes… as you breathe through your nose.

“She thought of how she had kept at Fiona, whom pregnancy had turned lackadaisical and vague, so that if it hadn’t been for Maggie she’d have spent her entire third trimester on the coach in front of the TV. Maggie would clap her hands briskly – ‘Okay!’ – and snap off the Love Boat rerun and fling open the curtains, letting sunshine flood the dim air of the living room and the turmoil of rock magazines and Fresca bottles. ‘Time for your pelvic squats!’ she would cry….”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 25th) at 2:30 PM. I am in the process of updating the links from the “Class Schedules” calendar; however, the Meeting IDs in the calendar are the same and are correct. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### BREATHE IN, BREATH OUT ###