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FTWMI: Introducing….You July 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted in July of 2021. Class details have been updated.

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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

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[English translation: Wisdom often is under a filthy cloak.]”

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– Latin proverb (associated with Socrates, Diogenes, and Cicero)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are meeting someone for the first time. It is also the very first time you’ve seen them – and maybe you are meeting them in a cold place during winter or a rainy place during the rainy season. Either way, you are both wearing overcoats. You’re also both of a certain age, whatever that means to you at this moment. So, you’re meeting not at the beginning of your stories but in the middle, maybe even at the end.

We may not think about it, but this is how we most often meet – in the middle of our stories and without being able to see what’s inside.

We exchange names and, if we know someone else with said name, we start seeing this new person through the layers and layers of previously formed ideas, impressions, and opinions. That’s just the way the mind-body works. If, however, we are each the first person either of us has met with said names, we start forming ideas, impressions, and opinions about a person with said name. That’s just the way the mind-body works.

We may not even be consciously aware of it, but there it is. Our first sense of someone is based on an overcoat, samskaras (mental impressions), whatever is happening in the middle of the story, and a name – that may or may not be their given name (or, under certain circumstances, may or may not be the name by which most people know them). The overcoat in this case is, literally, an article of clothing – and also all the external factors like the samskaras, the name, and anything else we may know or assume based on the situation (like occupation, vocation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age range).

Over time, the overcoat comes off, literally and figuratively. We make more mental impressions, maybe we learn another name, and as we move through the rest of the story we also learn (in a backwards sense) about the beginning of a person’s story: why they are the way they are; think and do the things they think and do. Over time, we go deeper.

“Pleased to meet you
But I’m quick to judge
I hope you drop the grudge
I know I’m not what you want from me”

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– quoted from the song “Pleased to Meet You” by Rynx (featuring Minke)

Every practice is an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) you to yourself. Every pose, every sequence, allows you to remove the layers and layers of overcoats until you reach the heart and core of who you are. That’s svādhyāya, “self-study.”

Sometimes, I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to different philosophical aspects of the practice – as I did this time last year and/or to various rituals and traditions. I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to some of my favorite people. People like two writers who share a birthday and, obviously, an occupation. Both of these writers just happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners; have ties to The New Yorker magazine; and are mostly recognized by (first) names that are not on their passports and birth certificates.

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

Elwyn Brooks White was born July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri was born July 11, 1967, in London, England. While very different in some ways, their books prove that anyone can be the hero (or heroine) of a great story; that situations we’ve never personally encountered can be highly relatable when related by a good storyteller; and that fiction (like yoga) can be a great way to process difficult emotions.

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

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– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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

– quoted from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Even though most readers know him by his initials, E. B. White was known to friends and professional colleagues as “Andy.” Ostensibly, the nickname came about because of a tradition at Cornell University whereby students with the last name “White” are renamed after the university’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s birth name is not known to many of her readers – and for a similar reason: her name was also “changed” at school. However, in her case, the change came because her name was unfamiliar (rather than so familiar). Dr. Lahiri’s parents migrated from West Bengal, India to the United Kingdom. When the author was three, the family migrated to Kingston, Rhode Island – where at least one teacher was unfamiliar Bengali names and unwilling to learn how to pronounce them. According to an August 19, 2003, USA Today article by Bob Minzesheimer, “[A kindergarten teacher] said something like ‘That’s kind of a long name’ and decided it was easier to pronounce ‘Jhumpa’” – her nickname.

Remember, names are part of our overcoats. What we call each other makes a difference in how we see and understand each other.

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

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– quoted from the messages in the web in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (illustrated by Garth Williams)

When Charlotte (the spider) comes up with her plan to save Wilbur, she says, “Why, how perfectly simple.” She then goes on to use her experience (as a master weaver) to introduce (and reintroduce) her friend (the pig) in a way that makes him more valuable alive, rather than dead. Her plan is, in fact, perfectly simple: write what you know… and change the overcoat. Even through their details are different, the stories written by both E. B. White and Jhumpa Lahiri are about their own personal experiences… and what happens when we get underneath the outer layers.

E. B. White is remembered as the author of beloved (and sometimes banned) children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but he started off as a journalist. He also worked for an advertising agency (and in some non-literary jobs) before submitting manuscripts for the then newly-founded The New Yorker. He eventually became a writer and contributing editor for the magazine. It was during his tenure at The New Yorker that he got a blast from his (Cornell University) past when he was asked to update work by one of his former professors.

The Elements of Style (sometimes called White & Strunk’s Elements of Style) was originally composed and self-published by William Strunk Jr. for his English students at Cornell University. It contained what Dr. Strunk Jr. considered the fundamentals: “Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused [and/or misspelled]….” When it was published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1920, it included eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” In the late 1950’s, Macmillan Publishers commissioned Mr. White to expand and modernize “the little book” (partially based on a 1935 edition by William Strunk Jr. and Edward A. Tenney). Since its 1959 publication, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style has been reprinted three times, illustrated, and served as the inspiration for an opera and a comprehensive history.

Mr. White won a Newberry Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, a Presidential Freedom Award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a National Medal for Literature, and a L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for Letters, an award that actually recognized all of his work. In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) even established an award in his honor for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by [his work].” You might think all of those accolades meant that Mr. White always followed his own advice. But, let’s be real: talking farm animals, airplane-flying mice, and Public Relations specialists who just happen to be spiders wasn’t very standard in 1945 and 1952.

“No, I have never encountered any story plot like Charlotte’s Web. I do not believe that any other writer has ever told about a spider writing words in its web. Perhaps I should ask some of the children’s book ladies who go back even further in time than I do, but I am sure nothing even remotely like this has been written.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to “Andy” (E. B. White), from Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief, Department of Books for Boys and Girls (dated April 2, 1952, as it appears in Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom)  

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“It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

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As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago…. Spiders are skilful [sic], amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

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“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.

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– quoted from a letter addressed to Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief (Department of Books for Boys and Girls), from  E. B. White (dated September 29, 1952)

The January 1948 issue of The Atlantic contained an essay by E. B. White entitled, “Death of a Pig,” which described the short life and “premature expiration of a pig” – as well as the burial and how the whole community mourned the occasion. In the essay, Mr. White said, “I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs.“ While there is no mention of a spider in the essay – and he doesn’t specifically mention a pig dying in his September 29, 1952 letter to Ursula Nordstrom, his publisher / editor – many believed that the essay wasn’t enough and that he felt the need to write more in order to express his sorrow and regret, to process his feelings about his experiences. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a letter to an editor (or a fan) to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has also used fiction to process personal experiences.

“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.”

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– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Despite having conflicted feelings associated with her name and schooling, Jhumpa Lahiri went on to earn a B. A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University and four degrees from Boston University. A few years after completing her doctorial thesis, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies became the seventh collection of short stories (in 82 years) to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. (There have now been only nine collections to win the award in over 100 years.) Several years after her award-winning debut, The New Yorker published her short story entitled, “The Namesake.” It was the story of a Bengali boy living in a strange land with a strange name.

The story became a book and then a movie and, in the process, “Jhumpa Lahiri” became a household name.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades include a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Frank O’Connor International Story, and the National Humanities Award. She has also been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at number one on The New York Times best seller list – an achievement one book editor associated with her “newfound commercial clout,” but an achievement (I would humbly suggests) actually rests on the beauty and clarity of her storytelling. As one critic put it, “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Unaccustomed Earth was also named number one by the editors of The New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2008.” Perhaps, even more telling is the fact that when the collection won the Frank O’Connor International Story award that same year, there was no shortlist because, as reported by The Guardian on July 4, 2008, “The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner….” The Frank O’Connor award was one of the world’s richest awards for short story collections and normally had a longlist of approximately 60 books and a short list of three or four.

“In so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another…They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

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― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a polyglot who speaks Bengali, English, and Italian. She, undoubtedly, also understands a little bit of Spanish (and maybe Greek). Not only has she written and translated work in (and out) of all three of the languages she speaks, in 2015 she wrote an essay for The New Yorker stating that she was now only writing in Italian. Since 2015, she has published two books in Italian and edited and translated at least two collections of work by Italian writers.

Dr. Lahiri’s love of language is obvious not only in the languages she speaks and writes, but also in the connections that she makes through her writing. Both The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth have ties to two of her literary predecessors: Nikolai Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some people might be confused by her success with the “masses,” because she is so clearly erudite. However, above and beyond anything else, what a reader finds in Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are regular, everyday people navigating the spaces between two worlds and two identities – just like she does. (Just like E. B. White’s characters do.)

“Writing was also an escape [for Jhumpa Lahiri]. Growing up brown and ‘foreign’ in a town where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly reporting to their Indian friends that they’d moved into an all-white neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents — her mother would often retort to these friends, ‘What do you think you are?’ — she said, ‘I was never into any sort of denial.’”

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– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled, “The Writer Who Began with a Hyphen” by Teresa Wiltz (dated October 8, 2003) 

Please join me today (Monday, July 11th) 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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The previously used playlist for this practice is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

”His family name was Bashmachkin. It is evident from the name, that it originated in bashmak (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not known. His father and grandfather, and even his brother-in-law, and all the Bashmachkins, always wore boots, and only had new heels two or three times a year. His name was Akakii Akakievich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but he may feel assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give him any other name; and this was how it came about.”

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– quoted from “The Overcoat” (as it appears in The Overcoat & Other Short Stories, Dover Thrift Editions) by Nikolai Gogol (story translation by Isabel F. Hapgood)

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[The 2020 post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

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### “Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;” WS ###

Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

“…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!”

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

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“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.”

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

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“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.”

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

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“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?’”

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– 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

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

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– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

*

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

*

– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

*

### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###

Introducing….You (the “missing” Sunday post) July 13, 2021

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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 11thYou can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

[English translation: Wisdom often is under a filthy cloak.]”

– Latin proverb (associated with Socrates, Diogenes, and Cicero)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are meeting someone for the first time. It is also the very first time you’ve seen them – and maybe you are meeting them in a cold place during winter or a rainy place during the rainy season. Either way, you are both wearing overcoats. You’re also both of a certain age, whatever that means to you at this moment. So, you’re meeting not at the beginning of your stories but in the middle, maybe even at the end.

We may not think about it, but this is how we most often meet – in the middle of our stories and without being able to see what’s inside.

We exchange names and, if we know someone else with said name, we start seeing this new person through the layers and layers of previously formed ideas, impressions, and opinions. That’s just the way the mind-body works. If, however, we are each the first person either of us has met with said names, we start forming ideas, impressions, and opinions about a person with said name. That’s just the way the mind-body works.

We may not even be consciously aware of it, but there it is. Our first sense of someone is based on an overcoat, samskaras (mental impressions), whatever is happening in the middle of the story, and a name – that may or may not be their given name (or, under certain circumstances, may or may not be the name by which most people know them). The overcoat in this case is, literally, an article of clothing – and also all the external factors like the samskaras, the name, and anything else we may know or assume based on the situation (like occupation, vocation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age range).

Over time, the overcoat comes off, literally and figuratively. We make more mental impressions, maybe we learn another name, and as we move through the rest of the story we also learn (in a backwards sense) about the beginning of a person’s story: why they are the way they are; think and do the things they think and do. Over time, we go deeper.

“Pleased to meet you
But I’m quick to judge
I hope you drop the grudge
I know I’m not what you want from me”

– quoted from the song “Pleased to Meet You” by Rynx (featuring Minke)

Every practice is an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) you to yourself. Every pose, every sequence, allows you to remove the layers and layers of overcoats until you reach the heart and core of who you are. That’s svādhyāya, “self-study.”

Sometimes, I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to different philosophical aspects of the practice – as I did this time last year and/or to various rituals and traditions. I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to some of my favorite people. People like two writers who share a birthday and, obviously, an occupation. Both of these writers just happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners; have ties to The New Yorker magazine; and are mostly recognized by (first) names that are not on their passports and birth certificates.

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

Elwyn Brooks White was born July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri was born July 11, 1967, in London, England. While very different in some ways, their books prove that anyone can be the hero (or heroine) of a great story; that situations we’ve never personally encountered can be highly relatable when related by a good storyteller; and that fiction (like yoga) can be a great way to process difficult emotions.

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

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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

– quoted from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Even though most readers know him by his initials, E. B. White was known to friends and professional colleagues as “Andy.” Ostensibly, the nickname came about because of a tradition at Cornell University whereby students with the last name “White” are renamed after the university’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s birth name is not known to many of her readers – and for a similar reason: her name was also “changed” at school. However, in her case, the change came because her name was unfamiliar (rather than so familiar). Dr. Lahiri’s parents migrated from West Bengal, India to the United Kingdom. When the author was three, the family migrated to Kingston, Rhode Island – where at least one teacher was unfamiliar Bengali names and unwilling to learn how to pronounce them. According to an August 19, 2003, USA Today article by Bob Minzesheimer, “[A kindergarten teacher] said something like ‘That’s kind of a long name’ and decided it was easier to pronounce ‘Jhumpa’” – her nickname.

Remember, names are part of our overcoats. What we call each other makes a difference in how we see and understand each other.

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

– quoted from the messages in the web in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (illustrated by Garth Williams)

When Charlotte (the spider) comes up with her plan to save Wilbur, she says, “Why, how perfectly simple.” She then goes on to use her experience (as a master weaver) to introduce (and reintroduce) her friend (the pig) in a way that makes him more valuable alive, rather than dead. Her plan is, in fact, perfectly simple: write what you know… and change the overcoat. Even through their details are different, the stories written by both E. B. White and Jhumpa Lahiri are about their own personal experiences… and what happens when we get underneath the outer layers.

E. B. White is remembered as the author of beloved (and sometimes banned) children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but he started off as a journalist. He also worked for an advertising agency (and in some non-literary jobs) before submitting manuscripts for the then newly-founded The New Yorker. He eventually became a writer and contributing editor for the magazine. It was during his tenure at The New Yorker that he got a blast from his (Cornell University) past when he was asked to update work by one of his former professors.

The Elements of Style (sometimes called White & Strunk’s Elements of Style) was originally composed and self-published by William Strunk Jr. for his English students at Cornell University. It contained what Dr. Strunk Jr. considered the fundamentals: “Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused [and/or misspelled]….” When it was published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1920, it included eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” In the late 1950’s, Macmillan Publishers commissioned Mr. White to expand and modernize “the little book” (partially based on a 1935 edition by William Strunk Jr. and Edward A. Tenney). Since its 1959 publication, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style has been reprinted three times, illustrated, and served as the inspiration for an opera and a comprehensive history.

Mr. White won a Newberry Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, a Presidential Freedom Award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a National Medal for Literature, and a L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for Letters, an award that actually recognized all of his work. In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) even established an award in his honor for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by [his work].” You might think all of those accolades meant that Mr. White always followed his own advice. But, let’s be real: talking farm animals, airplane-flying mice, and Public Relations specialists who just happen to be spiders wasn’t very standard in 1945 and 1952.

“No, I have never encountered any story plot like Charlotte’s Web. I do not believe that any other writer has ever told about a spider writing words in its web. Perhaps I should ask some of the children’s book ladies who go back even further in time than I do, but I am sure nothing even remotely like this has been written.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to “Andy” (E. B. White), from Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief, Department of Books for Boys and Girls (dated April 2, 1952, as it appears in Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom)  

“It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

 

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago…. Spiders are skilful [sic], amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

 

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.

– quoted from a letter addressed to Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief (Department of Books for Boys and Girls), from  E. B. White (dated September 29, 1952)

The January 1948 issue of The Atlantic contained an essay by E. B. White entitled, “Death of a Pig,” which described the short life and “premature expiration of a pig” – as well as the burial and how the whole community mourned the occasion. In the essay, Mr. White said, “I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs.“ While there is no mention of a spider in the essay – and he doesn’t specifically mention a pig dying in his September 29, 1952 letter to Ursula Nordstrom, his publisher / editor – many believed that the essay wasn’t enough and that he felt the need to write more in order to express his sorrow and regret, to process his feelings about his experiences. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a letter to an editor (or a fan) to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has also used fiction to process personal experiences.

“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

Despite having conflicted feelings associated with her name and schooling, Jhumpa Lahiri went on to earn a B. A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University and four degrees from Boston University. A few years after completing her doctorial thesis, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies became the seventh collection of short stories (in 82 years) to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. (There have now been only nine collections to win the award in over 100 years.) Several years after her award-winning debut, The New Yorker published her short story entitled, “The Namesake.” It was the story of a Bengali boy living in a strange land with a strange name.

The story became a book and then a movie and, in the process, “Jhumpa Lahiri” became a household name.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades include a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Frank O’Connor International Story, and the National Humanities Award. She has also been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at number one on The New York Times best seller list – an achievement one book editor associated with her “newfound commercial clout,” but an achievement (I would humbly suggests) actually rests on the beauty and clarity of her storytelling. As one critic put it, “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Unaccustomed Earth was also named number one by the editors of The New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2008.” Perhaps, even more telling is the fact that when the collection won the Frank O’Connor International Story award that same year, there was no shortlist because, as reported by The Guardian on July 4, 2008, “The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner….” The Frank O’Connor award was one of the world’s richest awards for short story collections and normally had a longlist of approximately 60 books and a short list of three or four.

“In so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another…They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a polyglot who speaks Bengali, English, and Italian. She, undoubtedly, also understands a little bit of Spanish (and maybe Greek). Not only has she written and translated work in (and out) of all three of the languages she speaks, in 2015 she wrote an essay for The New Yorker stating that she was now only writing in Italian. Since 2015, she has published two books in Italian and edited and translated at least two collections of work by Italian writers.

Dr. Lahiri’s love of language is obvious not only in the languages she speaks and writes, but also in the connections that she makes through her writing. Both The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth have ties to two of her literary predecessors: Nikolai Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some people might be confused by her success with the “masses,” because she is so clearly erudite. However, above and beyond anything else, what a reader finds in Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are regular, everyday people navigating the spaces between two worlds and two identities – just like she does. (Just like E. B. White’s characters do.)

“Writing was also an escape [for Jhumpa Lahiri]. Growing up brown and ‘foreign’ in a town where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly reporting to their Indian friends that they’d moved into an all-white neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents — her mother would often retort to these friends, ‘What do you think you are?’ — she said, ‘I was never into any sort of denial.’”

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled, “The Writer Who Began with a Hyphen” by Teresa Wiltz (dated October 8, 2003) 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

”His family name was Bashmachkin. It is evident from the name, that it originated in bashmak (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not known. His father and grandfather, and even his brother-in-law, and all the Bashmachkins, always wore boots, and only had new heels two or three times a year. His name was Akakii Akakievich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but he may feel assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give him any other name; and this was how it came about.”

– quoted from “The Overcoat” (as it appears in The Overcoat & Other Short Stories, Dover Thrift Editions) by Nikolai Gogol (story translation by Isabel F. Hapgood)

[Last year’s post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

### “Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;” WS ###

Introducing….You (mostly the music w/UPDATED links) July 11, 2021

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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)  

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 11th) 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 always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

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.)

“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)

You can find this year’s post here and a less literary, but more philosophically-based post (from last year) here.

### OM OM AUM ###

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 ###