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The Angels (& Devils) Within Us (the “missing” post) October 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is a “missing” post for Saturday, October 29th. You can request an audio recording of a related 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.]

“Violence is clearly destructive. It springs from fear, one of the fundamental afflictions. According to this sutra, the practice of non-violence requires us to arrest our violent tendencies by cultivating thoughts opposite to violence.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

By all accounts, it started off simply and innocently enough. Just a few childish pranks at the end of Thanksgiving: knocking at the door that opened to reveal no one; random, unexplained noises, cabbage being uprooted and then tossed around; patio furniture inexplicably shifting and moving to a neighbor’s porch. You know, things that ghost, goblins, and devils might do when the veil between worlds was lifted. It was so simple and innocent, in fact, that in 1790, a headmaster at Saint John’s College in Oxford even ended a school play with a little encouragement: “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” 

Mischief Night, the night before Halloween, is also known as Hell Night, Cabbage Night, Gate Night, Moving Night, Devil’s Night, and a variety of other names throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. It was just supposed to be a little “trick” before the treats. References to Devil’s Night and Mischief Night in Michigan can be found as early as the 1910’s – when college students reportedly started bonfires and then handed cigars to the firefighters who came to put out the flames. However, the vandalism and arson increased in the 1930’s and 1940’s. By the 1970’s, the simple and innocent pranks in Detroit turned into criminal mischief and started extending into October 29th. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, there was serious vandalism and arson that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1983, over 550 fires were reported. In 1984, the number of reported fires was more than 800. Some officials started theorizing that some people were using the reputation of Devil’s Night to commit insurance fraud. And, speaking of that reputation, by the mid-1980’s, people were not only driving into town from other states to watch the fires, they were flying in from other countries.

“Fire buffs, newspeople and just plain gawkers came to watch Detroit burn Wednesday night.

They even came all the way from Tokyo.

Director Nobi Shigemoto was here with an eight-person crew from Asahi national TV network. The crew planned to follow fire trucks Wednesday night and do a live shot from in front of Highland park fire headquarters before returning to Japan.”

*

“Shigemoto said Detroiters ask him why he is ‘looking at bad things.’

His reply:

This is the truth. US (is a) most rich country. When you look at Detroit, it looks nothing like rich.’”

*

– quoted from the Detroit Free Press article “Keeping the watch – Reporters, fire buffs, gawkers come to track night’s events” by Bill McGraw (printed in the “Devil’s Night” section, dated 31 Oct 1985, Thu) 

In the mid-1980’s, then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young and city officials created the “No More Devil’s Night” campaign, which included a dusk-to-dawn curfew for teenagers, neighborhood watches, the opportunity to “adopt” empty properties, and a coordinated “patrol” effort by police officers, firefighters, and miscellaneous city workers. Over 11,000 volunteers participated that first year – and the number of reported fires was cut in half. Local cable television offered free access to premium channels so that more people would stay home. News outlets agreed not to air footage that might glamorize arson and/or encourage copycats – and the number of fires dropped. The number of volunteers rose (to ~17,000) in 1987, and again the number of reported fires dropped. 

Detroit’s “No More Devil’s Night” campaign was so successful that when Dennis Archer was elected mayor, in January of 1994, he decided his predecessor’s official campaign was no longer needed. People warned him he was wrong. Unfortunately, those people were right. According to a New York Times article (dated November 1, 1994), there were 40,000 volunteers working to combat the arson and other criminal mischief in 1993 versus 8,000 in 1994. That difference in volunteers reflected a trend well established in previous years: more volunteers resulted in less arson and criminal mischief; less volunteers meant more arson. While there were significantly less fires in 1994 than there had been in 1984, one of those fires – set on October 30, 1994, in the same suburb Nobi Shigemoto filmed nine years earlier – resulted in the death of 1-year old Destiny Wilson and the serious injury of several others, including Destiny’s mother, 3-year old sister Ivory, and two older siblings. Then-mayor Archer and other city officials rebranded the original campaign and got more serious about cultivating the opposite energy; being angels instead of devils.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The rebranded Angels’ Night(s) encouraged volunteers to do what they could to actively combat the violence with non-violence, from October 29th – 31st. It was based on the idea that if everyone cared, everyone could do something to make a difference. Some people volunteered to patrol their neighborhood with flashing amber lights on their vehicles. Others agreed to wear orange ribbons and participated in neighborhood watches – even adopting an “empty” property. Still others agreed to leave their lights on and to enforce – or honor – the curfew. Official activities were organized at recreation and community centers. Bottom line, there was a way for everyone, regardless of age or ability, to stay alert and stay connected. In 1995, 40,000 – 50,000 volunteers agreed to be “angels.” As before, arson and vandalism steadily declined. 

While there was a spike in arsons around Halloween 2010, the overall decline in “devilish” activity continued through the 2000’s and 2010’s. In 2005, official “Angels’ Night” activities were cancelled as the entire city mourned the death of Rosa Parks. In 2015, there were “only” 52 fires (with 24 appearing to be arson). Interestingly, this steady decline around Halloween was paralleled by a slight increase in fires around the 4th of July. In 2018, there were only three reported fires and the city officially ended the campaign. Citizens, however, continue to be angels.

“The earliest recorded instance of someone saying ‘Hurt people hurt people’ appears in the Feb. 26, 1959, edition of a local Texas newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-Times, in its review of a lecture program put on by the Parent Teacher Association of Fannin Junior High School. The Globe-Times attributes the line to a speaker named Charles Eads, who, judging from the article’s description, spoke in the manner of vaudeville satirist and cowboy Will Rogers:…’”Hurt people hurt people.’ So, maybe before I wound someone next time, I’ll stop and think if it’s because I’ve been hurt, myself.’”

*

quoted from the article “The History of ‘Hurt People Hurt People’ – The adage has been credited to everyone from pastors to self-help gurus to Andrew Garfield. It’s much older.” By Matthew Phelan (posted on slate.com, Sept 17, 2019) 

We’ve all been hurt. We all suffer. According to the Yoga Philosophy, dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns create suffering. The question – which is also addressed in philosophies like Buddhism, and even in the major religions – is, “What do we do with our own suffering?” Do we alleviate it? That’s the next question, because the philosophies say that we have the ability to alleviate our own suffering? Of course, there’s always the flipside, where our hurt/suffering becomes the foundation for more suffering and “devilish” behavior?

To answer the questions, take a moment to do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) or discernment – what some might call “metacognition.” Consider your own reaction to the aforementioned Devil’s Night, especially with regard to the arson and vandalism. Consider, who you think was responsible – not only for the problem, but also for the solution. Are you keeping in mind that the initial fires, even in Detroit, were set by college students? Have you thought about what was happening in the world when the arson first increased? Did you remember that the Wilson family lived in the suburbs? 

Consider how you feel when you take it all in and then consider how those feelings translate into thoughts that precede your words and then your deeds. Given the opportunity to counteract violence and destruction, would your active response to the “devilish” behavior be functional and skillful – or would it be just another form of damage?

In the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, there are several different ways in which we can achieve transparency of mind. One way is to focus on the breath. (YS 1.34) Another way is to “focus on someone who is free from all desire.” (YS 1.37) This is what people are ostensibly doing when they ask themselves, “What would … do?” Of course, the commentary indicates that in the absence of resonating with some great figure – from religion, philosophy, or mythology – we could focus on the best version of ourselves: What would we do/say if we were free from desire? What would we do/say if we were not attached to a particular outcome?

“Then concentrate upon [the] heart. Try to imagine how it must feel to be a great saint; pure and untroubled by sense-objects….”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.37 from How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood  

Another method for achieving clarity of mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, is to offer friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are suffering, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference/non-judgement to those who (we consider) are non-virtuous. (YS 1.33) I personally love this idea, but I also know it can be challenging. Different parts may be challenging for different people – and under different circumstances – but the part that is usually challenging for me is the last part: offering indifference/non-judgement to someone (I consider) non-virtuous – or whose actions are not virtuous. Sure, ideally, we could ignore those non-virtuous people/actions and they would go away or stop their “devilish” behavior; but, life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we have to directly engage and actively combat the violence in a non-violent way.

My non-violent way is logic. While I often believe that (my) logic will resolve conflict and/or get people to do what I think is right, that is not actually how the world works – because that’s not how the human mind works. Remember, according to Yoga Sūtra 2.20, we can only see/comprehend what our mind-intellect is ready to show us. This is not an idea restricted to the people we think are wrong in their thinking; this also applies to each and every one of us. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that logic doesn’t work. I’m saying that if someone we consider to be non-virtuous, or acting in a way that is non-virtuous, were to think (and feel) the way we think (and feel) they would speak and act the way we do. So, applying our own logic on someone else does not work. They have to apply their own logic. While we may be able to help someone apply their own logic, we can only do so with a clear mind. 

In other words, to truly alleviate suffering, we have to turn inward. We have to understand our own feelings and thoughts and how those become our words and deeds. In turn, we have to understand the impact/effect of our words and deeds. It is only then that we can effectively, as Patanjali said in Yoga Sūtra 2.44, be in the company of angels.

“No, don’t give up

I won’t give up

‘Cause there must be angels”

*

– quoted from the song “Angels” by Tom Walker (written by Emma Davidson-Dillon / James Eliot / Thomas Alexander Walker)

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: The Spotify playlist contains one track that may not play without a subscription. My apologies for the inconvenience.)

*

### Be safe, y’all! ###

The Angels (& Devils) Within Us (mostly the music) October 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Violence is clearly destructive. It springs from fear, one of the fundamental afflictions. According to this sutra, the practice of non-violence requires us to arrest our violent tendencies by cultivating thoughts opposite to violence.

However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. But passive non-violence has no power to extinguish the fire of violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, October 29th) at 12:00 PM. 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.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: The Spotify playlist contains one track that may not play without a subscription. My apologies for the inconvenience.)

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.)

### 🎶 ###

Second Chances (mostly the music) October 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Life, Music, Philosophy, Yoga.
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“When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying. I wanted to win this one for Casey. After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I’m grateful.”

 

– Don “Gooneybird” Larsen (who got a second chance today in 1956)

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, October 8th) at 12:00 PM. 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.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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.)

 

 

### 🎶 ###

Consider What’s Downstream August 15, 2020

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“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Just for a moment, set aside the sinking boat analogy and consider being in a row (or paddle) boat that is floating around an eddy. Let’s say this river and eddy are big enough that we don’t automatically recognize that we’re going around in circles. In this scenario, there are times and places where the eddy’s current is strong, actively carrying us in a certain direction (which is, by definition, not the direction the river flows). When we seem to be going the way we want to go, we may not notice the strength of the current; and happily paddle along. We go with the flow even when it gets dangerous. Sure, when the water gets choppy and we discover we are headed towards the center of the whirlpool,  we may think, “Oh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” but at that point we may not have the strength or the skill to head towards shore. Then there are times and places when we feel like we are stronger than the current. It’s still there, and still capable of pulling us in a certain direction; however, in those moments when the current feels dormant we may be completely unaware that there is anything influencing our movement other than our own paddle, will, and determination. Finally, there are times and places where the current is moderate, just strong and active enough that we are aware of the effort it takes to paddle and move in any given direction away from the center of the whirlpool. In fact, this may be the only time we recognize what’s happening beneath the surface and the only time we actively work to move in the opposite direction.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

At the very beginning of the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali explains that when the mind is quiet/undisturbed, the practitioner “rests in their own true nature” (YS 1.3) and that at all other times we “rest” or identify with the fluctuations of our mind (YS 1.4). Furthermore, throughout the first part of the sūtras and the first part of the practice, we start to notice the minds tendency to fluctuate in ways that are dysfunctional/afflicted and therefore cause suffering. The (external) restraints and (internal) observations provide a method of practice that cultivates functional/not-afflicted thoughts and habits. But the practice is not a magical spell. The effect is not instantaneous or overnight, and so we will encounter obstacles (YS 1.30), the negative effects which are caused by the obstacles (YS 1.31), the 28 types of disempowerment  (YS 2.24), and continued suffering.

This is the whirlpool – and it is caused by the (cross) current which is our dysfunctional/ afflicted thoughts patterns, which flow from the river of ignorance. Yes, once again, it all comes back to avidyā. The thing we have to remember is that those five afflicted types of thoughts are always at play, underneath the surface, and that they always end in the ugly blossom that is fear. (YS 2.3)

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Typically when I teach the second week in August, there is a focus on fear and being fearless. Of course, I quotes the Roosevelts and Alfred Hitchcock (b. 08/13/1899), but I also quote J. Krishnasmurti whose advice regarding fear is not about being reckless, but about getting to the place where we understand fear and what is beyond fear: wisdom.

Remember, fear is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat. The emotional reaction causes a physiological response: it activates the sympathetic nervous system. It causes a chemical change in the brain and a change in organ function, both designed to protect you and ensure survival. This can all take place in a blink of an eye and in a heartbeat – even when the perceived threat turns out to not to be a threat and/or not a threat to your survival. While this can all take place in an instant, it takes a while to come down off of the adrenaline high and, depending on the reality and nature of the threat, the effects of the trauma can be life-long.

In the Eastern philosophies, the opposite of fear is wisdom. Wisdom being the ability, knowledge, and skill to respond to a given situation with awareness. Without wisdom, we react as if everything and everyone is a threat to our life, our livelihood, and those we love. We see it each and every day, even when we don’t recognize that that is what we are seeing/experiencing. Wisdom, in this case, can also be defined as vidyā (“correct knowledge”) about ourselves and the nature of everything. Wisdom, when it comes to our whirlpool analogy, gives us the awareness, skill, and strength to paddle against the swirling current that is taking us into dangerous waters.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. But passive non-violence has no power to extinguish the fire if violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.'”

 — quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

The first time I heard about Ibram X. Kendi (b. 08/13/1982) and his book How to Be an Antiracist, I thought the term “antiracist” was something new. In reality, however, Dr. Kendi recommends and teaches an idea that goes back to the beginning of the yoga philosophy. (NOTE: I’m not saying he’s teaching “yoga,” even though he is working to bring people together. I’m saying he is teaching ancient wisdom.) It is not simply bringing awareness to a situation and neither is it not doing something overtly harmful. It is bringing awareness to what is happening beneath the surface and actively, skillfully moving in the opposite direction. Over time, we neutralize the force of eddy’s current. Our habits and our thoughts change. When our habits and thoughts change, the world changes. 

In commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, includes a gentle reminder (see below)  to put things perspective. You may think of it as a mantra and I would suggest we all need something like it. We all need something that stops us in our tracks, makes us breath, and really take a look at which way we are headed.

It’s like the dharma talk I heard once, where the teacher equated strong emotions to getting on train: sometimes you buy your ticket, get on board, and realize you’re going in the wrong direction. Sure, you can get off, buy another ticket… but, now you’re upset – and there’s a good chance the second train (while going in a different direction) is still headed the wrong way. So, you need a little internal guidance, a map or ticket to discernment.

You may have your own, maybe something you discovered in the “Spiritual Exercises” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (whose feast day is 07/31) or maybe something you saw or heard as the Berlin Wall was coming down. Maybe it’s a word or a lyric from a song. But, you could also use all or part of this:

“Now I’m allowing myself to lose my inner peace and happiness. This is a much greater loss than losing a portion of my material wealth. Furthermore, such occurrences are commonplace. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In worldly matters I will do what needs to be done, but never at the cost of losing the pristine nature of my mind. I must adhere to the higher virtues of my heart.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Consider practicing today and tomorrow with those last two lines in your head and in your heart. Consider what it means to pursue your goals, with will and determining AND a clear head. Consider what it means to listen to and then follow your heart.

I have cancelled classes today and tomorrow (Saturday, August 15th and Sunday, August 16th). If you’re looking for one of my “fearless play with [jazz]” practices, check out April 25th or 29th. (I can we email you by Sunday afternoon if you request a recording.)

“Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.”

“Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

— quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

### ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT ###