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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.)

### 🎶 ###

Interior Movements (the “missing” Sunday post, with Monday notes) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 31st (with notes related to Monday, August 1st). You can request an audio recording of these practices 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.)

“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”

– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield

There are a lot of things that make practicing Yoga special. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary and unique things about the practice is that every time you step into your physical practice space, there is a deliberate and mindful intention to engage/move the mind-body in a way that also very deliberately and very intentionally engages/moves the spirit. Obviously, there are other times and other forms of exercises, even other activities, where we can go deeper inside of ourselves and really pay attention to how what’s moving inside of us (on many different levels) informs how we move through the world. You may even have a go-to activity that engages your mind-body-spirit even if is not recognized as exercise and/or as something spiritual. You may personally have a go-to something that puts you “in the flow” or “in the zone.” Maybe it’s something you deliberately, mindfully, and intentionally do when you need to clear your mind-body and really pay attention to your spirit. There are, after all, many ways that we can do that. However, in many cases that mind-body-spirit benefit is not the originally intention of the exercise; meaning your go-to thing is not a (recognized) spiritual exercise.

I recognize that not everyone recognizes Yoga as a spiritual exercise and, also, that it is not the only practice that could be considered a spiritual exercise. Semazen (Sufi whirling or turning), tanoura (the Egyptian version of Sufi whirling), and all other forms of traditional moving meditations could be considered spiritual exercises. The same could be said of modern practices like journey dancing and Gabrielle Roth’s “5Rhythms.” However, if you mention “the Spiritual Exercises” to a certain group of people in the world, none of the aforementioned come to mind. In fact, what comes to mind are not even physical exercises. Instead, what comes to mind for people within the Catholic community are the collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations codified by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day falls on July 31st.

“To understand fully the Spiritual Exercises, we should know something of the man who wrote them. In this life of St. Ignatius, told in his own words, we acquire an intimate knowledge of the author of the Exercises. We discern the Saint’s natural disposition, which was the foundation of his spiritual character. We learn of his conversion, his trials, the obstacles in his way, the heroism with which he accomplished his great mission.

This autobiography of St. Ignatius is the groundwork of all the great lives of him that have been written.”

– quoted from the “Editor’s Preface” (dated Easter, 1900) of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola on October 23, 1491, the future saint was the youngest of thirteen children born to Spanish nobles in the Basque region of Spain. Not long after he was born, his mother died and he became, on a certain level, an after thought. While his oldest brother died in the Italian Wars (also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars) and his second oldest brother inherited the family estate, the youngest of the brood was expected to go into the priesthood. Yet, he was raised with most of the same privileges and luxuries as his siblings and grew accustomed to the lifestyle. By the time he was a teenager, he was completely infatuated with all the trappings of romance, fame, fortune, and power that could come from military service.

By all accounts, young Íñigo was a bit of a dandy by the time he joined the military at seventeen. He cut a fine and stylish figure in (and out of) uniform; he loved to gamble, fence, duel, and dance; and he had a reputation as a womanizer with a very fragile ego. He also loved stories that reflected his life; stories of romance, chivalry, and military victories. In fact, some have said that he deliberately emulated the stories he read about people like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (“El Cid”), the Frankish military governor Roland, and the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps he even believed that people would one day tell stories about him the way they told stories about his heroes.

And… they kind of do. Except for two pertinent facts. First, the young noble seemed to embody the very worst aspects of masculinity and “nobility.” Second, the trajectory of his life changed almost exactly two months before he turned 30.

After over a decade of military service in which he was never seriously injured, Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s was struck by a ricocheting cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona (May 20, 1521). His right leg was crushed and it was feared that, at worse, he would lose the leg and, at best, he would lose his military career and never walk the same again. After several surgeries, during some of which his leg was re-broken and reset, his leg was saved. He returned to the family castle to recover and thought that he would spend his convalescence reading the romance adventures that he so dearly loved. Unfortunately, he was told that such novels were no longer available in the castle. He was given the Bible and the biographies of saints and, having nothing better to do, he devoured them. Just as was his habit while reading adventures of romance and chivalry, he started imagining himself in the positions of the disciples and the saints. This type of imagination is what he would later identify as “contemplation.”

“While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: ‘What if I should do what St. Francis did?’ ‘What if I should act like St. Dominic?’ He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: ‘St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.’ ‘St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.’ These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising [sic] austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.” 

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

When Patanjali codified the Yoga Philosophy, he outlined eight parts of the practice. The first two parts were ethical in nature and consisted of five external “restraints” or universal commandments (known as yamas) and five internal “observations” (known as niyamas). According to Yoga Sūtra 2.44, “the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice]” is the the benefit of practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”). Some translations refer to “angels” and still others reference “contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” Either way, the practice is basically what Ignatius was intuitively doing: paying attention to his thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, and/or even historical scenarios.

The more he did this kind of self-study, the more he started noticing something curious. He started noticing that the feelings he felt while reading and imagining the profane romantic adventures didn’t last as long as the feelings he experienced while reading and imagining the lives of the sacred. When he could walk again, the former soldier set off on a religious pilgrimage that eventually led him to a cave in Manresa (Catalonia). It was in that cave, which is now a chapel, that Saint Ignatius started spelling out his Spiritual Exercises, a four “week” practice of ritual examination and introspection.

After years of religious study, a series of visions, and another extended pilgrimage, Ignatius and six of his seminary friends took vows and committed themselves to religious service. In 1539, Saint Ignatius de Loyola and two of those friends – Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber – formed the Society of Jesus. Also known as the Jesuits, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, whereupon its leadership set off on missions to create educational institutions built on the foundation of discipline (specifically a “corpse-like” discipline), devotion (to the Pope and the Church), and trustful surrender. Interesting (to me), those same foundations can be found in the Yoga practices of tapas (“heat,” discipline, and austerity) and īśvarapraṇidhāna (“trustful surrender to the divine source”), which are the third and fifth niyamas.

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali referred to the last three niyamas (internal “observations”) as kriya yoga, which is literally “union in action.” Some people think of kriya yoga as a prescription or cleansing ritual. As I mention throughout the year, there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals (from different traditions) which fit within the rubric described by Patanjali. The Spiritual Exercises, published in 1548, contain one such example. It is a short booklet intended to be used by the teacher or guide who leads the spiritual retreat. Although the “Long Retreat” is broken down into four themes, which are traditionally experienced over 28-30 days, Saint Ignatius also included statements that allow people to experience a “retreat in daily life” if they are unable to leave their everyday life behind for a month. Additionally, the experience can be broken up over a couple of years. Whether one is Catholic or some other form of Christian, Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers the opportunity for reflection and introspection by way of prayer and meditation in the form of contemplation and discernment.

This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits.”

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

A portion of the following description was previously posted on February 6, 2021.

In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self. In other words, it requires svādhyāya (“self-study”). In the context of The Spiritual Exercises, the discernment is related to the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.

During the first “week” of The Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is instructed to reflect on “our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us.” This reflection focuses on concepts of personal sin, Divine love (which is unconditional) and Divine mercy with the intention of considering free will and how personal behavior can limit one’s ability to experience Divine love and mercy. To be clear, the idea here is not that such things will be taken away if you are bad or engage in bad behavior. Instead, the idea is that our thoughts, words, and deeds (i.e., our karma) may inhibit our ability to perceive the love and mercy being freely given. This period ends with a meditation on following in the (historical) foot steps of the Divine – which is quite literally the meaning of brahmacharya, Patanjali’s fourth yama (external “restraint”).

During the second “week,” retreatants begin to place themselves in the scenarios of the Christian scriptures as they relate to the beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and moving through his baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, and his raising Lazarus from the dead. The prayers and meditations center around the idea of how one’s life and life’s work can be a reflection of God and God’s love.

The third and fourth “weeks” continue the contemplation by first contemplating the the Last Supper, the passion (or “suffering”) of the Christ, Jesus’ death, and the significance of Jesus’ last week (during the third “week”) and then contemplating Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances/apparitions to the disciples (during the fourth “week”). The final section of the retreat is also an opportunity to contemplate how one moves forward with renewed faith, commitment, and fire.

Yes, again with the tapas, because Saint Ignatius continuously told the early Jesuits, “go, set the world on fire” – words that echoed Abbot Joseph’s instructions to Abbot Lot:

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

“Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

– “The Prayer of Generosity,” often attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 07/31/1556)

I habitually think about discernment in terms of the “interior movements of the heart” and, while it is something I regularly do on my mat, the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius is a day when I am reminded of the power of the practice. My awareness of this powerful practice is also enhanced by the fact that I start August by focusing on the lives of “impossible” people – that is to say, people who did things others said was impossible. This year, in particular, I find my heart (and mind) moved to contemplate the will and determination that gets things done, as well as the power of the resistance that keeps certain things from happening. Mixed in with this is the idea that our will and determination is strengthened when we are surrounded (and supported) by people who are focused on the same goals and desires; focused on achieving the same “impossible” goals and desires.

August 1st is the anniversary of the birth of an “impossible” woman and a man who wrote about achieving “impossible” things. It is curious to note that Miss Maria Mitchell (b. 1818) was raised in a household where her interests and endeavors were supported – despite the fact that she was born in a time and place where some believed her sex and gender should dictate/limit her vocation and occupation – and that the greatest works of Mr. Herman Melville (b. 1819) were created and published when he was in close proximity of (and in close communion with) his dear friend, and fellow writer, Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could put yourselves in their shoes; notice the interior movements of your own heart; and consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds can best reflect your possibilities.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s playlist  is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07292020 Breathing, Noting, Here & at the UN”]

NOTE: In hindsight, I realized that the playlist we used last week works really well with today’s practice. It is still available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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.)

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###

Light in the Darkness (a Monday post practice post) December 14, 2021

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Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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.]

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

For many years, when it was time to set our personal intentions during the practice, I would reference something/someone related to the practice and/or something/someone related to current events. It didn’t matter if it was a local tragedy or something unfathomable on the other side of the planet; it made sense to me to offer a little kindness and compassion. Be it a man made or a natural disaster, it made sense to remember that no matter what I or the people around me were experiencing somewhere in there world there was someone who could benefit from our positive energy.

For a moment, we formed a cosmic “prayer circle” and many of you told me that that practice resonated with you. Some of you would even come up to me afterwards and say that you too had been thinking about the plight of someone that normally wouldn’t have crossed your mind. It wasn’t an excuse not to reach out a helping hand when we could. In fact, it was sometimes the opposite. It was a good reminder of hope and charity and, also, that we are all part of something more: a larger community than the one right in front of our noses.

But then the pandemic hit – and it didn’t make sense to offer our energy, condolences, thoughts, and prayers in the same way. It didn’t seem fair for me to highlight one person or one group of people when we were all directly affected. Sure, some people were still more affected than others. But who was I to say “look over here, look over there” when we were all suffering?

So, perhaps over the last 21 months the offering, the dedication, has felt a little more personal. Perhaps it was less of a reminder that we were all in this together, and more of a reminder that, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” Maybe you had to remind yourself to be more intentional about your energy. 

Either way, it was still an opportunity to extend a little bit of our hope, love, kindness, compassion, hope, and joy into the world. It was still a much needed moment… a moment to metaphorically stare into the light. Because Friedrich Nietzsche’s words are no less true when we flip them around. In fact, flipping them around highlights two parts of the yoga practice, as outlined by Patanjali: turning inward to study yourself and to focus on your own light.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

The following is an expanded version of a portion of a post related to the practice on December 13, 2020. Some class details and references have been updated.

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up was Chanukah, which starts at sunset each year on the 25th of Kislev. Last year (in 20210), the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlapped the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – and I noted that we were getting double the light. Of course, that might have implied that this year we would have less light.

But that’s not really how light works – and that’s not really how light celebrations work. If anything, this year’s celebration of Saint Lucy was an opportunity to highlight one person’s contribution during a challenging time, a dark period in history (if you will).

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

 

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

 

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. Prior to calendar reformation, it was celebrated on the shortest day of the year – meaning, the day surrounded by the most darkness.

The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. She is often depicted wearing a white robe or dress with a red sash, both the colors of which are symbols of her purity, piety, and her martyrdom. Being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

While I realize that posting two days in a row about the divine symbolism of numbers may lead to certain conclusions, let me be clear on two points. First, I like numbers and appreciate the science of equations (maybe as much or more than the average person), but I can’t really call myself a mathematician. Likewise, even though I often encounter numerical symbolism when I study religion and philosophy, I can’t say that I know very much about numerology or arithmomancy (also called arithmancy). All that said, when I keep hearing about certain things I perk up and pay attention. So, I’ve started getting curious about the number 9.

I was born on the 9th of a month, as were some of my favorite people; but I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with the number. It’s not 7; which has a lot of personal significance for me, is sometimes considered a symbol of humans, and is related to a lot of aspects of (and stories within) the Abrahamic religions as well as several energetic and/or spiritual systems.

It’s not eight, which is associated with infinity.

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

Sure, it’s the highest single digit natural, or cardinal, number. It also pops up a lot in relation to harshad (“joy bringer”) numbers like 18, 27, and 108. Of course, I remember that the holy month of Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. But I missed (or forgot) the fact that the Baháʼí Faith considers it a symbol of completion – so much so that it is incorporated into the faith’s name and sacred buildings. Similar reverence in relation to completion is found in Hinduism. In fact, four times a year there are periods of nine nights (and 10 days) that are devoted to Durga, the mother goddess, with each night dedicated to various manifestations of God as mother.

Sure, somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that the Buddha had nine virtues; that (in Christianity) there are nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit and nine “Choirs of Angels” (divided into three spheres of three); and that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed system. But I had forgotten, or not given much thought, to how the number nine pops up in prayer.

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that one of the prayers offered during some Jewish services actually comes with extra blessings on Rosh Hashanah – bringing the total blessings to nine. Neither had I contemplated the numerical significance of “the nine days” (Tisha HaYamim) of mourning preceding Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (the eleventh on the Hebrew calendar) and how that date marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 423 BCE and 70 CE, respectively). And, honestly, I didn’t know that other significant historical events and tragedies in Jewish history happened on that date – the ninth day of the eleventh month, which is eerily reflective of the tragedies and historical events associated with Schicksalstag (the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar).

There’s more… a lot more that I didn’t know. However, here’s a little more that I knew, but hadn’t really thought about: A novena is a nine-day (or nine-week) period of prayer within some Christian traditions.

The word “novena” is used to describe the period, the practice, and the prayer(s). It comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” and it is a period meant to parallel the time described in The Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14, NIV) when the twelve Apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” They did this, per Jesus’s instructions (and with a little guidance from some “angels”) in preparation of receiving gifts (or powers) from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as indicated above, the practice of praying (and even fasting) for nine days predates Christianity – some historians even track to the practice back to the Roman Empire (again, as it relates to mourning).

In a modern context, novenas are often used to request a Divine gift or as part of a larger ritual. They are often associated with Marian Feast Days – sometimes being recited in anticipation of a feast day and sometimes starting on the feast day. For example, some people started a novena on November 29th and completed it on December 8th. Others, started praying (a different novena, see below) on December 13th.

Western science has shown that there is power in prayer and meditation. Said power is also magnified when people gather together (even virtually) and/or engage in prayer and meditation at the same time. So, while you could pray a novena at any time (and it is believed that there is power in that practice), there is more power at certain times. That extra power comes from an exponential increase in energy going towards light (instead of darkness) when we all focus, concentrate, meditate together.

Kind of like when set our personal intentions and dedications towards the beginning of our āsana practice.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

 

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

 

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

 

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

– The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! I will once again offer two New Year’s Day practices on January 1st (2022). You can start the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. There will also be a reflective “First Friday Night Special” on January 7th. All times are Central Standard. Log-in details will be updated on the “Class Schedules” calendar

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

For Those Who Missed It: Music for This Date (“the post that almost wasn’t”) December 8, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This following was originally posted in December of 2020. 

I wasn’t 100% sure if I was even going to post it back then, but…here it is, again, for your pleasure and consideration. Class information has been updated and I did remix the playlist. (The original is still available if you go back to the original post.)

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Take a moment to notice how you feel – maybe even do that 90-second thing.

I mention all the time that what is happening in this moment, including how we feel, is the culmination of all the moments that have come before and that this moment is the beginning of everything that comes next – including how we feel in the next moment. But, take a moment to consider how what you think and believe about what’s happening (and what you’re feeling) directly impact this moment… and therefore all the other moments. What we think and what we believe impact not only what we are feeling, but also what we are doing and how we do it. So, go a little deeper into what you believe.

There was a time, when people within the Roman Catholic tradition referred to today as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today in 1854, however, Pope Pius IX issued a dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception – declaring her “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” – and making today the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is one of almost 20 Marian feast days on the Roman Catholic Calendar – not to mention the many local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. Eastern Orthodox Christian churches have a different calendar, as well as a different definition of Immaculate Conception, and celebrate tomorrow, December 9th, as the Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos or the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary.

“…what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.”

– quoted from Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX (“Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, in the eighth day of December, 1854, in the either year of our pontificate.”)

Pope Pius IX was pope from June of 1846 until February 1878 – and, for most of that time, he was also the (last) Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States, making him simultaneously “King” and “Pope.” Meaning, he was the last pope to serve as both a secular and spiritual ruler and therefore he was officially concerned with both secular and spiritual issues. Sometimes, there were obvious conflicts. At one point during his reign he was seen as liberal enough to appoint an enlightened minister; release religious political prisoners; and nullify the requirement for Jewish people to attend Mass. However, he also upheld the Church’s right to remove a child from their Jewish parents simply because the Church recognized the child as Catholic (it’s a long and sketchy story). Some people’s opinion of him changed after he released a very dogmatic encyclical, today in 1864, condemning what he defined as 80 errors or heresies of the modern age (including liberalism, modernism, and secularization, just to name a few).

If you are Catholic, or even some version of Christian, certain aspects of today’s practice may feel extra connected to the story and symbolism of the Virgin Mary. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, you may not even notice those elements – except when they feel good to you or not so good to you. This is true of every one of my practices. There is always a physical-mental element, as well as the emotional-energetic elements and psychic-symbolic. Sometimes I break down the meanings and the whys and wherefores of a practice. Every once in a while, however, I just put it out there – and then each element is significant to you based on what you feel, think, and believe. This happens not only with the sequence and the stories I choose to tell, but also with the music. Noticing how you feel about any and all of that (i.e., self-study) is a key element of the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Today’s playlist features a few of the many really amazing musicians who were born on this date (and one really amazing musician who was killed on this date). Notice how your prior connection to the music and/or the musicians changes your experience of the practice. Notice, also, the times when you don’t have a prior experience and yet you are still able to get something out of the moment.

“‘If I don’t work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn’t have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look – which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job.’”

– Phil Collen, quoted about his cardio, lifting, and Muy Thai kickboxing exercise regime and vegan diet in “Work-Life Balance: Get Fit, Lose Weight: What Happened When I Tried Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Fitness Program” by Jeff Haden, published on Inc.com (June 1, 2017)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 8th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’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.)

“Music for the Date” features Sir James Galway (b. 1939), Sinead O’Connor (b. 1966), Sammy Davis Jr. (b. 1925), Jim Morrison (b. 1943), Gregg Allman (b. 1947), Phil Collen (b. 1957), John Lennon (d. 1980) – with references Nicki Minaj (b. 1982) and Sam Hunt (b. 1984). If I remix The remixed playlist it will also includes part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, which premiered today 1813.

“During the later war years, he had composed the Seventh Symphony in the Bohemian town of Teplitz in 1811 – 1812 and Wellington’s Victory, both of which were premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven conducted the concert himself and addressed the audience before the presentation, saying, ‘We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.’”

– quoted from Double Emperor: The Life and Times of Francis of Austria by Chip Wagar

### OM AUM ###

Gazing into Our Self (again) October 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Health, Life, Love, Men, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Women, Yoga.
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NOTE: The following was originally posted on October 24, 2020. Class information has been updated (towards the end of the post).

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

Even in years like this, when I don’t actually teach on the anniversary of the birth of the philosopher of Friedrich Nietzsche, his words creep into my brain. I find myself, on the mat or on the cushion, seeking the form or āsana (“seat”) where power increases and overcomes resistance, so there is happiness. I find myself seeking truth by exploring the realm of “any form of scepticism to which I can reply, ‘Let’s try it!’ But I want to hear nothing more about all the things and questions that don’t admit of experiment.” And, while I definitely consider what makes us stronger, I also consider on what we focus, concentrate, meditate; and how that focus affects us.

Towards the end of the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers various ways to meditate – which he later explains (YS 2.11) can destroy the afflicted thought patterns which cause suffering. But towards the end of that list, he seems to throw his hands up and say, “You know what, focus on whatever.” (YS 1.39) Yes, yes, the actual word he uses, abhimata (“well-considered”) is a little more precise than “whatever.” More importantly, however, is that he goes on to tell us “that meditating on different objects leads to different experiences.” (YS 1.41)

And there, again, is our old friend Nietzsche, making us consider into what we gaze!

“[M]y work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Born today in 1632, in Delft, Dutch Republic, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is known as the “Father of Microbiology,” because he gazed long into tiny microscopes and then wrote letters to the Royal Society in London describing what he found. Van Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist, however. Instead, he was a draper who used lenses (as drapers and jewelers do) to see the quality of the material. But he was also a very curious person and so he started playing around with making his magnifying glasses more magnificent. Eventually he developed a (teeny tiny) lens so strong he could see what he called “animalcules.” And those “tiny animals,” which we now know as “microbes,” were everywhere! On his fine linen, on his tables and chairs, on his skin, in his body, on (and in) his family and friends – even in the air he breathed.

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek observed unicellular organisms as well as multicellular organisms (in pond water). He was the first to observe and document muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells, and blood flowing in capillaries. In part because he wasn’t a scientist, and in part because no one else had observed such things, people were a little skeptical. The thing was (and is), his observations could be duplicated. Other people could see what he saw – using his super strong lenses that magnified up to 275 times.

To add a certain level of credibility, van Leeuwenhoek allowed people to believe he spent all day and all night grinding glass and then peering into it. And, in fact, he did make about hundreds of lenses of various intensities and at least 25 different types of single-lens microscopes. It did not, however, take as much time as he led people to believe. He was after all, a businessman who had a shop to run. Sometimes, however, credibility comes down to illusion.

“People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I’ve spent more time than many will believe, but I’ve done them with joy, and I’ve taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Today in 1926, the internationally acclaimed Harry Houdini performed his last show. He was at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, performing with a 104˚ fever, cold sweats, and acute appendicitis. Additionally, he had fractured his left ankle when a piece of equipment accidentally struck him on October 11th and then, on Oct 22nd, a student at Montreal’s McGill University punched him in the stomach before he could brace himself. (Note: The student wasn’t trying to hurt Houdini, but instead wanted to see for himself if the illusionist could resist hard punches.) After the show in Montreal, Houdini complained of stomach pain; but the show must go on. He collapsed after the show in Michigan and was rushed to Grace Hospital, where he died in Room 401 on Halloween.

People were, and continue to be, fascinated by Harry Houdini’s life and death. To this day, people hold séances on Halloween night in an attempt to contact his spirit. James “The Amazing” Randi, a famous magician and (perhaps the most famous) skeptic, died on October 20th at the age of 92. He broke some of Houdini’s records and was one of the co-founders of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which endeavors to debunk some larger than life myths and promotes (observable) science in classrooms. I’m guessing his husband, Jose, is not of the same mindset as Houdini’s wife, Bess, who set up the first Halloween séance 10 years after Harry Houdini’s death. However, I’m betting someone still tries to contact him, because wouldn’t that be the ultimate coup: winning The Amazing Randi’s $1M prize by successfully contacting his spirit.

“Magical thinking, you know, is a slippery slope. Sometimes it’s harmless enough, but other times it’s quite dangerous. Personally, I’m opposed to that kind of fakery, so I have no kinds of reservations at all about exposing those people and their illusions for what they really are.”

– James “The Amazing” Randi

James Randi, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Friedrich Nietzsche, and even Harry Houdini encouraged us to consider our thinking. Why can we be fooled and why do we sometimes not believe what is right in front of ours. There is also the question of what do we believe and what do we want to believe. All things that can best be answered by gazing long into ourselves – and this, again and again, is what Patanjali recommended.

One of the niyamās (“internal observations”) is svādhyāyā (“self-study”) which is a form of discernment whereby we look at ourselves – our thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, or even historical scenarios. In explaining the benefits of this type of internal observation, Patanjali references “bright being(s),” “angel(s),” or “God” (depending on the translation). It’s not the first, not the last time, Patanjali references something higher than our physical form. Each time, however, he is very deliberate about the word he uses. During the practice, I often say, “God – whatever that means to you at this moment” and, in the case of Yoga Sūtra 2.44 we have an opportunity to really focus, concentrate, meditate on what that means to us, and why it matters.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 24th) 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.

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

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.)

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

Check out this post if you’re interested in reading a little more about Harry Houdini’s last month.

### LOOK HERE, LOOK INSIDE HERE! ###

Seeing Those Who’ve Reached Their Aim (mostly the music) August 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Yoga.
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“Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout;”

 

 

– quoted from the poem “Casey at the Bat” (lines 49 – 51) by Ernest Thayer (b. 8/14/1863)

 

 

“Self-study enables us to see and live in the company of bright beings – rishis and siddhas – who are inherently imbued with brilliance. Here “brilliance” refers to the transforming power of their intrinsic luminosity. In the presence of this radiance, we not only see these luminous beings but we also being to sense and eventually experience our own inherent radiance. Each time we come in touch with these bright beings, our consciousness is elevated to a new height. Their presence fills our consciousness with ever-greater purity, thus destroying the veil that hides our buddhi sattva, the essence of our inner intelligence. We comprehend reality as it is.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.44 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, August 14th) 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.

 

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.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sidd Finch #21 4/1/2020”]

 

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.)

REMINDER: Tomorrow’s ZOOM practice is cancelled. If you are on Sunday’s mailing list, you will receive a previously recorded practice.

 

### 🎶 ###

Music for This Date (“the post that almost wasn’t”) December 9, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[I wasn’t 100% sure if I was even going to post this, but…here it is, for your pleasure and consideration. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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.)]

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Take a moment to notice how you feel – maybe even do that 90-second thing.

I mention all the time that what is happening in this moment, including how we feel, is the culmination of all the moments that have come before and that this moment is the beginning of everything that comes next – including how we feel in the next moment. But, take a moment to consider how what you think and believe about what’s happening (and what you’re feeling) directly impact this moment… and therefore all the other moments. What we think and what we believe impact not only what we are feeling, but also what we are doing and how we do it. So, go a little deeper into what you believe.

There was a time, when people within the Roman Catholic tradition referred to today as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today in 1854, however, Pope Pius IX issued a dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception – declaring her “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” – and making today the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is one of almost 20 Marian feast days on the Roman Catholic Calendar – not to mention the many local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. Eastern Orthodox Christian churches have a different calendar, as well as a different definition of Immaculate Conception, and celebrate tomorrow, December 9th, as the Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos or the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary.

“…what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.”

– quoted from Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX (“Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, in the eighth day of December, 1854, in the either year of our pontificate.”)

Pope Pius IX was pope from June of 1846 until February 1878 – and, for most of that time, he was also the (last) Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States, making him simultaneously “King” and “Pope.” Meaning, he was the last pope to serve as both a secular and spiritual ruler and therefore he was officially concerned with both secular and spiritual issues. Sometimes, there were obvious conflicts. At one point during his reign he was seen as liberal enough to appoint an enlightened minister; release religious political prisoners; and nullify the requirement for Jewish people to attend Mass. However, he also upheld the Church’s right to remove a child from their Jewish parents simply because the Church recognized the child as Catholic (it’s a long and sketchy story). Some people’s opinion of him changed after he released a very dogmatic encyclical, today in 1864, condemning what he defined as 80 errors or heresies of the modern age (including liberalism, modernism, and secularization, just to name a few).

If you are Catholic, or even some version of Christian, certain aspects of today’s practice may feel extra connected to the story and symbolism of the Virgin Mary. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, you may not even notice those elements – except when they feel good to you or not so good to you. This is true of every one of my practices. There is always a physical-mental element, as well as the emotional-energetic elements and psychic-symbolic. Sometimes I break down the meanings and the whys and wherefores of a practice. Every once in a while, however, I just put it out there – and then each element is significant to you based on what you feel, think, and believe. This happens not only with the sequence and the stories I choose to tell, but also with the music. Noticing how you feel about any and all of that (i.e., self-study) is a key element of the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Today’s playlist features a few of the many really amazing musicians who were born on this date (and one really amazing musician who was killed on this date). Notice how your prior connection to the music and/or the musicians changes your experience of the practice. Notice, also, the times when you don’t have a prior experience and yet you are still able to get something out of the moment.

“‘If I don’t work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn’t have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look – which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job.’”

– Phil Collen, quoted about his cardio, lifting, and Muy Thai kickboxing exercise regime and vegan diet in “Work-Life Balance: Get Fit, Lose Weight: What Happened When I Tried Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Fitness Program” by Jeff Haden, published on Inc.com (June 1, 2017)

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Music for the Date” features Sir James Galway (b. 1939), Sinead O’Connor (b. 1966), Sammy Davis Jr. (b. 1925), Jim Morrison (b. 1943), Gregg Allman (b. 1947), Phil Collen (b. 1957), John Lennon (d. 1980) – with references Nicki Minaj (b. 1982) and Sam Hunt (b. 1984). If I remix the playlist it will also include part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, which premiered today 1813.

“During the later war years, he had composed the Seventh Symphony in the Bohemian town of Teplitz in 1811 – 1812 and Wellington’s Victory, both of which were premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven conducted the concert himself and addressed the audience before the presentation, saying, ‘We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.’”

– quoted from Double Emperor: The Life and Times of Francis of Austria by Chip Wagar

### OM AUM ###

Gazing into Our Self October 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Health, Life, Love, Men, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Women, Yoga.
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“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

Even in years like this, when I don’t actually teach on the anniversary of the birth of the philosopher of Friedrich Nietzsche, his words creep into my brain. I find myself, on the mat or on the cushion, seeking the form or āsana (“seat”) where power increases and overcomes resistance, so there is happiness. I find myself seeking truth by exploring the realm of “any form of scepticism to which I can reply, ‘Let’s try it!’ But I want to hear nothing more about all the things and questions that don’t admit of experiment.” And, while I definitely consider what makes us stronger, I also consider on what we focus, concentrate, meditate; and how that focus affects us.

Towards the end of the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers various ways to meditate – which he later explains (YS 2.11) can destroy the afflicted thought patterns which cause suffering. But towards the end of that list, he seems to throw his hands up and say, “You know what, focus on whatever.” (YS 1.39) Yes, yes, the actual word he uses, abhimata (“well-considered”) is a little more precise than “whatever.” More importantly, however, is that he goes on to tell us “that meditating on different objects leads to different experiences.” (YS 1.41)

And there, again, is our old friend Nietzsche, making us consider into what we gaze!

“[M]y work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Born today in 1632, in Delft, Dutch Republic, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is known as the “Father of Microbiology,” because he gazed long into tiny microscopes and then wrote letters to the Royal Society in London describing what he found. Van Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist, however. Instead, he was a draper who used lenses (as drapers and jewelers do) to see the quality of the material. But he was also a very curious person and so he started playing around with making his magnifying glasses more magnificent. Eventually he developed a (teeny tiny) lens so strong he could see what he called “animalcules.” And those “tiny animals,” which we now know as “microbes,” were everywhere! On his fine linen, on his tables and chairs, on his skin, in his body, on (and in) his family and friends – even in the air he breathed.

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek observed unicellular organisms as well as multicellular organisms (in pond water). He was the first to observe and document muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells, and blood flowing in capillaries. In part because he wasn’t a scientist, and in part because no one else had observed such things, people were a little skeptical. The thing was (and is), his observations could be duplicated. Other people could see what he saw – using his super strong lenses that magnified up to 275 times.

To add a certain level of credibility, van Leeuwenhoek allowed people to believe he spent all day and all night grinding glass and then peering into it. And, in fact, he did make about hundreds of lenses of various intensities and at least 25 different types of single-lens microscopes. It did not, however, take as much time as he led people to believe. He was after all, a businessman who had a shop to run. Sometimes, however, credibility comes down to illusion.

“People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I’ve spent more time than many will believe, but I’ve done them with joy, and I’ve taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Today in 1926, the internationally acclaimed Harry Houdini performed his last show. He was at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, performing with a 104˚ fever, cold sweats, and acute appendicitis. Additionally, he had fractured his left ankle when a piece of equipment accidentally struck him on October 11th and then, on Oct 22nd, a student at Montreal’s McGill University punched him in the stomach before he could brace himself. (Note: The student wasn’t trying to hurt Houdini, but instead wanted to see for himself if the illusionist could resist hard punches.) After the show in Montreal, Houdini complained of stomach pain; but the show must go on. He collapsed after the show in Michigan and was rushed to Grace Hospital, where he died in Room 401 on Halloween.

People were, and continue to be, fascinated by Harry Houdini’s life and death. To this day, people hold séances on Halloween night in an attempt to contact his spirit. James “The Amazing” Randi, a famous magician and (perhaps the most famous) skeptic, died on October 20th at the age of 92. He broke some of Houdini’s records and was one of the co-founders of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which endeavors to debunk some larger than life myths and promotes (observable) science in classrooms. I’m guessing his husband, Jose, is not of the same mindset as Houdini’s wife, Bess, who set up the first Halloween séance 10 years after Harry Houdini’s death. However, I’m betting someone still tries to contact him, because wouldn’t that be the ultimate coup: winning The Amazing Randi’s $1M prize by successfully contacting his spirit.

“Magical thinking, you know, is a slippery slope. Sometimes it’s harmless enough, but other times it’s quite dangerous. Personally, I’m opposed to that kind of fakery, so I have no kinds of reservations at all about exposing those people and their illusions for what they really are.”

– James “The Amazing” Randi

James Randi, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Friedrich Nietzsche, and even Harry Houdini encouraged us to consider our thinking. Why can we be fooled and why do we sometimes not believe what is right in front of ours. There is also the question of what do we believe and what do we want to believe. All things that can best be answered by gazing long into ourselves – and this, again and again, is what Patanjali recommended.

One of the niyamās (“internal observations”) is svādhyāyā (“self-study”) which is a form of discernment whereby we look at ourselves – our thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, or even historical scenarios. In explaining the benefits of this type of internal observation, Patanjali references “bright being(s),” “angel(s),” or “God” (depending on the translation). It’s not the first, not the last time, Patanjali references something higher than our physical form. Each time, however, he is very deliberate about the word he uses. During the practice, I often say, “God – whatever that means to you at this moment” and, in the case of Yoga Sūtra 2.44 we have an opportunity to really focus, concentrate, meditate on what that means to us, and why it matters.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, October 24th) 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 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.)

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “Guru Purnima 2020”)

### LOOK HERE, LOOK INSIDE HERE! ###