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Having A Say, redux (the “missing” post) November 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Hope, Life, Meditation, Men, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, November 11th. Some passages were previously posted. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Almost every January, I ask the question “What is a woman?” Then, at various times throughtout the year, I offer different lives and perspectives that could be considered as answers. But, whenever I address the issue, I recognize that the “controversial” question Simone de Beauvoir posed in 1949, is no less controversial today. In fact, it can seem more controversial today, because it is often used as a “gotcha” question asked by people who have vastly different intentions than Simone de Beauvoir. Remember, she was asking and addressing the question for philosophical insight. And, here I am doing the same.

I know, I know, I’m just asking for trouble here, but please consider a couple of things before moving forward. First, as I just mentioned, this is not the first time – in class or on the blog – that I’ve referenced what it means to be a woman. Second, I’m referencing it here in relation to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. Specifically, I’m referencing the meaning of the word “woman” – or “women,” “wimmin,” “womyn,” “womban,” “womon,” and “womxn” – in relation to Yoga Sūtra 3.17, which indicates that “By making samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are ordinarily confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living beings.” [NOTE: “one’s reaction to it” is sometimes translated as “knowledge of it.”]

I absolutely could use a less “controversial” word – as other teachers do. I’ve heard a teacher reference a pencil and another teacher (Vyasa, perhaps) used a cow. In class, I actually cited Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition, who used the example of a table in his commentary on the sūtras. Those are all great examples, simple examples; because, if you know English (assuming you are reading this text in it’s original language), the sight/sound of each of those words is associated with specific objects, which immediately come to mind. If you don’t know a word, it is meaningless to you. Nothing comes to mind or you think of something that feels off, not quite right. But, you don’t know the word, so you need more information.

On the flip side, you can know the word and still need more information, because your perception of what I mean may not be the same as mine. We may not have the same object(s) in mind. However, by using our supernormal power of words, we can come to an agreement about the qualities that make up the concept that exists in the world (i.e., the pencil-ness, cow-ness, and/or table-ness of the thing). In other words, we can go deeper into our understanding of what makes something what we perceive/understand it to be.

While it seems like people have been going deeper into our understanding of what it means to be a woman since the dawn of time (or, at the very least, since recorded history), there’s always the possibility — not to mention the fear — that someone will completely miss the point.

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow in our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep to oursleves along, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.

quoted from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention (and birthday celebration for Susan B. Anthony), February 18, 1890

If we just stick with modern (Western) history, the question of what it means to be a woman is a question that contains multitudes. For instance, when we talk about Miss Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, the question becomes about their vocations. In a conversation about Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Oliver, the question becomes about upbringing and sex(uality). For Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zitkála-Šá, as well as for Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Erdrich, Nikki Giovanni, and so many others, the question becomes about culture, race, and behavior (including sex and sexuality). Then the conversation turns to health and well-being, especially mental health, when we focus on Bertha Pappenheim (“Anna O”). We can easily pickup all of those threads if we are discussion Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, or Ntozake Shange, because their lives prove that the question of what it means to be a woman is always about all of those things – and also about rights and responsibilities. We can start our conversation about what the word means, to us and to others, at any one of those intersecting points. However, since Saturday was the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, let’s start with the issue of rights and responsibilities.

Born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist, abolitionist, and suffragist. While she was one of the most influential leaders of the women’s rights movement, she does not fit the stereotypical image of a “women’s liber” or a “man-hating feminist.” She was, for example, no Susan B. Anthony. However, one could argue that there would have been no Susan B. Anthony — as she is remembered today — without Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While their backgrounds and life choices were different, they were united in their quest for equal rights.

“If I were to draw up a set of rules for the guidance of reformers, such as Franklin and other celebrities tell us they did for their own use, I should put at the head of the list: Do all you can, no matter what, to get people to think on your reform, and then, if your reform is good, it will come about in due season.”

– quoted from a diary entry dated “Cleveland, August 20 [1888]” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (as published in Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letterz, Diary and Reminiscences, Edited by Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Volume Two])

Elizabeth Cady grew up in a wealthy family with a conservative lawyer for a father (Daniel Cady) and and a very progressive abolitionist mother (Margaret Livingston Cady). Some biographers say that the Cady family had servants, at least three of whom were African American. At least one of those “servants” (Peter Teabout) was actually enslaved and it was in his company that she and her sisters sometimes attended church. 

It seems that it was just her and her sisters that sat in the back pews of the church. While she was the seventh of eleven children, six of her siblings, including all of her brothers, died before reaching adulthood. Her last brother died when she was around ten and she responded to her parents’ grief by stating that she would live the lives her brothers would not get a chance to live. Her father’s response, that he wished she were a boy, was the first time she felt there was a difference between her sisters and her brothers. 

Despite the perceived difference between the siblings, Elizabeth Cady was well-educated — for a girl of her time — and received high marks and recognition in her advanced classes. She even convinced her father to send her to Troy Female Seminary, where she became actively interested in the abolitionist movement. It was through the seminary and the abolitionis movement that she and befriended Frederick Douglass. It was also the way she met her greatest collaborators in life: Henry Brewster Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

“This can already be seen in the different reception given a new citizen of the world. If the father or someone else asked what ‘it’ was after a successful birth, the answer might be either the satisfied report of a boy, or—with pronounced sympathy for the disappointment— ‘Nothing, a girl,’ or ‘Only a girl.’”

– Bertha Pappenheim (b. 02/27/1859) as quoted in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Koultun

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (b. 01/09/1908)

Elizabeth Cady and Henrey Brewster Stanton met at the home of her  first cousin, Gerrit Smith (son of her maternal aunt), who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and one of the “Secret Six,” who funded John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, which initiated the revolt that was a prelude to the Civil War. At the time that they met, Henry Brewster Stanton was an attorny, abolitionist, and social reformer, who would go on to become a journalist and politician. Some say his support of the suffragist movement was tangential, but no one can argue that it was instrumental. It was instrumental on many levels, including the fact that he unconditionally supported his wife.

When they married in 1840, the couple omitted the word “obey” from their vows — which was a common Quaker tradition, although neither of them were Quakers. Elizabeth Cady took her husband’s surname, but she was never known simply as “Mrs. Henry B. Stanton;” she was always, in some way, recognized as “Cady Stanton.” But the exclusion or inclusion of a single word, did not diminish the couples union. Nor did it diminish her role in the household.

“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)

Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she recognized that healthy women had similar desires as healthy men; believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships; and proclaimed a man’s “drunkeness” as grounds for divorce (or, at the very least, abstinance). She also belived that a woman should absolutely have dominion over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. 

Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. While Henry Brewster Stanton traveled ten months out of the year in the 1850’s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” However, her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive. Whenever the family moved, they set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and the women figured out the best way to work towards their goals: 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote; Susan B. Anthony organized and spoke.

“Eventually Anthony supplanted Henry in Elizabeth’s affections. Both Henry and Susan moved in and out of her life and her household, but overall, Stanton probably spent more hours and days with Anthony than any other adult.”

– quoted from the “Methodological Note: Stanton in Psychological Perspective” section of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elisabeth Griffith

The collaboration between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not restricted to speeches. They co-founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society – after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was female – and the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863. The league, which used different iterations of the name, was specifically formed to lobby for the abolition of slavery. At one time they collected almost 40,000 signatures in support of abolition, which was the largest petition drive in United States history at that time. They also initiated the American Equal Rights Association (1866) and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).

On January 8, 1868, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started publishing the weekly paper The Revolution. The paper’s motto was “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In addition to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, the paper covered general politics, the labor movement, and finance. Ms. Anthony ran the business end of things. Mrs. Cady Stanton co-edited the newspaper with the abolitionist minister Parker Pillsbury. The initially received funding from the transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train – who shared their views on women’s rights, but not on abolition – but eventually transferred control of the paper to the wealthy writer and activist Laura Curtis Bullard, who toned “the revolution” down a bit.

The ladies that started it, however, did not tone down at all.

“He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies, which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.”

 

quoted from the The Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with Mary Ann M’Clintock

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was actively engaged in the fight for civil rights long before meeting Susan B. Anthony. Along with Lucretia Coffin Mott and Martha Coffin Wright, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention organized by women and was the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Frederick Douglass’s name on the Declaration of Sentiments was not an accident or random happenstance. He and Mrs. Cady Stanton met early in her crusade for universal suffrage and he was one of her staunch supporters during the Seneca Falls Convention. In fact, some historians note that it was his very vocal support that led to the acceptance of the Declaration. While his support for women’s suffrage did not wane, he, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony (with whom he would also eventually befriend) did temporarily break away from each other when the issue of suffrage was divided over race and gender. He also called out E. Cady Stanton for using racist terms about Black and Asian men, when it looked like they might get the vote before (white) women. 

That divide between the three friends is a great way to highlight the fact that the fight for voting rights has always marginalized already marginalized people. It has asked people to define themselves as one thing over the other. This, as many scholars have pointed out, is not something straight, white, Christian males in America have historically had to do. They can just be “men” and everything else is understood as a foregone conclusion.

Marginalized people, however, have had to “pick one” all the time. This was especially true in the 19th century, when the presence of Black women was desired by both sides of the suffrage movement. Yet, to deny one side of themselves meant that they could be excluded from voting; either because they were Black… or because they were a woman.

Susan B. Anthony forced this issue into the courts when she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, in 1872. She was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted during the very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial (United States v. Susan B. Anthony). The case hinged on the definition of a citizen (as it related to the 14th Amendment) and the definition of a woman. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

It’s unclear how, exactly, they determined that she was a woman on the date in question.

“U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Can I provide a definition? [Senator Blackburn confirms.] No. I can’t.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): You can’t?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): So, you believe the word ‘woman’ is so unclear and controversial that you can’t give me a definition?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Senator, in my work as a judge, what I do is, I address disputes. If there is a dispute about a definition, people make arguments and I look at the law and I decide….”

– quoted from the confirmation hearing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ketanji Brown Jackson (Tuesday, March 22, 2022)

Fast forward to the 21st century, where Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Janelle Monet sing lyrics that seem to be lifted directly from the Declaration of Sentiments or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s diary – and to that moment when then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was being interviewed to be the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. Fast forward to that moment, when two very different women faced the question about the definition (the meaning) of the word woman.

When I heard Senator Marsha Blackburn’s question, I heard it as so many people heard it: as that “gotcha” question some people like to ask these days. I also heard it, as so many others have heard it throughout history, as a pick-a-side question. The sides might be defined in different ways now, versus in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it still marginalizes people who are already marginalized. What I did not hear was a question asked with a sincere interest in the inquiry. What I did not hear was a question posed with an interest in how any of us decides on our answers.

Many people, Senator Blackburn included, have said that Supreme Court Justice Brown Jackson did not answer the question. Others have pointed out that she absolutely answered the question – she just didn’t answer the question with either/any of the answers they wanted to hear. It doesn’t help that many media outlets only reported a portion of her answer. In fact, most major outlets only quoted her as saying, “I’m not a biologist.” 

Which, I think we can all agree is true.

I also think, though, that the issue isn’t whether or not Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a biologist. And, despite the way the exchange was reported, the issue isn’t even whether or not being a biologist is relevant. The relevant part,in that case, was how a judge, or justice, defines things (i.e., words) as it relates to the law and specific contexts related to the law. As then-Judge Brown Jackson pointed out, the role of judges, or justices, is to look at the differing definitions (when there is a dispute),the arguments behind the definitions, and the law. In other words, they focus-concentrate-meditate on the word, people’s understandings of the word, and the related (or relevant) qualities (as they apply to the law).

Take a moment, to think apply the tool of samyama to the word “woman” (or any of the other aforementioned variations of the theme)*:

  • What, or who, comes to mind? 

  • What’s your “standard” for a woman? 

  • How many women do you know that don’t fit your exact standard? 

  • What are the overlapping qualities that apply to your “standard” and also to those outside of your standard?

  • How do you know you know if someone has those overlapping qualities?

*NOTE: This is a deliberately simple rubric, so that you can decide on attributes. If your only attribute is “sex/female,” you could skip the first two questions or you could layout a biological definition of female.

Yoga Sūtra 3.35: hṛdaye cittasaṃvit

– “By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the contents of the mind.”

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: YouTube features several extra videos that are not available on Spotify. Some are speeches worth hearing. Some are music videos worth seeing. To make up the difference, the Spotify playlist has its own Easter egg.

ERRATA: The original post linked to the wrong YouTube playlist. My apologies for the inconvenience.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas (b. 08/03/1902)

### LET’S GET LOUD ~JL ###

Having A Say, redux (mostly the music) November 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Life, Music, Suffering, Yoga.
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Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, November 12th) 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: There are several extra videos that are not available on Spotify. Some are speeches worth hearing. Some are music videos worth seeing.

ERRATA: I originally linked to the wrong YouTube playlist. My apologies for the inconvenience.

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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.)

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FTWMI: The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story May 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

 

The following was previously posted in 2021. Holiday related dates and statistics, as well as class details have been updated.

“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

 

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

 

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

 

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st as Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who raised Jesus (at God’s behest), taught Jesus a trade, and (as a carpenter) emphasized the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lápiz” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

 

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how the way I’m living now and what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeleine or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 1st) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: Due to artist protests, one song may not play on Spotify. As I support artists in their efforts to bring about change, I am not re-mixing affected playlists.

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

     

### WORDED (that’s the whole story) ###

The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story (2 “missing” Saturday posts) May 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings, also, to those who are Counting the Omer (and, also, to those who are not).

 

[This is a post related to Saturday, May 1st and Saturday, May 8th (making it a preview for Saturday, May 15th). 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.]

“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

 

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

 

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

 

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st as Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who raised Jesus (at God’s behest), taught Jesus a trade, and (as a carpenter) emphasized the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lápiz” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

 

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how the way I’m living now and what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeleine or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 1st is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 8th is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

     

### WORDED (that’s the whole story) ###