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Let’s See…Where We Go May 23, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

 

“‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

There are some things that once seen (heard, felt), cannot be unseen (unheard, unfelt). Those things – whether we like them or dislike them; whether we truly understand their nature or not – become part of us and part of our world. Those things – whether we recognize/identify them as part of ourselves and/or part of our world – become how we perceive ourselves and the world. Those things – whether they are specific, unspecific, barely describable, or absolutely indescribable – play a part in how we understand ourselves and our world. Those things… are (almost) everything: and everything can lead to fulfillment and freedom.

The statements above are a way to view Yoga Sutras 2.17 – 2.20, which we’ve covered on Saturdays in the last few weeks. (The calendar on the side will link you to posts on any given date if you want to review.) Those statements are also the scaffolding for this week’s sutra (2:21) which gets to the heart of why (to paraphrase the anonymous quote) everyone can only understand from our level of perception – as well as why one person doesn’t automatically “get” what another person “gets.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

One of the reasons I share/teach the things I share/teach is that I understand we (read: our minds) have to be prepared for epiphanies. In other words, we (our minds) have to be prepared to understand what we are seeing. Also, once we have that epiphany – that “aha” moment – where we start to see things in a different way (a special way), we can’t “unsee” that different perception of reality. It’s like the dress or the sound or the picture of the animal or the picture I once shared in the downtown studio.

Some people only ever see/hear/experience things a certain way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we can only believe what we understand; and so, you can talk until you are blue (or gold) in the face and some people will never understand anything other than what they first perceived. Their minds have not shown them any other possibility (YS 2.20). On the other hand, some people, when presented with the truth about the reality of the dress, the sound, or either picture will start to perceive the object in a different way. And, once they do, that new perception becomes part of their understanding of reality (YS 2:18 – 19). When presented the object of experience again, they may first still see what they initially perceived, but their mind/intellect will now also present them with the other option(s). Add to this the fact that there are some people who will initially experience both/all options (YS 2:15 – 17). While people in this last category can isolate what others perceive, they will also still understand the ultimate reality: it’s all about perception, baby.

And, our perceptions play a starring role in our actions, our suffering, and our ultimate freedom from suffering.

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

 

– from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

 

We have reached the end of the month of Ramadān, which can be viewed through the Yoga lens of Kriyā Yoga (a prescription or path to union). Part of the reason I share some of the history, pillars, and articles of faith related to Islam (as well as to Judaism and Christianity) is because if one person gains insight or additional understanding it not only changes their perception, it changes the way they relate to themselves and to the world. Sure, I hold out for the possibility of more than one person, but I also acknowledge that one person can make a big difference… if you know where to look for the change.

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

 

“ Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornadoes; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

 

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972

 

It might seem random that a technical talk to a science organization in 1972 would popularize a theory that dates back as far as 1800. Turns out, however, that it’s not random, it’s chaos (theory) and changing a seagull’s wings to a butterfly’s wings was just the beginning of a ripple of effect with a “strange” legacy. According to Edward Norton Lorenz (born today in 1917), he did not submit a title for his now famous speech (“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”). The title, which came from the session chair, Dr. Philip Merilees, carried “the idea that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology. It carried it everywhere – even into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. (Even though sometimes people don’t actually understand – or even know – the actual theory.)

If you are interested in experiencing some theory and “seeing” where it takes you, please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, this time using the lens of Ramadan and chaos theory. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020 75+ mins” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music (or use this “chaos” music).

 

(A little theory to go.)

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Threads, Instructions, Truth, Practice, To Contemplate May 12, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

SŪTRA [Sanskrit; also, “sutta” in Pali] – Thread or String, refers to a statement or collection of statements which make up sacred text and scripture in Indian philosophy and religions.

TALMUD [Hebrew] – Instruction or Learning, refers to collection of work which makes up the central text in Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish law and tradition. It is part of the “Torah,” which can also mean “instruction” – as well as “teaching” and “law” – so that it is “instruction on the teaching.”

GOSPEL [Latin > Old English] – a portmanteau meaning Good Narrative, Story, Sermon, or Speech (also, Good News), refers to accounts of Jesus’ life as told by his disciples in the Christian New Testament – often translated as “Truth.”

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam. It is written in the “Hadith” – which means “speech,” “narrative,” “talk,” and “discourse” – and is one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law.

MEDITATE [Latin > Old French > English] – To Think, Contemplate, Devise, Ponder, refers to the act, habit, and practice used by religious mystics and contemplatives, philosophers, and non-religious people dating back Before the Common Era.

 

Maya Angelou starts off her poem “Human Family,” by stating, “I note the obvious differences / in the human family.” She then goes on to explore the world and a myriad of people in various situations and relationships (including a literal myriad of “women/ called Jane and Mary Jane”) who are all different. Yet, she states at the end, “I note the obvious differences / between each sort and type, /
but we are more alike, my friends, / than we are unalike.”

“We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.”

 

– last lines repeated at the end of “Human Family” by Maya Angelou

As compelling as it is to notice how different we are, those differences can be a distraction that make us forget we are all part of the same human family and, also, that we are more alike than different. Forgetting really basic things like the fact that we all breathe; we all have a heart pumping blood through veins and arteries; we all experience some form of suffering and desire (and deserve) to be free of suffering; we all love something (“even if,” as Chögyam Trungpa famously said, “it’s only tortillas.”) leads to polarization and more suffering. Forgetting becomes a vicious cycle of separation, isolation, pain, and suffering. And here too, unfortunately, we are alike in that our suffering as a result of separation and isolation can lead us to inflict pain and suffering on others.

 

The funny thing is, lashing out at others becomes a source of what we desire most: connection, union, (dare I say it) yoga. It’s really messed up, co-dependent, and abusive connection, but it’s still connection. Like in the movie (and the song) “Crash,” sometimes the only time people who perceive themselves as different from each other connect is through pain, trauma, tragedy, and loss. Here’s the thing though, what brings us together is not nearly as important as how we choose to come together. What I mean by that is, when we crash into each other, our interaction can result in more pain or an alleviation of pain, maybe even joy. When we come together, for any reason, we can do so in a way that creates further separation and isolation (in other words, more pain and suffering) or in a way that reinforces our connections (sometimes on a much deeper level).

 

“Where do we go from here, where do we go?
And is it real or just something we think we know?
Where are we going now, where do we go?
‘Cause if it’s the same as yesterday, you know I’m out
Just so you know

Because, because our paths they cross
Yesterday was hard on all of us
On all of us”

 

– “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” by Fink

 

I could honestly copy the entire Fink song “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” to make my point, but I feel like the pandemic and social isolation that we are all experiencing also makes the point. Even introverts are craving a little social interaction. And those people you see on the news or social media, who are doing things you think are crazy, nonsensical, and selfish (or even independently thinking and patriotic) want the same things you and I want: to be safe, to be peaceful, to be happy, to be at ease, to experience joy and freedom from suffering.

 

We may have different ways of understanding what we desire, but ultimate what we want (and what we need) are the same all around the world. So, how do we get on the same page? Well, I’m going to ask you to consider – just for a moment – that maybe we don’t get on the same page, per se. Maybe, each of us turns towards the book(s) that make the most sense to us and notice what we find. I mean, sure, you could do the whole “choose your own ending” / fortune telling shtick, but I’m being serious. Pick up your sacred text or bible and you will find the truth of Maya Angelou’s words.

 

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhūti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

 

“Undisturbed calmness of mind comes by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, joy or happiness towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil (non-virtuous).

 

 

Yoga Sutra (1.33)

 

“You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

 

Vayikra – Leviticus (19:18)

 

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“On the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) — the servant of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) — that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. [Al-Bukhari]”

 

– 40 Hadith Nawawi 13

 

 

“Accept the things and occurrences to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so truly, sincerely.”

 

– from Meditations (Book 6) by Marcus Aurelius

 

Yes, yes, just because it’s there doesn’t mean anyone has to listen, pay attention, or practice what they preach. This too, we have in common: the ability to stare what we need right in the face… and not see it. The fact that it’s there, however, is an invitation to practice. So, today, we will practice variations on a theme.

Please join me today (Tuesday, May 12th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM, if you are interested (to paraphrase Metallica) in opening yourself up in a different way. (This practice is also Martha Graham inspired.) Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Since I couldn’t cover every practice, tradition, and belief in my little window, feel free to comment below with a “love offering” of your own.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all themes mentioned above and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

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