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Consider What’s Upstream August 22, 2020

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[My apologies to Anushka Fernandopulle, the teacher whose name I couldn’t remember last week, but whose dharma talk about getting on the right or wrong emotion/thought train has stuck with me for 6 years! You can find her article here and one of her talks here.]

“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house, there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

– quoted from Fahrenheit  451 by Ray Bradbury

“Almost every book I’ve read has left its mark.”

– Annie Proulx

Every writer’s work is directly or indirectly the result of everything they’ve experienced, done, seen, thought, and heard. Just like each point in our lives is the direct and indirect experience of everything we’ve experienced, done, seen, thought, and heard. Writing is, after all, just a reflection of life. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to distinguish the seams or pull apart the threads that make up the tapestry. But then you read work by writers like Ray Bradbury and Annie Proulx and it’s as if every word and every page is an instruction manual in how things are put together and how things come apart. It’s as if they are saying, “Here, here, pull here.”

Both born today, Bradbury (in 1935) and Proulx (in 1935) were and are writers whose works leave impressions, while simultaneously pointing out the impressions that are being left by the lives we lead. Their works, like Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and “The Sound of Thunder” and Proulx’s The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain” illustrate the cause and effect continuum that in yoga philosophy is referred to as karma (act, word, and deed – as well as the result or effect of effort) and samskāra (the mental and energetic impression left by the act, word, and deed). In life, while we are living it, we don’t always see where things begin and end. Reading brings our awareness to the edges, the extremes of the continuum – as does a meditation practice.

“Quoyle: A coil of rope.

‘A Flemish flake is a spiral of coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.’  THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS “

– quoted from The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

“‘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

If you could connect all the dots, follow all the threads, and re-trace every path of your life and the lives that intersect your life, you would have the story of how you got where you are, why you think what you think, and why you feel what you feel. There is a layer of that statement that might feel obvious and trite – or maybe even oversimplified. Go a little deeper, however, and you start to appreciate the layers and layers of vibrations that coil and stack to create this moment.

According to Eastern philosophies like Vedānta and Buddhism, we experience 108 types of sensations, emotions, or feelings. If you click here to see the math, you will notice that our attitudes towards what we perceive can be positive, negative, or neutral. Experience teaches us that when we have negative attitudes we are on a direct path towards suffering. (NOTE: As Patanali points out in the sūtras, positive attitudes can also, eventually, lead to suffering, but that’s the scenic route.) The direct path to suffering manifests in 27 different ways (and, according to some commentary, there are 81 sub-categories). Those 27 manifestations break down as follows:

  • 3 ways afflicting thoughts and acts of violence are put into action (by ourselves, through others, or by tacit (silent) consent)

  • 3 mental conditions that inspire dysfunctional or violent acts (greed, anger, confusion)

  • 3 degrees of intensity (mild, moderate, or intense)

This week’s yoga sūtra is Patanjali’s way of giving us sign posts that indicate, as Anushka Fernandopulle might say, that we have gotten on the wrong train. By breaking down the way in which our dysfunctional or afflicted thoughts lead to dysfunctional or violent words and acts, Patanjali reinforces the importance of the yamas and niyamas, the ethical components of the practice, as a way to train the mind. Getting on the right train of thought begins by noticing our thoughts and how they become our words and deeds. Notice, also, that from Patanjali’s perspective one is not off the hook because the violent act is perpetrated by another person – neither are we off the hook if our only “crime” is not saying something when we see something.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.34: vitarkā himsādayah kŗtakāritānumoditā lobharkrodhamohapūrvakā mŗdumadhyādhimātrā duhkājñānānantaophalā iti pratispakşabhāvanam

– “These troublesome thoughts are put into action by ourselves (directly), by others (indirectly caused by ourselves), or by our approval of others (and their actions). All of these are preceded by, or performed through, anger, greed, or confusion and can be mild, moderate, or intense in nature. Cultivating opposite thoughts is a reminder that these troublesome thoughts lead to unending suffering.”

Annie Proulx named one of her main characters after a coil of rope and used quotes from The Ashley Book of Knots to indicate what inspired her to write a novel. Ray Bradbury explained that he was “putting one foot in front of the other” when he described the inspiration for one of his short stories. If you don’t know where to begin, there’s more confusion; but, follow the thread and suddenly things make more sense.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 22nd) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “07112020 An Introduction” playlist.)

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.

### FIRST STEP: NOTICE. ###

Consider What’s Downstream August 15, 2020

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

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

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

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

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

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

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT ###

Deep Listening July 28, 2020

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“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

 

– Macbeth in Act V, Scene V of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

There is so much disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world that it can seem hard sometimes to know the truth. We can spend an extraordinary amount of time sifting and searching through all the disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world and, in the end, feel like the aforementioned Scottish king and the inspiration for a novel by William Faulkner. It’s frustrating. We may settle down for a moment and give up or we may rest awhile only to dive back in. But, really, those are two bad choices.

A third option is the oft overlooked option of being still, being quite, and turning inward instead of outward. Yes, every philosophy and major religion in the world emphasizes the importance of being dedicated to the truth. (This is the yamā or external restraint / universal commandment of satya in the 8-limb philosophy of yoga.) Every philosophy and major religion in the world also emphasizes that we carry the truth with us; it is inside of us. So, the key to seeking the truth isn’t turning outward, it is turning inward.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

Tehillim – Psalms (46:11, in some Hebrew texts; 46:10 in Christian texts)

 

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

 

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

Japji Sahib, known in English as The Song of the Soul, is an ancient Sikh text composed by Guru Nanak, the 15th Century founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The text was originally published in 1604 and, as indicated by the name is intended to be chanted. Remember, when we do the 108 Sun Salutations I refer to it as japa-ajapa, which is “repeat and repeat” or “repeat and remember.” Jap also means “understand.” This is a form of meditation which is also recommended in the Yoga Sūtra (1:27 – 1:28) and it allows the mind to use the repetition as a path and gateway into stillness.

I say “a path and gateway” because there are steps. One doesn’t just mumble a few words a few times and find themselves instantly still and quiet. You first have to get through the place where your mind is trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are repeating the same thing, over and over. It has to sift through the object that is the word, the meaning of the word, and the fact that you are focused on the object and the meaning of the word. Then, you start to internalize the word and let go of some of the outside distractions. Finally, you reach a state of pure cognition where, possibly, you and the word are absorbed into each other – in other words, you are the word. A dedicated, uninterrupted practice (also recommended by Patanjali) is helpful in this practice; however, the most important element is trusting and listening.

“By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
The Truth
Of your Inner
Consciousness
Will saturate your psyche
With wisdom
And deep understanding.

By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
You shall dwell
In all mansions
Of learning.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

 

“If you
Trust what you hear
When you listen,
Then you will know
What you see,
How to understand
And act.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom where we will listen deeply. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Since the mantras that I typically use in class are not available, this is an instant replay of the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and, if you can handle it, I recommend the “Music for 18 Musicians” – which can also be found without interruptions. Another option is to practice without music, which I also highly recommend.)

### LISTEN ###

 

Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

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“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like this, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

 

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

 

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and it didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

Please join me for a 65-minute “short form” virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 26th) at 2:30 PM, when you can practice your ethics. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

 

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way. If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

 

 

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Where the practice begins (and ends) July 25, 2020

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“Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.”

 

– Amir, remembering the lessons of his father, in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

 

“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.’ And they ask you what they should spend. Say, ‘The excess [beyond needs].’ Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.”

 

– quoted from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:219), Al-Qur’an al-Kareem

We all have a moral code, an ethical compass, something that helps us navigate through life – ostensibly creating as little harm as possible. The vast majority of people are born with an instinctual “true north,” just like every other creature in the natural world, and it’s calibrated based on the ethical lessons we are given early in our lives. We are given these lessons – about right and wrong and about how to conduct ourselves in the world – at a very early age, regardless of who we are, where we were born and raised, what language we speak, and/or which aspects of the Divine we may or may not honor. We can call them lessons of the father and the mothers, but they are also lessons of the sisters and brothers, lessons of the elders, lessons of the peers. Sometimes we are given explicit instructions, other times we watch the way people conduct themselves around us. Eventually, we recognize them as laws. And, just like Amir in The Kite Runner, there are times when we check in our moral compass and think, “Yes, this makes sense, this feels right” or, “Ooo, wow, this doesn’t make sense, this feels off.”

If you grow up in a society associated with one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islām) then you may think in terms of the commandments (10 or 613) or you think in terms of what is of benefit and what is forbidden (harām). If you grow up in a culturally Buddhist society, you may view things through the precepts. Still, when we get to a certain age, these lessons have been instilled in us and we take them with us wherever we go – even on the yoga mat.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Even if you have never heard of or explored the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, even if you have never been taught that the practice begins with an ethical component, the five yamās, or external restraints, will sound familiar. Along with the five niyamās, or internal observations, the yamās provide a rubric for the practice – that is to say, they give the practitioner direction about how to conduct themselves and how to move through the practice. Even when they are not the explicit focus of the practice, the yamās and niyamās make up the foundation of the practice. If you are not practicing them, or not practicing some form of them, while you are practicing āsanas (poses), you are not practicing yoga. One can also say that if you are practicing them while engaged in something other than āsana, then you are practicing yoga.

“Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”

 

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:1

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 25th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

 

“Talking about a path is not walking that path. Thinking about life is not living.”

 

– quoted from Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu (translation from A Path and a Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin)

 

### WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING? ###

 

Fill Your Cup! (It’s Compassion and Peace Week) July 13, 2020

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It’s Compassion and Peace Week! At least, that’s what I’m calling this week.

It’s an opportunity to practice peace and compassion on several different levels. I’ll explain later this week the reason why I often place a special focus on this time, but (for now) let’s just dive into the practice.

 

“We have the capacity to discover the tools and means to overcome our sorrow.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.24 (referencing one of the six “powers unique to human”) from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Just so we are all on the same page, remember that in the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali identifies afflicted (kleśāh) thought patterns as the cause of suffering; breaks down those afflicted thought patterns into five specific types of thought (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death); and further breaks down ignorance (avidyā), as it is the bedrock of the other four afflicted thought patterns. He then proceeds to outline ways to end ignorance, and therefore suffering.

If you’ve studied or practiced any Buddhism, this all sounds very familiar for a reason. I have heard that the Buddha was aware of the philosophy of yoga, maybe even practiced it for a bit, but found that it was not practical. Keep in mind that during Prince Siddhartha’s time practicing yoga stereotypically involved renouncing the world and renouncing the daily activities of the general populace. There were no classes you slipped in during your lunch hour or streamed before work. There was no separation between the physical and philosophical practices.

And this, some commentators say, is exactly why modern practitioners run into a problem. The problem being, perhaps, that we are already not on the same page. Take a moment to consider what you believe to be the state of absolute liberation and freedom from suffering.

After you’ve paused, and really considered yourself in a state devoid of freedom consider the following: Are you still in the world? Or, is your idea of enlightenment/heaven some place outside of this physical existence? Does your viewpoint make the achievement accessible or nearly impossible to achieve?

“The wisest course (so we are told) is to attain moksha, salvation, which in effect means extricating ourselves from the world as quickly as possible.

Patanjali’s understanding and experiences are antithetical to this view. According to his predecessor, Kapila, the impetus behind our birth and manifestation of the universe is anugraha, divine grace. Divine grace is suffused with unconditional love and compassion. Purusha, the intrinsic intelligence of [primordial matter/power], knows everything about each individual soul…. As purusha is spontaneously moved by its own realization, [primordial matter/power] begins to pulsate….

Compassion is the sole cause of the initial pulsation – the power of compassion is itself the pulsation (anugraha shakti). Thus, spiritually speaking, the power of compassion is our origin…. And we thrive due to the power of compassion inherent in us. The power of compassion is the power of the divine.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.5 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Remember, just last week, I quoted the 14th Dalai Lama, who said “that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Makes sense, right, that once again the Eastern philosophies mesh. But, before we get into that part of the practice, let’s take a side trip from Eastern philosophy into Western religion. (Consider this the scenic route.)

Because of where and how I was raised (Hello, Bible Belt!), so much of the language above reminds me of the language in The Gospel According to John. Specifically, in John 17, theoretically written by the youngest of the apostles, Jesus lays out a prayer and some very specific (although, I guess, easily forgotten or misunderstood) instructions. John the Apostle recounts Jesus foretelling his own death and asking that his disciples be protected by the same power he (Jesus) used to protect them in life. He then goes on to state, repeatedly (for emphasis), that he and they are not “of the world,” but that he and they have been sent “into the world” with a purpose. That purpose, again, is salvation and the end of suffering – through love (and many traditions agree). Note, however, that in the very middle of this passage, Jesus explicitly states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world….” (John 17:15, NIV) So, here, again, the instruction is to find, seek, teach, and discover the end of suffering in the material world. Patanjali even explicitly states that that is the purpose of the material world. (YS 2.18)

“Usually our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes the compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

 

“With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.”

 

– Verse 1 from Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshé Langri Tangpa

Compassion comes to us from the Latin phrase, by way of Old French and Middle English, for “to suffer with.” Take a moment to consider with whom you ALWAYS suffer. Take a moment to consider with whom you are closest. Take a moment to consider who you know the best.

The answer should be obvious, but for many it’s not: it’s us. Likewise, we ourselves are in the position to be the most respected by us, the most loved, the “most dear,” and the one we understand to have “the right to be happy and overcome suffering” – and yet, somehow we lose sight of this. Somehow we think that someone else is more worthy of happiness or the end of suffering. It used to seem odd to me that while the traditional way to practice “Metta” (loving-kindness) meditation is to start with oneself and work outwards to those who are most challenging for us to be loving and kind, “Karuna” (compassion) meditation traditionally starts with the one who is enduring the most. It seemed especially odd when you consider that the person suffering the most is sometimes the most challenging person in our lives. But, ultimately it’s not odd; it’s just a reflection of human nature.

“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)

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, NIV)

 

“I want you to know that I love you very much, and I’m very proud of you. I want you to know that if you can love me, you can love your… self. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to do a little mantra with you. I want you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything.’ I really want you to say that, because I believe that we can save the world if we save ourselves first.”

 

– Lizzo at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England

 

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 – from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Today is a good day to train your mind to offer yourself compassion. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 13th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice that begins with yourself.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles. If you are hungry, you have to find something to eat. But everyday problems are very mixed – they’re not clear. The Cube’s problem depends just on you. You can solve it independently. But to find happiness in life, you’re not independent. That’s the only big difference.”

 

– Ernő Rubik (b. 07/13/1944)

 

### MORE HEARTS ###

 

Introducing…. July 11, 2020

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

 

– from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (b. 07/11/1899)  

Think about your body for a moment: how it works, how it functions.

Of course, you can’t think about your body – how it works, how it functions – without thinking about your mind. So, think about your mind for a moment: how it works, how it functions.

Now, think about the breath… connecting the mind and the body. Notice how that all works.

Notice yourself, noticing yourself: your mind, your body, your spirit at work. Or at play – the way you think about it is up to you. I just want you to think about it for a moment.

I want you to think about how everything works together – even when it doesn’t.

Yoga Sutra 2.25: tadabhāvāt samyogābhāvo hānam taddŗśeh kaivalyam

 

– “Due to that lack or absence [of ignorance], the union or relationship [between our power to see and what is seen] ceases, and this leads to freedom known as absolute freedom, liberation, or enlightenment.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

 

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom].”

 

There’s an experience we’ve all had, at various times throughout our lives. We can call it “being in the zone” or “zoning out.” We can call it “going with the flow” or “being in the flow.” We can call it any number of things, but it is that moment when everything (including ourselves and our sense of ourselves) collapses and converges into a single moment and a single activity. We can call that experience of those moments anything – as it has been called a lot of different things – but, just for this moment, let’s call it “a yoga moment.” What I mean by calling it “a yoga moment” is that in that moment, everything (including ourselves and our sense of self) is united – there is no separation.

Think about that for a moment: union = no separation. No separation… but also no confusion or delusion.

Now, consider your mind-body-spirit again. At the beginning, we separated it out – only to realize that we are talking about one unit. When every aspect of the unit is in good working order, it is easy to have “a yoga moment” – we just need a focal point (a seed, if you will). However, when something isn’t working properly, it’s a little harder to get in the zone. We can do it; it just takes more effort.

The more parts that don’t work together, the harder we have to work to get into the pocket. Or, you can think of it as the harder we have to work to get out of our own way. After all, the mind-body-spirit is connected – that’s the way we were all created – but we think of the parts of ourselves as being separate parts. In thinking of ourselves as separate parts, we sometimes miss how the parts interact and affect our ability to be productive, satisfied, happy, or even healthy. In thinking of ourselves as separate parts, we make the process of being whole harder.

Of course, I’m not just talking about our selves here; I’m also talking about the practice of yoga.

There are eight parts or limbs to the philosophy of yoga. Each part leads to the next part and also is intended to work with the other parts. I often use the image of a climbing tree: There are the limbs you use first, to get into the tree, and the limbs you use to climb up high; and, anywhere along the way, you can pause – standing on one limb, while holding on to another for extra stability. That’s the practice. If there were no low limbs, it would be impossible for a regular person to start climbing. If there were no sturdy limbs towards the top, you would be stuck with the same view you see when you are on the ground. If the limbs were not appropriately spaced and connected you would be hampered going up or coming down. Which (tree) limbs you use the most also depends on how your body-mind-spirit is working. After all, you don’t have to physically climb the tree to reach the top of the tree.

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

 

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (b. 07/11/1967)

Of course, I’m not just talking about our selves or the practice of yoga here; I’m also talking about ourselves as a community, but we’ll get to that later. What’s important is to remember that what affects the body affects the mind; what affects the mind affects the body; and both affect the breath – and you have some control over the breath, which affects the mind and the body. It’s all connected. That’s what I want you to remember (if you remember nothing else).

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

 

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

You can look at this week’s yoga sutra as an opportunity to review some of what’s come before or as a teaser of what’s about to come. Either way, it is an introduction to the practice. Really, truly, everything up until now has been an introduction to the practice. Just consider the first chapter and a half as the back story.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 11th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[Full disclosure, this will not be an E. B. White / Jhumpa Lahiri themed class.]

 

### OM OM AUM ###

 

Wait…what exactly are we celebrating? (blink and you’ll miss it) July 4, 2020

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“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

“…such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn….”

– from the “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech by Frederick Douglass (July 5, 1852)

On Wednesday, July 3, 1776, the future President of the United States, John Adams, wrote two letters to his wife Abigail. In one of the letters he theorized about the pros (like Canada being included in the declaration) and cons (like still having to deal with “The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest well meaning tho weak and mistaken People…” ) of making the declaration earlier. He then wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Meanwhile, Caesar Rodney rested and, on Thursday, July 4, 1776, he wrote a letter to his younger brother Thomas indicating, “I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.” He, like a good majority of the signers, would sign the finalized “Declaration of Independence” on August 4th – although others would sign all the way up until November.

“‘I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.’ I had written to these friends. ‘I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.’”

– from The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley  (in reference to a 1964 letter to friends)

On Monday, July 4, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson announced to the American people that the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had signed the Louisiana Purchase, thereby selling the territory of Louisiana. Per this agreement, the United States of America nearly doubled in size and France received 15 million dollars (approximately $18 per square mile) in exchange for 828,000 square miles – even though France did not control the majority of the land. The majority of the land was inhabited by Indigenous Americans. The land included in the agreement now makes up portions of 2 Canadian provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and 15 states, including the entire states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the majority of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming; as well as parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, and (of course) Louisiana.

On Tuesday, July 4, 1826, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died. Adams’s last words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” However, Jefferson did not; he had died mere hours earlier. While the may not have been his very last words, Jefferson had asked (the night before he died), “Is it the Fourth?”

On Monday, July 4, 1831, President James Monroe died. (His last words reportedly were a lament that he would never see his friend President James Madison again. Madison would die 5 years later; however he was a few days short of July 4th.)

On Saturday, July 4, 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to retreat from Gettysburg, which the North took as a sign that the Confederacy had lost the war. Lee’s retreat came after Union soldiers defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, July 1 – 3), the Tullahoma Campaign (Tennessee, June 24 – July 3), the battle in Helena, Arkansas (July 4), the Fall of Vicksburg (Mississippi, July 4). The United States Army credits the Union success to skillful military strategy and the introduction of Christopher Spencer’s newly invented, seven-shot “Repeating Rifle,” which gave the Union soldiers the ability to shoot up to 14 rounds per minute (as a opposed to three rpm with the traditional muzzle-loading muskets).

Yoga Sutra 2.27: tasya saptadhā prāntabhūmih prajñā

– “A person [with discerning knowledge] has seven levels [of insight] the highest being ‘prajñā’ [intuitive wisdom]”

Yoga Sūtra 2.27 picks up on the idea that discerning knowledge or insight, which nullifies sorrow (or suffering) created by ignorance by breaking down the different levels, stages, or degrees of awareness/insight that lead to complete freedom. The seventh stage, the ultimate freedom or liberation from suffering, is a great accomplishment (siddhi) in itself comes with an extra boon: knowing the exact response to all situations. To understand the seven (7) stages, we go back to the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras (1.17 – 1.18 and 1:42 – 1.51) where Patanjali breaks down two types of concentration/meditation – referred to as “lower Samādhi” (which requires a “seed” or object of focus) and “higher Samādhi” (which is “seedless”) – and notice how continuous, dedicated, and devoted practice without interruption changes the way we think and the way we perceive the material world.

The (4) “seed” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Thins:

  1. The practitioner begins to see cause and effect (of suffering) and cultivates “not afflicted” (or functional) thoughts in order to move away from suffering.
  2. The practice of cultivating “not afflicted” or functional thoughts attenuates or scorches the cause and conditions of suffering.
  3. The habit of the practice gains momentum and that realization fills the practitioner with unshakeable faith; one now practices for the sake of the practice.
  4. There is less inquiry (into cause and effect), because there is less anxiety. One is rooted in the thought-practice and is “…at peace. At this stage, trustful surrender becomes our nature.”

The (3) “seedless” Levels Where the Veil of Ignorance Begins to (and ultimately does) Disappear:

  1. The mind/intellect (which may now be referred to as buddhi) is illuminated, and fully aware of the true nature of all things – including itself.
  2. The buddhi becomes buddhi sattva, wise and stable there is no fluctuation of the mind, instead there is yoga (“union”).
  3. Samādhi as “Union with Divine” whereby pure consciousness (Purusha) enables the practitioner to see all as one.

“Commenting on this sutra, Vyasa makes a point of dismantling widespread confusion about yogis and their achievements. Long before Patanjali, and up to this day, poorly informed spiritual enthusiasts have been fantasizing about high-caliber yogis sitting in caves with their eyes closed, completely unconcerned with the outside world. Contrary to this stereotype, Vyasa calls the accomplished yogi kushala, one who is skillful. A yogi is skillful, for she knows the true nature of the world; the true nature of her body, mind, and senses; and the true nature of her core being. A yogi is free from all illusions, including the illusion of expecting more than what this world can offer. At the same time, a yogi is able to identify the wonderful gifts contained in the body, mind, and senses, as well as in the phenomenal world. Therefore, a yogi is able to discern, decide, and act in the light of her prajna. Because she is operating at the level of pure and penetrating wisdom of inner reality, she is confident about the appropriateness of her actions and their consequences.

While living in the world, a yogi is active as – if not more active than – anyone else. The only difference is that the actions of an accomplished yogi are free from doubt and fear, whereas our actions are contaminated by them. An accomplished yogi is comfortable while performing actions and equally comfortable when refraining from action. A yogi’s accomplishment is characterized by freedom, not by action or the absence of it.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.27 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me, on the path to freedom, for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 4th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos below do not appear on Spotify.)

Who are you not seeing?

 

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (descendants in 2020)

 

What to My People is the Fourth of July

 

 

### Rest in Power, Rest in Peace: Elijah Al-Amin ###

What’s Behind Your Curtain? June 24, 2020

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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.”

“my heart
Is true as steel:”

 

– Helena in Act II, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Life is a matter of perception. We experience certain things and that experience colors the way we experience future things. The way we experience something, based on previous experiences plays a part in what we engage ourselves, others, and our experiences. In other words, life is how you see it. In the yoga philosophy, these layers of experience or layers of perception are referred to as samskāras (which is often translated as “impressions”). Specifically, samskāras are karmic impressions formed by everything we say, do, think, and experience through our senses. These layers of impression can be very subtle, and may be imbedded deep within our subconscious and unconscious memories or they can be very much in the front of our conscious mind. Either way, they can strongly influence the way we think, speak, and act. Part of the practice, both in Yoga and in Buddhism, is to burn away the veil. Or, you could think of it as washing them away.

“Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

 

– from the song “Wash Your Spirit Clean” by Walela

There are lots of great stories about how previous experiences color future and current experiences, and one of those stories comes from Christianity and Islām. It is the story of Zechariah or Zachary. Zechariah was a Jewish priest married to a woman named Elizabeth (who happened to be a relative of the Virgin Mary). According to the gospels (specifically Luke 1:6), the couple were good people who followed the commandments and orders of God. We can take from this, and the fact that Zechariah was a rabbi, that they had spent their lives steeped in their beliefs and, not only keeping those beliefs in their heart, but also acting according to the beliefs in their heart. They were also old and considered their beyond child bearing years. So, it’s not surprising that Zechariah doubted the words of the angel Gabriel, who informed the couple that they would have a son named John and that he would “be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…. and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (Luke 1:14 – 15).

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

Based on his previous experiences, the angel’s message didn’t make sense to the rabbi. It especially didn’t make sense, because Judaism, like many other cultures and religions has very specific naming traditions. Given these traditions, what self-respecting rabbi (with a great name) would name a descendent of Aaron and Moses “John?” Zechariah wanted proof, he wanted a sign, and so Gabriel said the rabbi would be mute until the day the prophecy was fulfilled – basically, until Zechariah believed.

Before the baby was born, there were some other events that were some other unbelievable events. One of those events came in the form of a visit from Elizabeth’s relative Mary. It turned out that Mary, a virgin, had also received a visit from Gabriel and was also pregnant. Her son would be born 6 months after Elizabeth’s son – and both sons were destined for greatness. When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son was born, their friends and family assumed the baby would be named after the father. The still mute, Zechariah, however, wrote down the words that ultimately ended his muteness: “his name is John.” His written words were actually a sign that Zechariah’s experiences had changed his beliefs. Or, more precisely, his disbeliefs had changed and the veils were lifted.

“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”

 

New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke (1:59 – 1:64 NIV)

In the modern world, this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is known as John the Forerunner (in Eastern Christianity), John the Immerser (in some Baptist traditions), John the Baptizer, the prophet John (in Islām), or simply John the Baptist. Born 6 months before Jesus, he would go on to baptize Jesus and be associated with a spiritual cleansing ritual within Christian traditions. To be baptized is to have one’s sins washed away and is a way to be transformed, or to mark one’s transformation.

There are four feast days associated with Saint John the Baptist, one of which is today, June 24th. Also, as an aside, Saint John of Capistrano (b. 1386) and Saint John of the Cross (b. 1542) would have celebrated birthdays today. The fact that today is not a feast day for the other two Johns is actually more interesting than the number of feast days for John the Baptist. Most feast days are traditionally celebrated on the death date of a saint. The idea behind “dies natalis” being that upon death one is born into eternal life (and free of original sin). Today, however, is one of two feast days in Western Christianity associated with an individual’s birth – the idea being that Jesus and John the Baptist were cleansed in the womb. (NOTE: The Virgin Mary is concerned immaculate in that she was “conceived without sin.”)

As Christianity made its way through the pagan and indigenous cultures, this became a “good” day to co-opt… because it already had meaning. Today is also Midsummer. Considered the ancient (pagan) middle of Summer, it is also the astronomical beginning of Summer and was widely celebrated long before Christianity existed. Many of the pagan celebrations involved bonfires; fire being another element used in purification.

Celebrations of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist are recorded back as far as 1333, when the poet and scholar Petrarch noted women in Cologne were “rinsing their hands and arms in the Rhine ‘so that the threatening calamities of the coming year might be washed away by bathing in the river.’” For people in Quebec and for French Canadians throughout the North American continent, today has a particularly patriotic and cultural heritage significance – making it similar to Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.

“No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 24th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

 

 

### BE GRATEFUL ###

Are You Dreaming or Not Dreaming? June 23, 2020

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“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”

 

Chuang Tzu: Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, Wisdom of Ancient China, Taoist Scriptures translated by Lin Yutang, Mingming “Michael” Xu, et al

 

“QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art
translated. {Exit}

BOTTOM: I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

 

– the rude mechanicals in Act III, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

Everything is a matter of perspective, and our experiences provide that perspective. We see/understand everything through the lens of our experiences. The only problem is that we viewing everything through layers and layers of experiences, essentially layers and layers of samskaras, which often limit our perspective and our understanding. Our senses may pick up everything around us and, on some level, our brains sift through, process, and analyze every bit of information (in the form of sensation), but our mind/intellect may only consciously share a portion of that information. Add to that the fact that we cannot see ourselves, not really. So, we depend on our understanding of what we believe others perceive about us and combine that with how we want to be (or already think we are) perceived. It’s a flawed circuit, based on avidyā (ignorance). Or, as the Eastern philosophers say, it is all a dream, a projection, an illusion, māyā.

Now, add in the fact that we interact with others (and ourselves) based on this limited and flawed view of ourselves, others, and the world – and that we cling tightly to our flawed understanding because we fear losing ourselves. We fear that loss of self even when we recognize on some level that we are limited in our understanding. We especially fear that loss of self when we believe we have right understanding. Factoring all of this, is it any wonder that there is so much suffering in the world? Not only do we not truly understand ourselves or others, we act as if we do understand ourselves and others. We become like Shakespeare’s Bottom: not understanding that we have literally become an ass.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, tells us that we the powers/abilities to lift the veils of illusion. We have ways in which we are innately powerful and, while being steeped in avidyā can disempower us – and create suffering and obstacles that result in physical and mental ailments – we can in fact empower ourselves by going a little deeper into ourselves and our perceptions.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

 

A Hand-book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn

 

“If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill,
That is the true beginning of our end.
Consider then we come but in despite.
We do not come as minding to contest you,
Our true intent is. All for your delight”

 

– Peter Quince, the carpenter, as The Prologue (in the play), in Act I, Scene v of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

In Yoga Sutras 2.15 – 2.25, Patanjali codifies the idea that everything we experience has the potential to cause suffering, an emotional experience; that this suffering is avoidable, because it comes from confusion about what we perceive and the power to perceive; and that everything we perceive serves the two-fold purpose of fulfillment and freedom. Within these threads, he also points out that there are four ways in which we can experience the material world; that while we may perceive something our mind/intellect may not allow us to understand it; that once we truly understand something, that understanding changes everything – for us, but not for anyone else; and that once we gain a deeper understanding, ignorance and (therefore) suffering are eliminated. Simple, right? And yet, it gets just as confusing as a play within a play littered with fairies and star-crossed lovers.

June 24th is Saint John’s Day, also known as Midsummer – making today, June 23rd, Saint John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve. Another way to think of tonight is as Midsummer’s Night, as this is when the celebrations begin and theoretically could be the night made famous by William Shakespeare’s play. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the ultimate comedy with its rude mechanicals and their play within a play, the royal audience, the royal fairies, the star-crossed lovers, and Puck. Ah, Puck!

Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, like the audience, sees everything. But he also understands and points out what the audience may miss. Since he is part of the play, he also plays around with everyone. He is the ultimate trickster (whose pranks provide much of the comedy) and therefore a great symbol for the mind. Puck is the embodiment of māyā. At the end of the play, after all of his shenanigans have been resolved, he reiterates a message that is stated at various times throughout the play: everyone is just dreaming.

If we are dreaming, it is possible to wake up. If we wake up, consider how differently we may treat ourselves and others.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,”

 

– Puck in Act V, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 23rd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may flip your perspective upside down and backwards. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[For more information and commentary about the sutras, you can use the sidebar calendar and click on any Saturday date starting in mid-March 2020. Additional posts during the week may also reference the sutras, but on Saturdays they are the primary focus.)

 

 

### “Helena: … my heart Is true as steel…” ###