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Svādyāya IV: Take A Look at Yourself (the “missing” Saturday post) May 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 22nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“And there’s a road, a winding road that never ends
Full of curves, lessons learned at every bend
Goin’s rough unlike the straight and narrow


It’s for those, those who go against the grain
Have no fear, dare to dream of a change
Live to march to the beat of a different drummer”



– quoted from the song “The Road Less Traveled” by George Strait

If you’ve followed along with the blog and/or the classes over the last month of Saturdays – or if you are just familiar with the Yoga Sūtras – you will have noticed that there’s a very definite thread gets pulled in the third section: Patanjali outlines a progression of powers or accomplishments that are achieved through the application of samyama (how he describes the combination of focus, concentration, and meditation). First, there is the ability to achieve a higher state of absorption (samadhi), which brings with it the ability to clearly see past and present, as well as how things change in form, time, and condition. Then, Patanjali explains the power that comes from applying samyama to the three types of changes (YS 3.16, knowing the future); on word, meaning, and knowledge (YS 3.17, knowing all languages); on your own mental impressions (YS 3.18, knowing past lives); and on another person’s body (YS 3.19-20, knowing the nature of another person’s mind, but not their thoughts). If you focus-concentrate-meditate on this progression, the next power or accomplishment is well…

“It’s Elementary”


– Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was born into a prosperous Irish-Catholic family on May, 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an artist and chronic alcoholic with some mental health issues; while his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was an educated woman who loved books and telling stories. The young couple (22 and 17, respectively, when they wed) didn’t have much money of their own, but Sir Conan Doyle’s wealthy uncles paid for him to go to a Jesuit boarding school (in England) at the age of nine. By all accounts, the kid was miserable (because of the bigotry and corporal punishment that he encountered) and only took pleasure from the letters he exchanged with his mother. His Jesuit education continued at Stoneyhurst College and then at Stella Matutina (in Austria) before he returned to Scotland to attend the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

In medical school, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met several aspiring writers who inspired him. He also met a professor who became the inspiration for his ultimate creation: Sherlock Holmes. Along with his trusty sidekick, Dr. John H. Watson, who serves as the first person narrator for almost all of the stories, Sherlock Holmes appeared in 56 short stories and four novels beginning with the 1887 publication of A Study in Scarlet (first published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual). While Holmes and Watson are, without a doubt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most well-known and celebrated characters, he sometimes had a bit of a love-hate relationship with them. He killed Holmes and his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in December 1893 (in The Final Problem), but then wrote a play about Homes a few years later. By 1901, readers were being treated to brand new Holmes-Watson stories, like The Hound of the Baskerville, which slid into the earlier canon.

Throughout his adulthood, Sir Conan Doyle aspired to be the hero of his own story. On at least three occasions, he used the persona of Sherlock Holmes to get Scotland Yard and the courts to correct injustices. After being denied the opportunity to enlist in the military during two wars, he volunteered his medical services. Throughout this time, however, he dealt with the tragic illness and ultimate death of his first wife, as well as the deaths (during World War I) of his eldest son, his two brothers-in-laws, and his two nephews. His personal tragedies caused him to suffer from depression and to also be fascinated with the paranormal, spiritualism, and non-European cultures. (He wrote several stories that directly reflected his fascination – although those stories tend to be rife with racist stereotypes and terminology – and at least one story around his father’s confinement to an asylum.)

Dr. Joseph Bell, the medical school professor who inspired Sir Conan Doyle, taught diagnosis through observation, logic, and deduction – the very tools Sherlock Holmes utilizes to solve cases that puzzle the police. Of course, to utilize those skills one has to focus-concentrate-meditate on the available information. In doing so, and with particular attention to the thread that’s reoccurred in the classes and blog this week, it becomes apparent that the next (logical) point of focus in the Yoga Sūtras is on one’s self.

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam



– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”


“A Yogi standing in the midst of this room can apparently vanish. He does not really vanish, but he will not be seen by anyone. The form and the body are, as it were, separated. You must remember that this can only be done when the Yogi has attained to that power of concentration when form and the thing formed have been separated. Then he makes a Samyama on that, and the power to perceive forms is obstructed, because the power of perceiving forms comes from the junction of form and the thing formed.”



– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.21 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Like many modern day medical students, I’m guessing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was taught to “think horses, not zebras” – unless, of course, you are in a place where there are a lot of zebras. And, while it’s true that many kids dream of having the power of invisibility (for a variety of reasons), we don’t typically think of invisibility as a commonly occurring “power.” So what, then, do we make of Patanjali’s assertion that one can make one’s self invisible?

First, I think it is important to remember Yoga Sūtras 2:19 – 22. In particular, remember that we can only see what our mind shows us (YS 2.20) and that it is possible to “unsee” something, i.e., to no longer see something through the veil of illusion (YS 2.22). This is a reminder that for most of us – and for most of our lives – we are not seeing what is right in front of our noses, including other people.

Being “overlooked” has happened to me on more than one occasion. I’ve been stepped on, stepped in front of, and looked around all because “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you.” Maybe it’s because I’m short, maybe because I’m a woman, maybe because I’m Black. Who knows. All I know for sure is that it happens to a lot of other people too and… well, let’s just say there are hoof beats.

I used an example in class that my sister said should have come with a trigger warning. So, let me give another example (that may still need a warning, because it’s not pretty – so, feel free to “overlook” the paragraph between the next two quotes).

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”



– Sherlock Holmes


Over a decade ago, while on a corporate lunch break in downtown Houston, my co-worker and I walked passed a homeless person leaning up against a department store. I am referring to this person as “homeless” because their clothes were dirty and they looked as if they had been sleeping up against the store. Also, they smelled really bad. My friend and I were walking and talking and had no direct interaction with this third person – other than that we passed downwind of them. When we crossed the street, my friend made a comment about how someone really needed to “clean out that port-a-potty.” But, as I pointed out to her, there was no port-a-potty, just a “homeless man.” We had passed this person going to lunch and coming back from lunch, but she had never seen them.

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”



– quoted from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


As I’ve indicated over the last few blog posts and classes, we can look at a person’s life – including our own – through a lot of different lenses, including the lens of the physical-mental and subtle (energetic) body. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on someone’s body (and life), including our own, we start to see certain trends. First and foremost, is that our experiences build on top of one another. This is consistent with one of the underlying concepts within the Yoga Philosophy, as outline by Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, that we view each experience through the mental impressions (samskaras) of previous experiences. Another thing we may notice is that, as it states at the beginning of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, “Life is difficult.” However, the issue isn’t life… the issue is how we deal with our difficulties.

Born May 22, 1936 in New York City, M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist, co-founder of Foundation for Community Encouragement, and the author of The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie: Hope for Healing Human Evil, and The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. His parents, David Warner Peck (an attorney, judge, court reformer, and author) and Elizabeth (née Saville) were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who raised their children as Protestant – even though Judge Peck’s mother was Jewish (technically making Judge Peck Jewish even though he didn’t identify as such). For a little over 2 years (from age 13 – 15), Dr. Peck attended boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy – but, much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he was miserable. When he refused to go back to school, his parents sent him to a psychiatrist who recommended that he either go back to school or spend a month in a psychiatric hospital. Ultimately, he transferred to Friends Seminary (in New York) and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University and a Doctor or Medicine (MD) degree from Case Western Reserve University. He worked for the U. S. government and also served (as a psychiatrist) in the United States Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Dr. Peck based The Road Less Traveled (published in 1978) on his own personal efforts to overcome the challenges in his life and the efforts he observed in his clients. In the book, he used case studies and profiles to outline and explore four attributes people need in order to be fulfilled and healthy human beings: discipline, love, (a healthy understanding of) religion, and grace. Discipline – which he considered essential for emotional, spiritual, and psychological health – sounds very much like a combination of the yamas (external “restraints) and niyamas (“internal observations”), in that is requires delayed gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s actions, a dedication to truth, and “balancing” (which was how he described handling conflict through compromise).

The second and third sections of M. Scott Peck’s most well-known book are devoted to dispelling myths and misconceptions about love and religion. First and foremost, he explained that he did not mean “love” as romantic or sexual, nor did he consider it as an emotion or anything related to catharsis, dependency, and/or the idea of “falling in love.” Instead, he described love as an action – a very intentional and deliberate action connected to the spiritual growth of one’s self and those that one loves.  Similarly, his observations around religion were intended to dispel myths and misconceptions and also to explore the correlation between spiritual growth and mental health. To Dr. Peck, there was “no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth.”

“And so it is with spiritual growth as well as in professional life. For the call to grace is a promotion, a call to a position of higher responsibility and power. To be aware of grace, to personally experience its constant presence, to know one’s nearness to God, is to know and continually experience an inner tranquility [sic] and peace that few possess. On the other hand, this knowledge and awareness brings with it a responsibility. For to experience one’s closeness to God is also to experience the obligation to God, to be the agent of His power and love. The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required. It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent unto mankind.”



– quoted from “IV: GRACE, Resistance to Grace” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

All of these ideas coalesced into the final element: Grace. M. Scott Peck defined “grace” as a powerful force outside of human consciousness that nurtured human life and spiritual growth; was not understood by science (or scientific thinking); was commonplace among all humans; and originated outside of human will. He concluded that grace was the only explanation for the unconscious, serendipity, and incidents that could be described as miracles.

M. Scott Peck is recognized as one of the people responsible for the modern “self-help” industry and movement and, in particular, for combining modern psychiatry with ancient spirituality. In his subsequent books, including Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth, Dr. Peck built on his earlier themes and also outlined four stages of spiritual development in individuals and in communities (including the “chaos” stage). In People of the Lie, he specifically focused on further breaking down unhealthy/dysfunctional behavior that can be described as “evil.” In The Different Drum, he explored the building blocks of a true (healthy) community: inclusivity, commitment, and consensus. According to M. Scott Peck, having those three key ingredients, leads to (and results from) the following:

  • realism (seeing the big picture by getting multiple perspectives);
  • contemplation (everyone in the community is committed to self-reflection and self-examination);
  • a safe place for all (which cultivates vulnerability, healing, and expression);
  • “a laboratory for personal disarmament” (wherein people are able to develop peacemaking skills and compassion);
  • the wisdom and grace to resolve conflicts peacefully;
  • the opportunity for everyone to develop and utilize their leadership skills; and
  • a unifying spirit (of peace, love, wisdom, and power that may come from within the community and/or from a Higher Power).


Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.


“You have a gift for great silence Watson. It makes you invaluable as a companion.”



– Sherlock Holmes


“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”



– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.


*Dr. Peck notes that he is essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.


### LOVE & GRACE ###