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Take Another Look At Yourself (mostly the music and links) May 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Love is the connection and the connector.

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

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– Sherlock Holmes

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“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.”

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– 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.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 22nd) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for ”05222021 Take A Look At Yourself”]

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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (b. 1859) and Dr. M. Scott Peck (b. 1936). Here’s a little excerpt from my 2021 post about this date: “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.”

Click here to read last year’s post.

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

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Remember Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Baha'i, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Riḍván, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

This is A 3-in-1 “missing” post (with a coda) for Wednesday, April 20th. It features information on overlapping sacred traditions and also on an anti-bullying non-profit and is a bit of a “renewed” post (since it contains some previously posted material). You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, feel free to comment or email me.

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

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

“[Bridge: P!nkKhalid & Both]
Hope floats away
If you could spend a day in my shoes
Your mind would change
If you knew what I’ve gone through
We want the same (Yeah, we do)
Maybe then you’d understand
How it hurts to be human, oh”

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– quoted from the song “Hurts 2B Human” by P!nk, featuring Khalid

A lot of this week was devoted to the subject of suffering, on and off the mat. Sure, we all have friends that were suffering this week – and then there’s all the general suffering in the world. Because there is, and has always been, a lot of suffering in the world; there is, and has always been, a desire for the end of suffering. There is, and has always been, people actively seeking an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many paths, practices, and methods that – on some level – promise an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many really great books, poems, movies, plays, and songs about suffering and how people deal with suffering.

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

One of the things I find interesting about humans and suffering is how often we tie our salvation to something more than ourselves and our own agency. What’s particularly interesting to me is that when we look at religious traditions (and philosophical traditions that are sometimes culturally religious), the teachings very specifically connect the end of suffering to our own agency and something more than ourselves… something divine, or Divine.

“[Chorus]
What if you were told that today
Was the last day of your life
Did you live it right?
Love is a gift you give away
And it reignites
Don’t wait, don’t let it pass you by
(don’t let it pass you by)”

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– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

Over the course of this week, all the Abrahamic religious traditions – and at least one tradition with ties to the Abrahamic religions – have been engaging in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Jewish communities have been celebrating Passover and, as of Sunday, some are also Counting the Omer. Western Christian communities (including Roman Catholics) observed Easter on Sunday and then, for some, Easter marked the beginning of the Octave of Easter (or Eastertide). On the flip side, this week marked the Holy Week or Great Week for people within Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. This month (in 2022) is also the holy month of Ramadān in Islām. Finally, Thursday marked the beginning of Riḍván in the Bahá’í community.

Since several of these holy observations started on Saturday, I’m going to point out that Hanuman Jayanti (or Hanuman Jannotsav) – which is celebrated in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora – also has a connection to suffering and the end of suffering. Oh, and then there’s Earth Day – which is not a religious holiday, per se, but is still connected to suffering on this planet, a desire to end that suffering, and the realization that the path to that freedom from suffering must come from a global community acting together… which would be divine.

Because everyone uses different calendars, this conflux doesn’t happen every year. Yes, there is usually an overlap between Passover and at least one Holy Week; however, this year is different. This year, these sacred times overlapped tragic anniversaries related to April 19th and 20th. This year, there’s more suffering and more awareness of the different ways we could/can/might end suffering – in ourselves and in the world around us.

There’s just one problem. Actually, there are several problems.

One, we don’t always pay attention to the right part of the stories. You know, the part where we have to practice what we preach, act in ways that are congruent to our beliefs, and – like Hanuman (or Nahshon) – take giant leaps (or wade in the water) in order to help and/or save others. Two, we sometimes forget that we are community; that while it may hurt 2b human, we have each other and we (can) have each other’s backs. We forget how breaking bread with someone (whether it be on Spy Wednesday or Easter Wednesday) can reveal the true nature of things. Finally, we all too often lash out at others when we are suffering.

Sometimes we lash out like Pharaoh – and our hardened hearts result in everyone being plagued with more and more suffering. Other times we are like Judas – and we lash out in ways that seem small, inconsequential, and petty; but have magnificent consequences. Then there are those times when our personal suffering is like that of Jesus’s followers who, once their suffering is alleviated by a striking realization, go on to share the good so that others may also find relief from their suffering.

All the stories told during this week’s holy observations and celebrations are reminders that we are in community – even when we are not in a religious community. While there are bullies and bad guys in these stories, there are also reminders that any one of us can make a good (meaningful) difference. We can be Moses or Aaron or Miriam or Nahshon. We can be any of the disciples or Marys or Martha or Joanna. We can be like Hanuman. We can be like Baháʼu’lláh, in that we bring communities together even as we are being separated.

Finally, we can be like Rachel Joy Scott whose legacy is a challenge. It’s not a religious challenge, it’s an existential challenge. It’s a challenge that could not only change your life, it could change the lives of those around you.

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020. However, I have revised and expanded some sections related to Moses and Passover.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

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– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”), was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. In fact, one way to look at Shemot / Exodus 2, is that Moses left the luxury of the palace specifically to witness the suffering of his first family, his tribe, his community of birth. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten; and he was 80 when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Theoretically, he was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people and he was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He went on to describe how afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he described exactly what he meant by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gave examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggested (YS 1.33) is offering loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali also offered physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation. Those physical techniques are the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, outlining the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It may also help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.’”

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– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / The Book of Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. Some traditions even credit him as the author of The Book of Job, the events of which took place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. The Book of Job is the story of a man who endured great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there was a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering was alleviated and the way in which he endured the suffering is rewarded.

Job clung to his faith and believed that G-d was always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in a previous post, was told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel” (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translated G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this choice works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. (Remember, not everyone celebrated that first Passover and not everyone left Egypt when they had the chance.) Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – includes a correlation between free will and suffering, a connection between our actions and the end of our suffering.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

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Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

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– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2021. 

WARNING: This post specifically references a horrific and tragic event from 1999. You can skip most of these references by jumping from the first highlighted quote to the second highlighted quote.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. According to Webster’s Dictionary, compassion means a feeling of sympathy for another person’s misfortune. My definition is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

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– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Back in 2018, as one of my Kiss My Asana yogathon offerings, I referenced a lot – well, some – of the people who tragically lost their lives throughout history on April 19th and 20th. One of the people I mentioned was Rachel Joy Scott – the first person shot at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In some ways, it is hard to believe that 22 23 years have passed since that mass shooting. Remember mass shooting that some people thought would change everything? It’s equally hard to believe that there are adults – people who can serve in the armed forces, legally vote, and in some cases legally drink alcohol in the United States – who were not even born when 2 high school seniors killed 12 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives. It’s mind-boggling to me that (based on recent events in early 2021 and data compiled by The New Yorker and Trace in 2019) there have had been over 200 mass shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999. (As of April 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in schools since this week in 1999.) Those shootings have affected thousands upon thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is astounding that what was (at the time) the fifth deadliest shooting in the United States (after World War II) “is now not even in the top ten.”

I’m not going to spend my time here (or in class) talking about my opinion about gun control and/or the 2nd Amendment. Nor am I going to spend a lot of time stating the obvious fact that, as the statistics and the lives lost clearly attest, we have a problem – because, let’s be honest, we have a lot of problems right now. What I am going to focus on today is Rachel’s Challenge. Not the program (although I will mention that) so much as the idea(l).

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

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– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Somewhere on her person, perhaps in her backpack, 17-year old Rachel Joy Scott had a notebook. It was one of several notebooks that turned up after Rachel’s death. Some of the notebooks were full of thoughts, poetry, and art she was just sharing with herself. Some of the notebooks, however, were a form of communication between her and her “big brother” Mark Pettit. They would each write in the notebooks and then swap them during small groups at church.

The notebooks became a way for Rachel’s family to tell her story and also a way to spread her message about the importance of compassion. They, along with the stories that other people shared about their encounters with Rachel, led her family to start Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit that creates “programs that promote a positive climate in K-12 schools.” They also have comprehensive programs for colleges and businesses.

On the foundation’s website, the Rachel’s Challenge mission is stated as “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.” They also indicate that when the program is fully implemented, “partner schools achieve statistically significant gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate; along with reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.”

“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”

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– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

I did not know Rachel Joy Scott or Cassie Bernall (17), Steven Curnow (14), Corey DePooter (17), Kelly Fleming (16), Matthew Kechter (16), Daniel Mauser (15), Daniel Rohrbough (15), Isaiah Shoels (18), John Tomlin (16), Lauren Townsend (18), Kyle Velasquez (16), William “Dave” Sanders (47), nor (to my knowledge) do I know anyone else that was at Littleton, Colorado, today in 1999. I did not know the two seniors that wrecked so much havoc (and whose names I am choosing not to post, even though their families also suffered greatly.) I am not affiliated with the foundation Rachel’s family started and neither have I gone through their program. However, I believe in the message and I believe in the idea(l).

I have seen the chain reaction that starts with compassion and kindness – just as I have seen the chain reaction that begins with a lack of empathy and a lack of equanimity. In that essay she wrote in period 5, Rachel talked about first, second, and third impressions and how they don’t always give you a full picture of someone. She wrote, “Did you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from, did they experience love, did they experience hurt, did you look into their soul and not just at their appearance?” We are, right here and right now, experiencing the chain reactions that occur when we don’t really see each other and when we don’t recognize the fact that we are all connected. We are – right here and right now – about to set off a new chain reaction.

Quick, ask yourself: What is motivating you and what do you expect to come out of your actions?

“One of the big things we’re focused on is how you see yourself. Each and every one of us in this room has a great capacity to do great things.”

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– Craig Scott speaking to a small group of students during a Rachel’s Challenge event

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“I challenge students to choose positive influences. Rachel wanted to make a positive difference. So, she surrounded herself with the right influences that helped her be a powerful, positive person.”

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– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

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𝄌

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

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There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

In the past, when I’ve talked about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve used a fairly non-religious playlist. This year, however, the overlapping holidays inspired me to remix the playlist for these holy times. I wanted music that would reflect the different traditions and the different stories, while also reflecting Rachel Joy Scott’s ethics and codes of life. I also wanted something that was inspiring and hopeful, like the young woman herself.

As I was remixing, I came across “Godbone” by (one of my favorite composers) Bear McCreary. In the the television series See and in games like “King of Dragon Pass,” “godbone” is a term used for metal and/or concrete. I’m not 100% positive about the etymology of the term, but it reminded me of the Lunar New Year story about the Kitchen God and how the fireplace poker came into existence. It also made me think about Krishna’s explanation of tapas – which can be defined as heat, discipline and austerity, as well as the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity.

Whenever I reference tapas, which is one of the niyamas (“internal observations” in the Yoga Philosophy), I mention that it can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. It can also be applied religiously. In fact, fasting during the holy month of Ramadān, giving something up for Lent, and giving up leavened bread during Passover are some of the examples I use throughout the year. Those same traditions also incorporate the the final two internal observations – svādhyāya (“self-study”) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (“surrendering to [a higher power]”) – which combine with tapas to form kriya yoga (“yoga in action,” or an ongoing process moving towards union with Divine). (YS 2.1) These sacred rituals are all about refining the (c)ore of who we are.

“And he shall sit refining and purifying silver, and he shall purify the children of Levi. And he shall purge them as gold and as silver, and they shall be offering up an offering to the Lord with righteousness.”

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– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

Back in 2010, Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote an article about bitter herbs, suffering (in Passover and in life), and a group of women who were inspired to go deeper into the Biblical idea that the Jewish people’s suffering in Egypt was “the ‘kur habarzel ― the iron crucible[.]’” She wrote about how these women went to see a silversmith at work and how, through their observations and questions, they gained a better understanding of the process of suffering and how to deal with suffering. Like Rachel’s challenge, Sara Rigler’s insight gives us a better understanding of how we can graceful engage our own suffering: Always look for the image of the Divine in ourselves and always look for that same reflection in others.

“As the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire, he explained that he needed to hold the silver where the flame was hottest in order to burn away all the impurities. The woman, remembering the Biblical verse, asked if he had to sit there the whole time the silver was being refined. The silversmith responded that not only did he have to sit and hold the silver the entire time, but he had to keep a careful eye on it, because if the silver was left in the flame a moment too long, it would be destroyed.

‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ the woman asked.

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I see my image in it.'”

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– quoted from the aish.com article “Why Celebrate with Bitter Herbs? – Yes, God took us out of Egypt, but He put us there in the first place!” by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04202022 Rachel’s Challenge, Holy Remix”]

“She was a real girl, who had real struggles, and – just was in the pursuit to, you know, pretty much just show compassion and love to anybody who needed it. You know: Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever class – any of that stuff. I mean, it did not matter to Rachel…. She saw my heart.”

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– Mark Pettit, talking about the movie I’m Not Ashamed, a 2016 film based on their journals

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

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If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

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### AMEN, SELAH ###

For Those Who Missed It: Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence January 30, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted in 2021. Class information (including “First Friday” information) has been updated. This post does include disturbing (but not explicit) information.

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

 

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

 

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

 

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

 

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

 

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

 

No, actually, they’re not.

 

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

 

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

 

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

 

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

 

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

 

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

 

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

 

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

 

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

 

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01302021 Peace for the Martyrs”]

 

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

 

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) for a special welcoming. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

Creating: Music for This Date II (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, January 26th. You can request audio recording of Wednesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

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– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) 

Yesterday, I said that we all are creative. I didn’t say it as a platitude. I said it because it’s true. We can go back century after century and find people telling us this same fact, sometimes even in similar ways. Patanjali talked about the power that comes from focusing on the space/ether between an object, our sense organs, and our mind-intellect. Marcel Proust described the way our sensory perception can be like an index of our memories. Drs. Gerald Edelman and Oliver Sacks studied the way the mind creates the story. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has explained how the body tells the story. Just by being alive, we create.

Creativity is an aspect of the divine that is inside all of us – and yet, there was a time when I didn’t think of myself as creative. Or, more specifically, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. This was during a time when I worked with a lot of really talented artists and, even though what I did required a similar kind of finesse as their work did, I saw my work as being more technical than artistic – which completely negated the technical aspects of their craft and was (frankly) reductive. Truth be told, I carried that mindset forward so that even when I started teaching and others saw me as a storyteller, I didn’t quite see it.

Now, of course, I am very intentional about the way I tell stories – on the mat (and the blog). Now, I use all the technical (and artistic) tools I used in theatre, all the literary and symbolic tools I learned in school, and all the philosophical and energetic wisdom I’ve gleaned from life and from my practices. Now, I tell the story with the poses, bits of information, and the music… ah, yes, the music. There’s always a message (or two) in the music – even when there’s no lyrics.

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

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– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Sometimes I pick music because of the tempi or the tones of the music. Other times I pick music for the message in the lyrics. And while I almost never pick music I don’t like, the playlists are definitely a reflection of what I love. That said, I recognize that we all have different relationships with music. Some people never notice the music. Some people vibe to it. Others find it distracting. My goal is that if/when someone notices the music, it is a consistent part of the overall experience. It is a reminder to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate on the theme of the day.

I also remember that everyone is going to feel the music. They may just feel the vibration and the vibe. They may be really tuned into the tempi or the tones or the lyrics. However, some will also feel it because of what it brings up for them. Western science has shown that hearing music we haven’t heard in a long time “awakens” the body. Similarly, it can awaken memories, reminding us of days gone by.

Of course, most of the time I’m really transparent about all of this. The fact that the music is part of the story is also part of the narrative in the practice.

But, what happens if I leave out one (or two) pertinent facts? What happens if I leave out names and dates and maybe just allude to a few trivial facts?

Then the story becomes a bit of a puzzle (or a riddle). And the mind loves puzzles (and riddles). It loves to fill in the gaps. It loves to get creative. It loves seeing if/when you will figure out that I was never really telling you the story. It was always you.

“In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers the reader so that he may discern in the book what he probably would not have seen in himself. The recognition of himself in the book by the reader is the proof of the its truth and vice-versa, at least in a certain measure, the difference between the two texts being often less attributable to the author than to the reader.”

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– quoted from Time Regained, Volume 7 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Wednesday’s playlist was inspired by people and things related to this specific date in history. Tracks #2 – 15, plus Track #17 are (mostly) related to someone who was born on January 26th. There are two tracks in the before/after practice music that are actually related to an artist (Alicia Keys, b. 1981) whose birthday was the 25th, but that’s a whole other story. The earliest birthday year is 1925; the latest is 2009 – but the tracks are not in birthday order. Finally, I will admit that there are some historical (and current events) that influenced why I picked these songs rather than all the other similarly relevant songs.

The clues I gave out in class are below (mostly in the order they were given). If you highlight the space to the right of the “A,” you will find the pertinent name(s) and years.

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Clue #1: Sometimes our bodies don’t feel the way we’re use to them feeling. They seem a little off and we can’t play the way we’re use to playing. We have to adapt, modify, or step back. A: Jacqueline Mary du Pré OBE was born in 1945, in Oxford, United Kingdom.

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Clue #2: In the first pose, when they body really hasn’t had a chance to warm up, just offer yourself a little love, sweet love – or, as Bryan Kest says, “… some sweet touches.” Just a little tenderness, a little kindness, a little compassion. If you get in the habit of offering yourself a little love (sweet love), tenderness, kindness, and compassion, then you have the skills to offer the same to others. A: Anita Baker was born in 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #3 – #4.5: When you give yourself, just a little bit, you also have what you need to give to others. You can tap into that sixth siddhi or “power” unique to being human, the power of generosity. If you were blessed with good looks, gorgeous blue eyes, and a lot of talent, it seems like giving back is something you might do. Maybe you give back to kids – really sick kids. Or, maybe you realize that other people – people who like to eat well – would appreciate giving back too… while they eat. (In Downward Facing Dog, you can alternate bending your knees like you’re riding a bicycle… as raindrops keep falling on your head.) A: Paul Newman was born in 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #4.5 & #5: Some people are known what they do and for their sense humor. Some people even credit their wit and sense of humor for their successful marriage. (Some of those people were always up for a seventh inning stretch.) A: Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecker was born in 1934, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.

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Clue #6: Remember, one things I was thinking of today (thinking of, fondly) was an actual thing – a living, breathing, thing. Even if it’s broad to say it was born, it might be more accurate to say that it’s American cousin was “born” today. A: After a couple of weeks of previews, The Phantom of the Opera officially premiered on Broadway in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre.

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Clue #7: There’s a point in every practice where someone, not every one, starts trying to calculate what comes next. But, it’s important to remember that the practice is fluid, we’re flowing – and sometimes fluid calculations are complicated. A: Dr. Susan Friedlander (née Poate) was born in 1946.

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Clue #8: There are several people on this birthday-inspired playlist that only be described as disrupters and erupters. They erupt on the scene and disrupt the status quo. They make a name for themselves because of what they do and how they do it – which has the power to blow you away. Sometimes they even name the things they do. A: Eddie Van Halen was born in 1955, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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Clue #9: Some of those erupters and disrupters are told that they can’t be who they are or do they things they want to do (or love the people they love), but they just keep on being, doing, living, and loving. Maybe they even shrug their shoulders and tell the naysayers, “I was born this way.” (They might also say that while they dance, in their seat, and smile.) A: Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #10 – #11.5: Everyone on the list was born into different circumstances. Some were born into different cultures (and even different countries) and those circumstances, over which they had no control, became part of their story. Sometimes their circumstances were also why people told them no or couldn’t imagine them being, doing, living, and loving the way that they did. But, by disrupting the status quo – by living their Truth – their very existence allows other people to imagine themselves living their best lives. A: Kirk Franklin was born in 1970, in Dallas, Texas, United States.

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Clues #11 & #11.5: There’s one thing about all the people on this list, that’s also true about everyone in the world: They were born to be loved. We are all born to be loved. The twisted, upside down, and backwards thing is that sometimes we have to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need someone to remind the naysayers of that. Yes, there are people on this list who were abandoned (at birth), forsaken, mistreated, and misguided. There’s a least one person who was treated like a slave; at least one person who was disgraced; and at least one person who was abused. But, all of them were born to be loved. A: Lucinda Williams was born in 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States.

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Clues #12 (– #19): So far as I know, most people who inspired this list were born on their own. But some were born with seven other people. A: Noah Angel Solomon, Maliyah Angel Solomon, Isaiah Angel Solomon, Nariyah Angel Solomon, Jonah Angel Solomon, Makai Angel Solomon, Josiah Angel Solomon, and Jeremiah Angel Solomon were born in 2009, in Bellflower, California, United States.

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Clues #11.5 & #20: Despite their circumstances, despite sometimes feeling less than free – despite not always being (legally) free – at least one person has dedicated their life to liberation and education.   A: Dr. Angela Davis was born in 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, United States.

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Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: I remixed the YouTube playlist after the 4:30 practice, because I had erroneously used the extended version of a song. The YouTube playlist also includes extra videos, which are not available on Spotify.)

Errata: As I was closing my browser tabs, I realized that I overlooked a birthday (and I’m kicking myself for it)! I’ve updated the playlist so that the before/after music includes a track for Maria von Trapp, born January 26,1905, in Vienna, Austria.

Yoga Sūtra 3.48: grahaṇasvarūpāsmitānvayārthavattvasaṃyamādindriyajayaḥ

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– “Through samyama on the sense organs’ process of perception, essential nature, identification with I-am-ness, constitution and purposiveness, mastery over them is acquired.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.49: ato manojavitvaṃ vikaraṇabhāvaḥ pradhānajayaśca

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– “Thence comes about quickness as of the mind, the state lacking sense organs and mastery over pradhana.”

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### Embrace Your Creativity ###

Gazing into Our Self (again) October 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

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

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

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

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

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

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

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

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

– James “The Amazing” Randi

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

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

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 24th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

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Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Knowing & Unknowing, a prequel & a reboot October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

– James Baldwin (as quoted from the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck)

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened by Pope John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, the council entailed four working sessions – the first of which started today, October 13th – and spanned a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correcting those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

 

– Dr. Thomas Schelling, economist

 

Portions of the above were previously posted on October 11, 2020. The following was previously posted on October 13, 2020.

“It feels like I should have something momentous to say now that I’ve hit this landmark birthday. There is only this—I feel I’m in the middle of it all. Family, grandkids, work, marriage, good friends, joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing. Hmmm…come to think of it, that is pretty remarkable!”

 

 

– my dear friend DB on turning 60 (in an email dated 10/14/2013)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but in many ways my life has taken turns I never saw coming. Even beyond the events of 2020, things are very different than I imagined. When we look back, when we see cause and effect – and even the now obvious beginnings of “unforeseen consequences” that absolutely could have seen coming if we had taken the time to pay more attention – it’s only human nature to think, “If I’d only known….” But, let’s be honest, coming where you come from, being surrounded by the people who surround you, and being who you are would you really have done things differently if you had known what was unknown?

Before you answer that question, consider that every moment of lives is spent a liminal moment between “knowing and unknowing,” “the seen and unseen.” Are you, in this moment considering the unknown and unseen forces at work around you and within you? Are you, at this moment, even comfortable considering the unknown (let alone the fact that there are things you know that you might need to “un-know”)?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

 

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

When Paul the Apostle and Timothy, who would become the first Christian bishop of Ephesus, wrote the  second letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Saint Paul was focused on the church’s internal struggles, division, and quarrels. He intended to use his own personal experiences with external persecution and internal strife to reassure the congregants that was an authority on Jesus and his teachings and, furthermore, that “all this is for your benefit.” He instructed them to “not lose heart,” because their faith would be rewarded in a way that overwhelmed any current troubles. Similarly, Patanjali indicates (in the Yoga Sūtras) that the end results of our efforts (karma) are stored in affliction/pain “that is experienced in seen and unseen lives” (YS 2.12), but that ultimately everything that happens in the objective/perceived world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom.” (YS 2.18)

Again and again, the instruction is to trust that things are happening for the good if you are following the path. In the latter case, the path is the philosophy of Yoga, as opposed to Christianity; but, similar guidance is found in sacred text around the world. So the question becomes, how do we balance what we believe (our faith, especially in something unseen) with our reason, logic, and what we can clearly see (i.e., perceive with our senses)? Additionally, how do we “keep the faith” when everything seems to be going wrong?

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop considering the needs of others – and that’s the very minute we are divided. The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop learning, adapting, and growing. In other words, it’s the minute we stop truly living (and the minute we stop living a life that serves the greater good). If, however, we can take Joyner’s suggestion and apply it to our daily interactions (even with ourselves) we have the possibility of living in a way that supports the greater good.

Will Joyner’s words from 2006 present us with a challenge, one we can accept on a daily basis. It’s the challenge to turn inward and to move through life with a certain level of humility. Humility is crucial because, as my friend DB so eloquently pointed out, we are not alone in this thing called life. And, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “… either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together….” To learn to live together we have to figure out a way to balance our wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. We need to figure out a way to connect between our areas of “knowing and unknowing.”

I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary. It is also self-sustaining, because the more we practice/live with discernment and the wisdom of the heart, the more we want to listen to the heart. One way to start is to consider the yamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for others and the niyamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for your own self. Such a practice creates a feedback loop that can serve the greater good.

“The practice of contentment begins with a conscious decision not to fixate on the fruit of our actions. It requires a deep conviction that when we perform our actions, the forces governing the law of cause and effect will ensure they bear fruit. When our actions do not appear to best fruit, we remind ourselves that unknown factors are far more powerful than known factors. When our actions bear desirable fruit, we acknowledge the higher reality that arranges unforeseen factors in our favor. When the fruit is undesirable, we accept it while acknowledging the benevolence of divine will. Thus we remain unperturbed by both the desirable and undesirable consequences of our actions.” 

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.42 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10132020 Knowing & Unknowing, prequel”]

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

 

Have your voted for the Carry app?

 

### WHAT DO YOU KNOW? ###

What Happens When We Practice Santosha? (the Sunday Post) February 9, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, February 7th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“It is well worth analyzing the circumstances of those occasions on which we have been truly happy. For as John Mansfield says, ‘The days that make us happy make us wise.’ When we review them, we shall almost certainly find that they had one characteristic in common. They were times when, for this or that reason, we had temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived – as we so seldom do – in the depths of the present moment, without regretting the past or worrying about the future. This is what Patanjali means by contentment.”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Over the last few years, and especially over the last twelve months, I think that we have all experienced the highs and lows of life. We have experienced some joys; and also a lot of things not going our way and people not acting in a way we believe is appropriate. And, we can point to all these things as the source of our frustration, anger, fear, and disappointment, as well as the source of our loss and grief and sorrow. Everyone I know has lost someone in the last year – and we have also lost a way of doing things and living life… we’ve even lost, in some ways, the way we grieve and deal with the loss of those we love. While we can, for sure, connect to certain things (specifically things not going our way and people not behaving “appropriately”) to our suffering, the Eastern philosophies clearly state that is not the external factors that cause our suffering: it is the internal factors; our attitudes and our attachments.

In both the Yoga and Buddhist philosophies, suffering is caused by attachment. Patanjali includes two kinds of attachment in his short list of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: attachment rooted in pleasure (which we just call attachment) and attachment that is rooted in pain (which we call aversion). We can think of these as things we like and things we don’t like – or even people we like and people we don’t like, or the behavior we like and the behavior we don’t like. But, whether the attachment is rooted in pleasure or pain does not matter. Because, according to Patanjali, both are tied to the other three forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: ignorance to the true nature of things; a false sense of self; and fear of loss or death. Over the last few years, but this last year in particular, we have all been confronted by our ignorance – even when we didn’t realize it.

If you are anything like me, once you know a solution to a problem you want to start fixing the problem. But letting go of what we like and dislike – especially when those likes and dislikes define us – is easier said than done. There is a definite practice of non-attachment and also a practice of detaching, but both can feel a little like giving up pleasure. Who wants to do that? Neither do we necessarily see the benefit of giving up what we don’t like when, in our minds, we believe we are working to avoid the things that cause us pain by staying away from certain things and people. And, who wants to stop avoiding things and people we “can’t stand” or associate with suffering? That sounds like bringing in more pain and more suffering. Who’s going to volunteer for that?

But, what if part of the practice immediately changes the way you feel? What if there were one or two things that you could do in any given moment that would change your attitude and engagement in the moment? What if those one or two things are things you normally do when things are going your way (or even better than expected) – and what if you realized that doing those one or two things was not dependent on external factors?

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experienced it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 

 

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

Studies show that gratitude, giving thanks (or even just thinking about things for which you could be grateful) changes the mind-body. Of course, with all that’s gone on this last year, it would be easy to forget to express gratitude. You may have even forgotten what it feels like to feel grateful. Consider, however, that being grateful is not about the external factor. It is all about your feelings toward a person, place, thing, and/or experience. Gratitude is all about appreciation. It is about acknowledging the benefit or merit of something or someone. Even if it is something small, I would encourage you to be very specific about that for which you are grateful. That’s one little thing you can do that can make a big difference.

A second thing you can do, to change your attitude and engagement in the moment, is to practice santoşā (“contentment”), which is the second niyamā (“internal observation”) in the Yoga Philosophy (or, today, you can think of it as the Number 7 in the philosophy’s list of ethics). In sūtra 2.42, Patanjali explains, “From contentment comes happiness without equal.” In his commentary, the 5th century sage Vyasa said, “‘All sensual pleasures in the world and the great happiness in heaven combined do not equal even one-sixteenth of the joy that arises from the elimination of craving.’” This, of course, sounds like something for which we would all sign up: unsurpassed happiness and joy.

Part of the problem, however, is that humans are sensual beings. The other part of the problem is that there’s a part of our minds that is prone to judging. So, while it is natural that our bodies and minds crave sensation, it is also natural that from a very early age, we learn to categorize the sensations as good or bad, pleasurable or not pleasurable: things we like and things we don’t like. Then we proceed to build a life full of what we like and empty (as much as possible) of what we don’t like.

But, that’s not how life works. Inevitably, things don’t go our way; people don’t behave the way we want or expect them to behave; we don’t get some of what we want; and we get some of what we don’t want. And, along the way, we experience suffering. We may even lose sight of what we need; because we are so caught up in what we want and don’t want.

 

“I miss your smile
Seems to me the peace I search to find
Ain’t going to be mine until you say you will
Don’t you keep me waiting for that day
I know, I know, I know you hear these words that I say”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Waiting for the Day” by George Michael

 

 

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”

 

 

– quoted from the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones (which is sampled in George Michael’s “Waiting for the Day”)

 

All year, people around the world have struggled when faced with the conflict between socially distancing recommendations and their religious and/or family traditions and rituals. Some people took a good hard look at what mattered most to them – what was required or needed to fulfill a commandment or tradition – and decided they could observe virtually or socially distanced in a way that did not compromise their faith. Other people took a good hard look and decided there was no compromise that would satisfy the requirements of their faith or their family. Some people just decided they weren’t willing to compromise. Everybody suffered; but some folks suffered more than others.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that some folks in the first group were satisfied, content, when everything was said and done. They were happy, given the circumstances. Some of the people in the second group endured additional hardships, either because others didn’t agree with their position; people got sick (and died); and/or it still didn’t feel like normal. The same is also true, maybe even more so, for the people in the final group.

I’m not implying here that if you “follow all the rules” (some of which were not made by you) that no one in your circle with get sick, no one in your life will ever die, and you will never experience any hardship. That’s not even close to what I’m saying. Instead, what I am pointing out is that during a time of great hardship, our attitude and engagement of the moment can change our level of suffering during the hardship. Even more importantly, as studies have shown that we all have a baseline for happiness and that that baseline can change (either because of our practices or because of additional hardships), how we are enduring this present moment will play a part in how we experience the next moment… which, unfortunately, may include more things not going our way and more people not behaving the way we think is appropriate.

Here’s a little story, about a little thing that caused me a little frustration and grief. Remember, it’s a little thing, just a little thing, but it’s not the details that are important – it’s the moral.

“I’m shameless, I don’t have the power now
But I don’t want it anyhow
So I’ve got to let it go”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Shameless” by Billy Joel, covered by Garth Brooks

For months now, I’ve been thinking about February 7th and how, as a Garth Brooks fan, I like to celebrate the day, his birthday, with a Garth Brooks playlist. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been a country music fan all my life and became a Garth Brooks fan pretty much as soon as he started playing concerts outside of Oklahoma. My adoration and pleasure of a good country song has not diminished over the years, despite the sometimes problematic relationship that Black fans like myself have with an industry that is not only predominantly white on stage, but also predominantly white in the lyrics and in the audience.

But, just to be clear, this music is part of my history and part of my heritage – and, more importantly, Garth (born 2/7/1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma) has never let me down. We may not agree on everything, but he has created an atmosphere of inclusivity (on stage and off) that means I have never had to worry about what’s going to happen when I show up for a concert (which I always do) and I have never not sung along with a song because the lyrics are borderline (or over the line) racist or misogynistic. He’s a great storyteller and a great performer, which means that I know I can (and have) taken anyone to a Garth concert and, regardless of their musical preference, they will have a good time. I appreciate that he’s a music fan as well as a music maker. I also appreciate his love of baseball and his philanthropic endeavors that support kids playing sports. And, yes, I get a kick out of the fact that he calls his wife, “Miss Yearwood.”

You can say it’s all an act, and that’s fine, it doesn’t change the impact. Words and actions matter.

Part of the reason I love Garth’s music is that I can, as some of my friends can attest, find a Garth song for every occasion and every story. Up until quarantine, almost every one of my class playlists included at least one Garth song. The obvious exceptions to that rule are the playlists for the end of the month of Ramadan, playlists for the High Holidays in Judaism, International Women’s Day, and any day celebrating the birthday of another musician or composer. So the fact that “my sweet man” (as some of my friends and I call him) shares a birthday with Laura Ingalls Wilder (b. 1867, in Pepin Country, Wisconsin) and Sinclair Lewis (b. 1885, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota) just meant that I got to tell the story of a “Hard Luck Woman” – “[Who’s] Every Woman” – and talk about what life was like down on “Main Street” – especially when you realize the blessing of “Unanswered Prayers.”

But I knew, months ago, that this year would be different. Because Garth Brooks has a definite aversion to streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube, I’ve had to cut much of his music out of my playlists. I’ve also had to figure out a way to get certain messages across with different music. Sometimes, I appreciated the fact that a song recorded by one of the original songwriters still fit in the playlist, and I definitely snuck on a little sing-a-long with the Muppets. I also included a tribute band cover here or there; but it wasn’t the same. And, it’s been consistently frustrating to realize that while “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” has been sung in almost 80 languages and recorded in English by over 50 people or groups, very few people have included “women” in Ed McCurdy’s classic. (Even though, in my opinion, art imitates life and you actually have to work harder to just include “men.”)

So, even though, it’s a little, trivial, frivolous thing… it was causing me grief. I mean, I taught for almost 10 years before the 7th fell on a day when I taught, but it wasn’t a cultural or religious holiday! So, selfishly, I wanted to have a little bit of (my) normal.

I thought about taking the day off. I thought about chucking my ethics for the day. Then I decided to take a deep breath, let go of my attachments, get a good night sleep and wake up with the intention of teaching a class that would satisfy people and that they would appreciate.

But, a funny thing happened in the morning: Garth was on YouTube and Garth was on Spotify. It was just one song – a song I don’t always appreciate when it’s covered or adapted, but I appreciated it on this day. One song, but it’s a song that tells a story… and, ultimately, it’s a story about longing and fear and going deeper.  

“I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Shallow” by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, covered by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

 

 Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Mr. Midnight, alone and blue
The brokenhearted call me up when they don’t know what else to do
Every song is a reminder of the love that they once knew
I’m Mr. Midnight, can I play a song for you?”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Mr. Midnight” by Garth Brooks

 

### LOVE ALWAYS WINS ###

Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence (the Saturday post) January 31, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 30th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

 

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

 

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

 

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

 

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

 

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

 

No, actually, they’re not.

 

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

 

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

 

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

 

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

 

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

 

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

 

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

 

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

 

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

 

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 5th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will be “observing the conditions” of the heart. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

Resurfacing the Quixotic Mind (the Saturday post) January 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Meditation, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 16th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

“‘Now look, your grace,’ said Sancho, ‘what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.’
‘Obviously,’ replied Don Quijote, ‘you don’t know much about adventures. Those are giants – and if you’re frightened, take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them.’”

– quoted from  “Chapter Eight – the great success won by our brave Don Quijote in his dreadful, unimaginable encounter with two windmills, plus other honorable events well worth remembering” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

Two years ago when I decided to start the New Year (of 2019) by introducing my Saturday class to the beginning Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it seemed like a grand adventure. Yes, there would be dreams and windmills and friendship, not to mention wild horses and beautiful landscapes. But, on a certain level, a philosophical level, I thought it would be the beginning of four years of relatively pedestrian exploration. Yes, I thought it would be intensive study that could be applied to our lives on and off the mat. Yes, I knew it would be a little too esoteric for some – especially those who just dropped in now and again and/or started new in the beginning of the year. But, no, I didn’t really consider that, off the mat, we would find ourselves in the middle of the same kind of social and political backdrop that inspired Miguel de Cervantes to create the ingenious gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.

First published today in 1605, Book 1 of Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is the beginning of what many consider the first “modern novel.” It is the second most translated book in the world (after the complete Bible) and it is also viewed as social commentary disguised as a fantastical farce. The primary character is, at best, idealistic – a dreamer beyond all dreamers; but, at worst, he is completely and utterly delusional. Is he speaking and moving through world as if everything and everyone in the world is a metaphor? Or, does he truly believe the windmills are giants that threaten the fair Dulcinea and all of their neighbors? Furthermore, does Cervantes – in writing what can (and was) easily be seen as social and political allegory – believe that those idealistic individuals who take on the political establishment are incredibly foolhardy or incredibly brave? Sometimes it is hard to tell. What is unquestionable, however, is that Don Quixote has a whole lot of things going on his mind and all of that citta vŗitti (“fluctuations of the mind”) determines how he interacts with the world around him.

“Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head”

– quoted from “Windmills of the Mind,” music by Michel Legrand with English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

Don Quixote, the story and the man, might have been very different if the title character did some yoga. Some might think there would be no story without the titular character’s mental confusion and delusion. However, Don Quixote, himself, was often very clear about his understanding of reality and very clear about the fact that the people around him disagreed with his understanding of reality. So… in some ways, maybe it would be the same story. After all, Cervantes frames much of the story around the way Don Quixote’s mind works and that is the same paradigm Patanjali uses in the Yoga Sūtras.

We contemplated the last sūtra of the second chapter last Saturday. Before we “progress” or move forward, I thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time reviewing the first two chapters and possibly delving a little deeper into certain aspects of the practices Patanjali recommends in the those chapters. So, this week’s practice includes a quick summary review of the “Samadhi Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Concentration), in which Patanjali explains (in 51 sūtras) how the mind works and how to work the mind.

“Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!”

– quoted from “Windmills of the Mind,” music by Michel Legrand with English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman 

At the beginning, Patanjali explains that the practice of yoga (as well as the state of yoga that is “union”) cultivate stillness or quietude in the mind, thereby restoring or connecting the practitioner to their “own true nature.” He describes five types of mental activity: correct understanding (which is achieved through sense perception, inference, and/or revelation described in sacred text); incorrect understanding; imagination (which is activity not connected or rooted in reality as it currently exists); dreamless sleep; and memory (which can also engage the other types of activity) – and further breaks they types of mental activity into two categories two categories (klişţāklişţāh, “afflicted” and “not afflicted”); meaning they mental activity either creates suffering or does not create suffering.

To work the mind, in order to cultivate quietude, Patanjali recommends abyhāsa (practicing with devotion to the practice for a long period of time, without interruption) and vairāgya (practicing without attachment). He describes four levels of conscious awareness – which are also the four levels of concentration – as gross (meaning the awareness that something is happening); subtle (awareness of the different aspects of what is happening); bliss (enjoying what is happening); and i-ness (a level of absorption whereby there is a seamless connection between the person concentrating and the object on which they are concentrating).

Patanjali also explains in the first chapter that the benefits of the practice – which include faith, vigor, retentive power, stillness of mind, and intuitive wisdom – can be achieved in a time based on the level of engagement (mild, intermediate, or supreme). After detailing the importance of OM and the power of a devoted surrender to the Divine, he adds to the list of benefits by explaining that meditation helps one overcome nine obstacles (disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, an inability to withdraw from sense cravings, an attachment to misunderstanding, frustration, and failure to retain the highest level of conscious awareness) and their five accompanying ailments (pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling of limbs, abnormal or disturbed inhalation, and abnormal or disturbed exhalation).

Finally, he offers the following ways to practice concentration (that leads to meditation):

  • heart focus: offering friendliness to those who are happy; compassion to those who are suffering; happiness to those who are virtuous; and non-judgment or disinterest in those who are not virtuous;
  • breath focus: pranayama;
  • single-pointed focus: on a specific part of the body, a sense organ (and corresponding sensation); or an external object;
  • inner light & inner joy focus
  • focusing on a virtuous one who is without desire: choosing either a sacred person whose virtuous history is known or the best/ideal version of one’s own self;
  • wisdom focus: bringing awareness to knowledge gained from dreams and sleep; and
  • focus on a well-considered object (with some understanding of the benefit of the object)

“Translating from one language to another, unless it is from Greek and Latin, the queens of all languages, is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and color of the right side….”

– quoted from  “Chapter Sixty-one – of what befell Don Quijote on his entry into Barcelona, with other Accidents that have more truth than wisdom in them.” in Part 2 of El ingenioso cabellero Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

Again, one of the goals and benefits of the practice described by Patanjali is the clarity of the mind – being able to not only see the beauty of something, but also how everything is put together. Here, in the first chapter, however, he really focuses on smoothing out the mind. One way I think about the meditation practice is that we spend some time touching on and scooping up all the bumpy distractions; then we wash over those same areas with the breath and the mind in order to smooth it all out; and then we use the breath and the awareness to seal in that smoothness. In this way, the practice is like a Zamboni®.

Invented by Frank Zamboni, who was born today 1901, in Eureka, Utah, a Zamboni® is an ice resurfacing machine that shaves the ice, collects the shavings, washes the ice with a cleaner, and then spreads a thin coat of fresh water to seal in the smooth(er) surface. Perhaps being born in Eureka destined Mr. Zamboni to become an inventor, but the resurfacer wasn’t his first (or last) bit of ingenuity. The son of Italian immigrants, he initially moved to California to help his older brother Lawrence run an existing business. But then the Zamboni brothers decided to try something different; they opened an ice-making plant. Not convinced the plant would sustain them once advancements were made in air conditioning and refrigeration; they decided to open Iceland, an ice skating rink in Paramount, California, with their cousin Pete.

Iceland (which still exists) was special and attracted a lot of attention, because Frank Zamboni figured out a way to eliminate the rippling effect that was caused by the pipes underneath the ice. He invented a circulation system and “flat tanks” that enabled them to build a rink that would hold up to 800 skaters at a time – making it one of the largest (and the smoothest) rink in the country.

Well… it was the smoothest, except after a day full of skaters.

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”

– quoted from “Chapter Nineteen – An account of the second discourse that passed between Sancho and his master: the succeeding adventure of the corpse, and other remarkable events” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

In 1949, a few years after opening the rink, Mr. Zamboni had invented (and eventually patented) the machine that would bear his name. Before his invention, resurfacing the ice required 5 men and 90 minutes. After his invention, resurfacing the ice required 1 person and 15 minutes. Figure skaters and hockey teams were quick to jump on board and, in a relatively short amount of time, Frank Zamboni had a new business venture. But, he wasn’t done. He would go on to invent mechanisms to remove water and paint from outdoor turf as well as to install and remove the turf (the “Grasshopper”). He also invented machines to fill dirt on top of a cemetery vault (the “Black Widow”) and lift and carry burial vaults (the “Vault Carrier”); and had a hand in building and selling machines to deal with snow, trenches, and air craft.

Frank Zamboni was a dreamer and, in some ways, he dreamed of things so fantastical most people couldn’t even begin to imagine them. He was awarded almost twenty patents during his lifetime. In 1988, his son Richard (who is Chairman and President of Frank J. Zamboni & Company, Inc.) told a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, “One of the reasons he stuck with it was that everyone told him he was crazy. When he finally finished, he was so sick of it that he didn’t even bother painting it.” So, in many ways, Frank Zamboni was a little like Don Quixote, trying to find a better way.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

– “Cervantes”, quoted from Act II of Man of La Mancha: A Musical Play by  Mitch Leigh, Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“As the author of this great history reaches the events that he narrates in this chapter, he says the he’d have preferred to pass over them in silence , fearing he wouldn’t be believed, because here Don Quixote’s mad deeds approached the limits of the imaginable, and indeed went a couple of bowshots beyond them. But in the end, in spite of these fears and misgivings, he described these deeds exactly as they happened, without adding or subtracting one atom of truth or concerning himself with any accusations that might be made that he was lying; and he was right to do so, because the truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”

– quoted from “Chapter Ten – Gives describes Sancho’s cunning enchantment of the Lady Dulcinea; with other events as ridiculous as they are true” in Part 2 of El ingenioso caballero Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

A little note about quotes, translations, and “paramount”: My apologies for not citing the translators in the aforementioned quotes. I actually used more than one translation and, by the time I was putting this together, I realized that I hadn’t ever noted which quote came from where or when I had spliced translations. Part of my error comes from the fact that I don’t always reference translators during the practice.

Additionally, because of the different translations, I was not able to find the original source for the following great quotes, which are attributed to Cervantes and “Don Quixote” – but which may actually be from another (related) source:

“It’s up to brave hearts, sir, to be patient when things are going badly, as well as being happy when they’re going well…”

“…for hope is always born at the same time as love…”

Finally, I mentioned “paramount” during the practice (as a synonym for “supreme”) but neglected to tie that back into the theme. Serendipitously, “Paramount” kept coming up today as it is the name of the city where the Zamboni family opened their ice rink and also the name of the studio where the English version of “Windmills of the Mind” was originally recorded. Just a fun trivia fact for those of you who were wondering.

### REMEMBERING 1 ###