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FTWMI: The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Twosday post about movement and expressions) February 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s 22222! That makes this Twosday a universal palindrome date (“universal” because it’s a palindrome in all the major dating notation systems)! In thinking about common “threads,” here’s the 2021 post for this date. It has been updated with additional embedded links (to related posts). Class information has also been updated for today.

“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 22nd) at 12:00 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

*

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.)

### PEACE (PEACE) PEACE ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (the Tuesday post w/an extra Wednesday link & some Thursday notes) November 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Food, Gratitude, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Give thanks!

This is the post for Tuesday, November 23rd. There is a link at the end for a post related to November 24th. You can request an audio recording of either 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.)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 *

– Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1), KJV

For many people in the United States, this week is supposed to be about gratitude and if you were educated in (or around) the USA, you know at least one story about how the fourth Thursday of November came to be all about gratitude. There’s just one problem… Well, ok, there’s a lot of problems; however, today I just want to mention the fact that the story most of us were taught about the Pilgrims and the “Indians” was only part of the story: the part about gratitude. But, for a very long time we weren’t taught the part about greed.

Now, I know, I’m about to lose some of you – or maybe I’ve already lost you. But, if you stick with me for a moment, you might actually thank me.

Some wise person once said, “History is written by the victors.” We can spend a lot of time contemplating the many weird ways that manifests when it comes to the history of the USA in general, but it’s pretty clear cut when it comes to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were the victors and, as many would not have survived 1621 without the aide of the First Nations people, they told a story of peaceful people fleeing religious persecution and then being saved by the kindness of strangers. It’s a “pretty” story –  a story for kids –  so it usually (and understandably) leaves out how very dire the situation was for the Pilgrims. However, that version also leaves out some pertinent facts about the identities of the people involved. Finally, it leaves out the fact that a day of thanksgiving is very common in a lot of cultures – especially religious cultures – and that other English settlers had already established an annual day of Thanksgiving in the “New World” long before the Pilgrims arrived.

Let’s start with that bit about “other English settlers.”

In 1619 – almost a year before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World – thirty-eight settlers sailed on the Margaret to what we now call Virginia. They traveled to an area of eight thousand established as Berkeley Hundred. The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) issued the land grant and directed the settlers to establish a “yearly and perpetually kept” day of Thanksgiving as soon as they arrived. Which they did… a little over two years before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving. When the Powhatan people forced the remaining Berkeley Hundred settlers to move to the Jamestown (in March 1622), the settlers continued the tradition of giving thanks in/on a new land.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

 *

– Tehillim – Psalms (100:1-5), KJV

Speaking of “Pilgrims,” let’s get into that bit about identity.

Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and arrived at “Plymouth Rock” on the Mayflower. So far as I know, that’s mostly true. What many of us were not taught, however, is that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pilgrims” with a capital P. They were puritans, specifically “Brownists” or “Separatist Puritans” (not to be confused with capital P “Puritans”), who initially fled to Holland in the early 1600’s. This is an important note, because the settlers lived in Holland –  and established a relatively stable community in Holland – for over a decade before they decided to travel to the New World. People had different reasons for wanting to leave Holland. In fact, some of those reasons are the same reasons people today decide to immigrate to the USA. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, however, they were not straight off the boat from England. Curiously, one of their reasons for leaving Holland was that the religious community was aging and the younger generation had started assimilating. In other words, the children of the adults who had fled religious persecution were more Dutch than English. 

One hundred, two people reportedly traveled from Holland to the New World on the Mayflower in the summer of 1620. About half of those people came from Leiden, Holland, but only about 27% of that original number were adult members of the separatist church. Two people died during the 65+ days journey and two people were born – one at sea and one at the shoreline. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two that died were not part of the congregation. Although one, probably both, of the two that were born were part of the congregation, their numbers wouldn’t have been included as “adults.” So, let’s say, against all odds, all 28 members of the Church survived the journey and participated in the thanksgiving prayer when landed was sighted on November 9, 1620. Either way, by the following month almost everyone was sick and good number (about half) would die during the first winter. 

So, think about this for a moment: Heading into the planting season, the less than 50 people remaining were weakened and unprepared for the upcoming winter. Truth be told, they were unprepared from the start. According to one of those on board the Mayflower, they “borrowed” corn and beans from the existing homes they found when they first came on shore. I say “borrowed” because their intention was to pay for the seeds they intended to plant – seeds they would not have had had they not stolen borrowed them. In other words, without those seeds it is unlikely they would have had anything to eat during the winter of 1621. We can say that they were ill and desperate. We can say that they had the best of intentions. But…

The settlers first direct contact with the people from whom the most likely stole was understandably not good – although that’s not usually part of the story. What is part of the story and what is probably true is that despite having some bad encounters, there were some First Nations leaders who were willing to help the settlers.

But then there’s the whole issue of who those First Nations people were. There were hundreds of tribes in the so-called New World when settlers arrived in the 1600’s. These First Nations included a variety of groups associated with the Wampanoa (or Wôpanâak), including the Nauset, Patuxet, and Pauquunaukit (or Pokanoket) – all of whom had encountered English settlers before the Pilgrims arrived and did not necessarily have favorable history with those settlers. Past experiences had taught the First Nations people that encounters with the English would result in loss, either through theft, violence, or illness. In fact, the Pilgrims settled on land that had previously belonged to people (the Patuxet) who died from an epidemic.

In the theory, the lone survivor of the infectious disease that wiped out the Patuxet was Tisquantum, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain; taken to England in the early 1600’s; and then returned to his village in 1619 (after being “anglicized” and possibly baptized) – only to find his village decimated. Probably for a variety of reasons, he helped the Pilgrims survive. However, there is some discrepancy about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Some accounts say that the First Nations people were not initially/officially invited, but were welcomed once they arrived. Other accounts suggest the table was always blended.

Why are there different accounts? Because they were told by different people.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

*

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Click here for more about the author Zitkála-Šá.

*

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

At the end of Tuesday’s practices, I asked if people would rather be grateful or greedy. It’s a question for those of us living in a material world, but I also think it’s a great question because of the times in which we are living. It is so easy to view things we want as things we need and, in the process, lose sight of the things we have. We might even lose the opportunity to “get what we need,” because we are so focused on the things we want (and remember “we can’t always get what we want”). Sometimes, we’re so busy waiting for something to happen that we forget about what is happening, right here and right now.

During the 2015 Sukkot retreat, some of us started saying, “Don’t be greedy, be grateful.” First, it was a much needed reminder because the food was so amazing! Later, for me, it became a great little mantra when I found myself wanting more of something – whether that was more of my favorite treat, more yoga with a certain teacher, and/or more time with a special person in my life. Moving the focus from desire to appreciation changed my behavior around those specific elements, and also changed the way I interacted with all the other aspects of myself and my life. Turns out, that’s part of the practice. 

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali classifies attachment rooted in pleasure (which we refer to as attachment) and attachment rooted in pain (which we refer to as aversion) as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that are rooted in avidyā (“ignorance”) and lead to suffering. Part of that suffering comes from the fact that things and people change in ways that are not consistent with our desires and expectations. Another part of that suffering comes from the fact that we can spend so much time and energy focused on obtaining and achieving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want that our judgement becomes cloudy. We find ourselves, like the religious colonizers, acting in ways that are in direct opposition of our beliefs. In fact, we can get so greedy – so covetous, if you will – that we forget that laws that govern us. 

Religions (like all of the Abrahamic faiths) and philosophies (like Yoga and Buddhism) have laws, rules, and/or precepts related to stealing. We can look at these as guidelines that keep order within a society, but if we dig deeper we start to notice that they also keep order within an individual. For example, the Yoga Philosophy begins with an ethical component comprised of five yamas (“external restraints” or universal commandments) and five niyamas (internal “observations”). All ten are interconnected, but there is a direct connection between the third yama and the second niyama. The third yama is asteya (“non-stealing”) and the second niyama is santosha (“contentment”). We can easily see how being satisfied, even happy, with what we have curbs the urge to desire what belongs to someone else. It turns out, however, that accepting what we have with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude can also lead to happiness.

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience 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

Modern research has shown again, and again, that giving thanks – or even trying to come up with something for which you are grateful – changes your brain chemistry and, over time, can elevate your baseline for happiness. Practicing gratitude is a game changer and an attitude changer. So, while there are certain times in the year that we’ve designated as a day of thanks, the truth is that we can benefit from practicing gratitude every day.

The 16th century rabbi Moshe ben Machir (or Moshe ben Yehudah haMachiri) is the author of Seder haYom, first published in 1598/1599. The title literally means Today’s Order and gives a detailed outline of how an observant Jew should move through the days of their life. The day starts with a prayer, a prayer of thanks. This prayer (“Modeh Ani” / “Modah Ani”) is very interesting on several different levels. First, it is described as the very first thing one does. Can you imagine saying, “Thank you” before doing anything else? Even before washing one’s hands or brushing one’s teeth, even before checking one’s phone (in a modern context).

Think for a moment about that old adage about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. That implies that there is a right or correct side of the bed. It’s all about how you start your day.

Now, imagine what happens if you start your day with gratitude.

Second interesting thing: This is not a generic thank you. It is specifically a thank you, to G-d, for keeping one’s soul safe and then returning it to one’s body. Here’s two more things to keep in mind. First, most Jewish prayers are said after one washes their hands. So this prayer is different in that it doesn’t use the name of G-d. Second, just like with a lot of sacred languages, Hebrew uses the same word(s) for spirit/soul as for breath. Hebrew is different from some other languages, however, in that it has specific words for spirit/soul/breath in the body (inhale) versus outside of the body (exhale). So this prayer is about being grateful for being given this day and this breath. It is an acknowledgement that this day, this present moment, is not promised. It is a gift. It is a gift, in the religious context, of faith – given with the belief that one will do something with the time they have been given.

Outside, of a religious context, starting the day by saying, “Thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe…” is a reminder that this day and this breath are valuable and worthy of appreciation. That specific phrasing is courtesy of Jess, a person in the UK who uploads guided meditations on YouTube. I really appreciate their vocal tone and accent and find that, even after a few weeks of using the recording, the best parts of the practice have taken root. And, just like other things that take root, more gratitude blossoms from there. 

Try it. Even without the recording below. I bet if you say the first two, you’ll start to think of other things – even people – for which you are grateful. I feel pretty comfortable in betting you that if you consistently appreciate the things and people you have in your life, you will gain new appreciation of your life.

“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”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

Here’s Jess, bringing the gratitude…

 

Just a reminder that there was no class on Wednesday, November 24th, but I sent out substitute recordings related to this date-specific practice. I will also send out substitute recordings for Saturday. Classes will “re-zoom” on Sunday, November 28th.

 

### Thank You (for being you)! ###

The wings of “some kind of bird” are not unlike a “face” over “weft” (a Monday post about movement and expressions) February 23, 2021

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Happy New Year! Many blessings to those observing Lent!

[This is the post for Monday, February 22nd. 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.

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 the center and its 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.]

“Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”

– quoted from “Impressions of An Indian Childhood – I. My Mother” in American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends by Zitkála-Šá

Bring your awareness to how we move our bodies – on and off the mat – and to how we shape our bodies. Bring your awareness to the physical practice, which is very much a case of art imitating life (and life imitating art). Consider that said “imitation” occurs through an understanding of the shapes and movements of life. Someone wondered, ‘What happens if I do this? Oh, look at the puppy doing that! I wonder how that would feel if I did it.’ They played, the explored, they experimented… and then they shared the practice that came from that play, exploration, and experimentation.

Even if you just think of the physical practice as movement for the body, you have to recognize that in order to engage the body, you have to also engage the mind – therefore, the practice is a mind-body exercise; it is physical and mental. It is also considered psychic and symbolic, as well as emotional and energetic. Emotional and energetic, I think, are self explanatory, especially as anyone who has practiced has probably experienced some shifting of emotions while and/or as a result of practicing; and the system of movement is based on an Ayurvedic energy mapping system of the mind-body. Just for clarification sake, we can think of psychic as being “[related to abilities] or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws; supernormal; and relating to the soul and mind.” It is also important to remember that each pair goes hand – which means that the symbolic aspect of the practice is related to the supernormal aspects of the practice.

What does that mean?

Well, contrary to certain conspiracy theories, it doesn’t mean that people are (trying to) turn themselves into trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). However, it is possible to embody certain qualities found in trees (or cobras, camels, eagles, dogs, and God). Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of this being sacrilegious; consider that if you are a Christian who observes Lent, you are engaged in a physical-mental + psychic-symbolic + emotional-energetic “exercise” during which you symbolically place yourself in Jesus’ shoes. In other words, you embody Divine attributes in order to inform a more spiritual life on Earth.

Given this context, there are (of course) a number of poses that immediately spring to mind as being symbolic. Take a moment, however, to consider the trees as well as the forest, the details as well as the big picture. It’s not only the shapes that are symbolic; it’s also the movement that is symbolic. One of the most ancient gestures, one that is literally embedded in our bodies, is the lifting and opening of the heart when we are inspired and the settling into space (into the earth) that occurs when we expire. Yes, as we exaggerate our body’s natural tendencies, we are, in fact, engaging ancient symbolism. Furthermore, the power is not only in the movement; it’s in our understanding and recognition of the movement.

“This unique capacity has enabled us to develop written languages and preserve a vast range of memories pertaining to human experience.”

– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

As I have mentioned before, the second of the six siddhis (or supernormal powers) “unique to being human” is shabda (“word” or “speech”), which Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD explains as human’s ability “give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and its meaning in our memory….” and to share that sound and meaning, even in a visual form – like writing or sign language. In a nutshell, shabda is the ability to codify symbols. This power or ability can be funny (e.g., ironic), because we can use words (and get the essence of the meanings) without truly understanding the words. We can also find ourselves using and understanding the symbols, without actually using the words. For example, we can wave at someone and they know we are greeting them – even if we use two hands. However, if we are simultaneously waving both hands and crisscrossing them, then the person knows we are telling them to not come towards us and/or to stop what they are doing. It’s an ancient gesture. Kind of like wiping the sweat off of your brow… or wiping what appears to be a tear from your eye.

Today is the anniversary of two people who lived their lives in between cultures and cultural understanding. Two people who used their superpower of words to communicate what was getting lost in translation. Born today in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet who was considered a bit of a tomboy. Called “Vincent” by her family, friends, and teachers, her talent and her exuberance for life were evident from an early age and in many stories about her life. One such story, which describes both, relates how she was busted for basically hanging from a chandelier after claiming to be sick so that she could get out of a class. The teacher later said to her. “‘Vincent, you sent in a sick excuse at nine o’clock this morning and at ten o’clock I happened to look out the window of my office and you were trying to kick out the light in the chandelier on top of the Taylor Hall arch, which seemed a rather lively exercise for someone so taken with illness.’ Millay responded, ‘Prexy, at the moment of your class, I was in pain with a poem.’” Vincent spoke six languages, made friends with some of the great writers of her time, lived LOUD, and never let someone’s gender stop her from having a great love affair. Of course, some of her great loves ended in great drama and so she wrote about that.

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!”

– “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay (published, 1920)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talent as an author was recognized at an early age. She wrote blank verse and free verse and everything in between. Her work featured and was inspired by people she encountered in real life, as well as Biblical characters, fairy tales, classical literature. More often than not she captured the spirit of an undiscovered moment and gave people a peek at a different perspective. In 1921, she was basically given carte blanche to travel to Europe and write for Vanity Fair (under the byline Nancy Boyd). The editor’s expectation was, of course, that she would write the kind of poetry the magazine had already published – but there was no actual caveat or stipulation given and she ended up submitting satirical sketches. She also finished a five-act play commissioned by her alma mater, Vassar College. Her bibliography includes six “verse dramas,” including the libretto for the opera The King’s Henchman; short stories; and over a dozen collections of poetry – including The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (becoming the first woman to do so). In 1943, she received the Robert Frost Medal “for distinguished lifetime achievement in American poetry.”

Vincent’s poem “An Ancient Gesture” was published in 1949 in The Ladies Home Journal (volume 66) and would appear in the collection Mine the Harvest after the poet’s death. In relatively few lines, it relates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, but with a discerning eye on Penelope rather than Odysseus / Ulysses. The poem describes a movement we have all done and which has been co-opted by politicians and liars since the beginning of humankind. It’s a movement, a gesture, we often take for granted and overlook. Part of the brilliance of the poem is that in describing the toll of taking charge of one’s own destiny, it also highlights the movement that symbolizes that toll and a moment of recognition. Therefore, it highlights a moment of power.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Zitkála-Šá, born today in 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, Dakota Territory. Her name means “Red Bird” in Lakota Sioux and she described herself as “a wild little girl… with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer.” She was born into a tribe that had an early treaty with the United States and, therefore, was not decimated in the same way that some of the other Sioux tribes that were wiped out through direct conflict.

The treaty, however, did not mean that the Yanton Sioux lived in peace and with acceptance from the federal government. At the age of 8 she was, like so many First Nations children, taken by missionaries to a Quaker boarding school in Indiana. Such boarding schools in various parts of North America taught Indigenous children how to read and write English; how to speak, dress, and walk like the English; and how to engage with “polite society.” They were forced to convert to Christianity and to stop speaking the first languages. In other words, the schools’ curriculum was designed to teach the children how not to be Indian.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Some children became completely divorced from their first family, community, tribes of birth, and heritage. Somehow, however, Zitkála-Šá grew up straddling both the white world and the First Nations world. She was ethnically mixed and would eventual marry another former student of the missionary school (who was also of mixed heritage, although both of his parents were First Nations) and become known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. She taught and wrote, and became an activist.

She published articles and essays in the internationally recognized magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly and eventually served as editor and contributor to American Indian Magazine, which was published by The Society of American Indians. Much of what she wrote highlighted the trauma and tragedy of the boarding schools and the unfulfilled treaties between the tribes and the federal government. But, she had another agenda, another subversive form of activism. Because of her experiences (in both worlds) and her education (in both worlds), she was able to use what appealed to the European world – their words and their appreciation of literature, dance, and music – preserve the very culture the Europeans where trying to eradicate.

“The old legends of America belong quite as much to the blue-eyed little patriot as to the black-haired aborigine. And when they are grown tall like the wise grown-ups may they not lack interest in a further study of Indian folklore, a study which so strongly suggests our near kinship with the rest of humanity and points a steady finger toward the great brotherhood of mankind, and by which one is so forcibly impressed with the possible earnestness of life as seen through the teepee door! If it be true that much lies “in the eye of the beholder,” then in the American aborigine as in any other race, sincerity of belief, though it were based upon mere optical illusion, demands a little respect.

After all he seems at heart much like other peoples.”

– quoted from the preface to American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá

In addition to performing at the White House for President William McKinley, Zitkála-Šá published autobiographical essays and short stories based on her tribes’ oral traditions in international magazines like Atlantic Monthly and and Harper’s. She published her first book in 1901, and wrote the libretto and songs for The Sun Dance Opera, the first opera penned by a member of a Native community. The opera, which premiered in 1913, was a collaboration with the white composer William F. Hanson – who, unfortunately, was the only creator credited in the 1938 publicity when the production moved from (way) off-off-off-Broadway (in Vernal, Utah) to The Broadway Theatre.

The original production was performed 15 times (throughout Utah) and featured performers from the Ute Nation alongside white performers. It not only incorporated dance that had been basically outlawed in their original context; it was based on sacred Sioux and Ute healing rituals that the federal government had also banned – even when performed on the reservation. Like her collected stories, the opera was also notable for transcribing and preserving the oral traditions.

Zitkála-Šá was an advocate for Indian civil rights and, in particular, fought for the right of citizenship. Prior to her marriage, she worked at Standing Rock Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for about a year. She and her husband, Army Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, worked for the BIA and were stationed at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah for 14 years. Like her experiences as a boarding school student and teacher, her experiences working for the federal government allowed her to highlight the agency’s systematic problems. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. and became a lobbyist. She served as Secretary of The Society of American Indians and editor and contributor of the organization’s publication. Her efforts contributed to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In 1926, the Bonnins co-founded the National Council of American Indians. She served as the council’s president for 12 years. Since Captain Bonnin was a World War I veteran, Zitkála-Šá is buried (as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students’ sample work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian timber.

In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indians. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”

– quoted from The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 85, 1900) article “An Indian Teacher among Indians” by Zitkála-Šá

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

NOTE: This is a “leftover” day for those celebrating the 15-day Spring Festivals. Some are finishing off literal leftovers. Some fathers are hosting their son-in-laws, but mostly people are getting ready for Day 15.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

Approved, June 2, 1924. June 2, 1924”

– quoted from the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

### PEACE (PEACE) PEACE ###