Black History Month
National Clean Out Your Computer Day
Happy Early Valentine’s Day
There’s an important practice in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali known as Saucha – Cleanliness or Purity. Now I know we’re not quite at spring cleaning time, but the spring-like weather has inspired me to think spring and the National Clean Out Your Computer Day gave an added push. The computer can be a tough place to notice how “dirty” it gets since it can physically be dusted off, but the contents can be all over the place. Ouch… it hurts when I say that because I think I need to spend a month organizing everything not just a day. A few of you know too well how your help has been invaluable for me being able to keep functioning and using my computer. Literally, without giving this over and trusting the skill of others, I’d be lost. I’ve had so many different ways to store things and clever systems to organize. But rather than follow the plan each time, I’m one who likes inventing new ones! So what this means is that much of my computer filing has evolved over time and a thoughtful system of order wasn’t initially figured out. This creative system allowed me to shift and grow in a purely organic way while the side effects meant files lost in distant logic. Thank heavens for the search function but still…
I also have an old laptop with photos from my India trip in 2007 that I’ve not been able to retrieve. So sad because I’d love to see those hundreds of photos again one day. I’ll trust they’re there and if I’m meant to see them again, I will. I also have so many photos that I am able to access which I’ve never seen again, so it’s just this flood of stuff that we’ll have to let go of someday or another. I’ve noticed that I’ll fixate on the things I can’t have and take for granted and not look at all the photos (and other things) that I do have. So is it the stuff, or is it my mind that is more the issue?
Ok, back to Saucha – Purity. This is part of the family of the Yamas and Niyamas, the first 2 of the eight limbs of yoga as detailed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – an ancient text on the royal path of yoga. Yamas – Precepts for living in the world, values which help us deal with the external world by way of moral discipline. Niyamas – Precepts for personal practice. These are known as the values which help us deal with our personal observances – our own body and mind. Each has five precepts, Saucha is at the top of the Niyamas list. Keeping our external surroundings clean and clear can feel useful. Think more about what a clear space feels like rather than judging yourself if your space is clear or not. Think about what a calm mind feels like rather than fighting to clear your mind of all the thoughts. Think about brushing your teeth daily versus if you were to wait and brush them at the end of the week! Some of these we’ve learned to do as a matter of a fact, it’s purely sensible. Other things may feel negotiable for all kinds of reasons.
Our body requires some level of care and looking after it with a pure mind versus a mind obsessed with the body is a challenge. So much of our culture promotes indulgence yet in a way, much of our culture also promotes negligence with unhealthy food offerings. The outer body, our skin, hair, nails are all representations of our inner body. The lines, the spots, the textures, all give us clues and in many ways, these are the incredible signs of living in this complex and multi-dimensional world where health is subjective. As much as we can focus on choices that are toning our organs, bones, tissues and all parts and fluids on the inside as we do on the outside, we’d be smart to do. One of the ways we can clean internally is with our hatha yoga practice. The bending, twisting, folding, arching, inverting and overall movement of the body helps us massage the internal body and all its functions. We move to help aid the body in its natural process of elimination of cellular and digestive wastes. Hatha Yoga is for our overall health – curative and preventative. No way around it, even if we live in the most pristine areas, our bodies still require an elimination process to rid the body of toxins from simply being alive.
We can also practice Kriyas for additional cleansing which are very common for Hatha yogis, but likely a bit odd if you haven’t learned about these. In the Hatha practices, these range from many techniques including my top three favorites: 1.Neti pot to cleanse the nasal passages which is the most common 2. Trataka to focus and purify the mind by concentrating on candle light 3. breathing practices that stimulate digestive fire and stimulate the nervous system and the related subtle system of the nadis – aka channels of light. If you’d like to see some of these techniques, watch this youtube video written, produced and directed by Dhananjaya Kumar with medical advice from Integral Yoga’s Dr. Sandra Mclanahan and Dr. R. Nagarathna, Chief Medical Officer of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Therapy and Research Foundation. It is a practice that requires instruction and care and best not to casually experiment on your own unless you’ve already been given guidance.
We use our mind for any activity we do, therefore a clean mind will help us live life in a way that aligns with our best intentions. We may be carrying excess weight on our body and excess baggage in our mind…and too many files on our laptops! Just as I keep things on my computer simply because I’m not sure what to do with them, we may do the same with our body and our mind. If we haven’t processed some emotional trauma or otherwise difficult experience, our bodies and certainly our minds are capable of storing them. A steady, daily practice that helps to bring focus into our life is key for well-being. And this could be working in the garden, painting, dancing, singing, practicing taichi or yoga – some way that we move our body that isn’t for a competitive experience. There is no one set path but there is the understanding that only by concentrating our energy toward the thing that uplifts and expands our mind, will we find a way to clean the mind. Meditation is certainly becoming more and more appreciated for the way it helps channel the higher self. It is through this practice that the light of wisdom is able to shine and the impurities naturally fall away.
Ok, so I have to get back to the computer analogy just for a moment… it’s not only our hard drives that can get weighed down with files and more files, our minds can feel the constant barrage of societal and cultural “files” that we consciously or not so consciously do our best to sort and file in our own minds and hearts on a daily basis. And even when things go in the trash, we might forget to delete it and the trash builds up and slows things down. These can be confusing when much of our history files around American history haven’t been labeled correctly and we’ve been storing them a certain way for years and years. And then when we learn that our history has been intentionally omitted, structurally biased and divisively designed to perpetuate white supremacy, it’s challenging to know if our computer is failing us, if it might be broken or could it just be working exactly like we were programmed. No matter how far back we look into the history of our own education, we might not find the truth. Our computers keep what we’ve saved on them and will run accordingly. Only by updating the files with new information will we have the chance to think and be different. Otherwise, we’re just spinning our hard drives.
Powerful article from 2014 discussing the unarmed teen, Michael Brown and the fatal choking of Eric Garner – stories that are painfully too familiar:
Reetu Mody, Harvard Kennedy School Student Publication, 2014
“First, the history: In But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenge of Prison Reentry (Urban Institute Press 2005), Jeremy Travis explains that the first prison, High Street Jail, was built in Philadelphia in 1682, with the intention of rehabilitating prisoners. In the pre-Civil War period, prisons were used to house primarily White prisoners (because the majority of Blacks were enslaved and punished by plantation owners). At the time, the criminal justice system dictated that prisoners who showed repentance through good behavior should be released. In addition, the state believed it should provide resources to support good behavior inside detention centers. Incarceration was once intended to prepare an individual to return to society ready to engage with social norms, not just to protect society from evils.
It wasn’t until after the Civil War, in the midst of Reconstruction—when for the first time Blacks had voting power and Southern White power felt threatened—that we saw our system change to its current punitive form. Following Reconstruction, our prisons transformed from places of rehabilitation to moneymaking institutions through the use of chain gangs, essentially a new form of slave labor. Freed slaves were charged with not fulfilling sharecropping commitments (which was almost never supported by evidence) and hired out as part of a prison chain gang to work fields, mines, or railroads. Today, labor exploitation continues as 37 states have legalized contracting out prison labor to private corporations. The criminal justice system became, and remains, a new way to ensure disenfranchisement of people of color by using them as cheap labor for the powerful. This new American ideology—that prisoners should be punished rather than rehabilitated—created the sturdy foundation for the labor exploitation of people of color and the status quo monopoly of political and economic power.”
-Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor, SocialistWorker.org, 2014
-Jeremy Divinity, Writers’ Blokke, Medium.com, 2020
And to celebrate Black History Month, it’s not that I want to focus only on the harm and ugly truths. Because the intention of the month is to focus on the achievements of Black people of all genders and abilities as they have contributed to our country and our world. It is clear to me that much of our American history is slanted in order to offer a comfortable seat at the white table where white supremacy would like to be served their happy meals. So to give more attention to this month, Black History Month, it feels right when we know more of why so many Black Americans weren’t given the chance to share or to be recognized.
It’s no so much of a cleaning up of our history that’s needed. I’m not sure if there is an easy road on the hard drive. But there is a doable path in this difficult world. It’s more of a peeling off the veneer and learning what’s truly there and then telling ourselves and our children. Our minds have the capacity for a truth that is universal rather than selfishly curated for personal gain. Our hearts have the capacity to forgive and offer the greatest compassion. Working on deepening the relationship to that part of ourselves would be the best advancement of man beyond going to space or securing the biggest weapons. It’s just that isn’t the direction we’ve been going and not likely the course that will be redirected as the popular show anytime soon. On the good side, having President Biden and Vice President Harris has been a saving grace to rise up from the near free-fall of American democracy. So while there are many, many low points, it’s great to pause and notice the high points…as temporary as they are. Oh, and happy early Valentine’s Day. Almost forgot to include that in this article. 🙂