Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing Report for May

This week we lost an amazing writer with an amazing voice, a voice we might very well have never heard. Maya Angelou's story has been told and retold, by herself and others, but the world might very well have never known it, or her, if she had not begun the process by telling her own story.

Maya Angelou, who died this week, spent five years of her young life completely mute, refusing to speak a word between the ages of eight and thirteen. She had been sexually assaulted, just a child, and when she told the truth about what had happened to her, the man responsible for her assault was found dead, probably beaten to death in retaliation by her older relatives.

She stopped speaking, believing she was responsible for his death. "I thought I had killed him," she later explained. "I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone."

Like so many people who have written about Angelou this week, I have been inspired by her life and her words, especially the ones quoted here. Again and again, I have been able to overcome my reluctance to speak my own truth and tell my own stories, and a lot of the credit for my own small amount of courage goes to Angelou's example.

We are nearly at the end of another month of writing and I am looking forward to the start of the summer session at Hopkins where I am enrolled in Fiction Workshop. I hope to workshop at least two or three pieces this summer in that course, but I am also very much looking forward to reading manuscripts from other writers in the class, getting to know new authors, and hearing their stories.

We all have untold stories inside us, stories that the world needs to hear. What is yours?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nearly Wordless Wednesday


For more Wordless Wednesday, see the main site.

For more of my photos, see Flickr. As you'll probably notice from my Flickr page, I love taking photos of the moon! The shot above was taken last fall from Dewey Beach, Delaware. If you look carefully to the left of the rising moon, you can see a tiny light from a ship in the Atlantic out along the horizon.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Science Sunday

Happy Mother's Day!

It's a gorgeous day out and I'm spending it in the garden instead of writing about science. I suppose, as a mother, I ought to be allowed the day off to relax, and this is what I like to do - hang out in my yard and take photos of whatever happens to be blooming. Today's favorite shot is of a lovely magnolia blossom, one of the few left on that tree. I hope all you mothers out there are having as great a day as I am!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yoga Monday - The Yoga of Chant

The Sanskrit Symbol for Om
I spent the weekend immersed in a powerful yoga practice. To a casual observer, it may not have looked like we were doing yoga. I would guess that it looked more like a rock concert than a yoga class -- lots of music and musicians, lots of singing and clapping and dancing, and lots and lots of joy. We were, in fact, singing and dancing, but we were also doing yoga - bhakti yoga, to be precise.

Bhakti is the yoga of devotion and although there are several types of bhakti practices, all focused on expressing devotion, the one we practiced this weekend is chanting.

A typical bhakti chant will feature the name of one or another of the many names of the divine, repeated over and over, as a mantra. The chanting can be done to music, with melodies and rhythms and with the help of musical instruments. This is what leads to the rock concert atmosphere.

The difference is, that while it might look like a concert, it feels like yoga - because it is yoga. The repetition of the holy names is thought to open energy channels in the body the same way asana practice clears blocks to the flow of energy. Chanting can clear these blocks too, and often in a much more powerful, and speedier, fashion than practicing yoga poses.

Many students of yoga will be familiar with chanting, since it is a very common practice to chant the single syllable Om either at the beginning or end of class. Ironically, although the chanting of Om is one of the oldest and most widely practiced techniques of yoga, it is often never really explained, particularly to beginning yoga students.

So, why do we do this? Why do we chant this single syllable at the beginning and end of our yoga practice? There are many ways to answer this question, but I like to look at it as a small amount of bhakti practice inserted into every yoga class. In bhakti practice, we chant the divine names to increase our awareness and understanding of that particular aspect of the divine, especially as that particular aspect of divinity is manifested in our own bodies. We chant Om for the same reason - to bring this symbol of the perfection of ultimate reality into our hearts and minds, so we are fully conscious of it.

Although Om is a very simple mantra, just a single syllable, it holds within it the entire universe. The yoga sutras explain that we chant Om repeatedly because this leads us to the contemplation of the meaning of Isvara, the ultimate reality, pure perfection. This, in fact, is our true nature, so by chanting its name, we raise our consciousness of this fact.

One way to think of Om is as the original primordial sound, the single sound which brought forth everything that is, the entire Universe. When we chant Om it is a way to remind ourselves of our true nature, but it is also a way to increase the likelihood that we will remember this important fact: we are that sound which brought everything that is into existence - even after we walk out of our yoga class and into our everyday life.

It's very likely that we will forget this essential fact as soon as we roll up our mat. And that is why we chant it again, and again, and again. Om Om Om