Archive for November, 2014

Why Practice Meditation Twice a Day?

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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The general recommendation for practicing meditation is 20 minutes twice a day. As described earlier in meditation on the breath and on the mantra, the procedure is this: 20 minutes of meditation followed by 5-10 minutes of rest. The reasoning behind this is explained by Yogani in the lessons on AYP deep meditation:

When we do practices, we coax our nervous system into a different style of functioning — sustaining deep silence. And in later stages, ecstatic bliss. To stabilize all this we go out and are active in the world every day. There is fading of the higher functioning during activity as we work it into daily living. The fading happens over 5-10 hours. Then we can do practices again and re-establish the higher style of functioning again, to be faded in activity again. This cycle can be done twice a day by doing practices morning and early evening. It provides for the most purification and growth possible during waking hours for people with active lives.
Doing practices once a day is much slower – it is only one daily cycle of cultivating and fading, instead of two. And it is too much fading before reinforcement of the higher style of functioning happens again the next day. Twice daily practice is a matter of effectiveness and efficiency. With twice daily practice over time, the fading of ecstatic bliss in activity becomes less and less, and the higher style of functioning of the nervous system becomes steady and unshakable 24 hours a day.

This is the fruit of the process. It is the ongoing cycle of practices and activity that produces this result.

During retreats, where responsibilities are suspended, more than two routines of practices per day can be undertaken, alternating with meals, light activity, and satsangs (spiritual gatherings). Three or four cycles of practice can be done in this kind of environment. Maybe more for diehard yogis and yoginis. It is a matter of self-pacing for comfort and effectiveness. Then one can go very deep over a period of days, weeks, or months in retreat. This introduces another cycle between retreats that lasts a much longer period of time (weeks or months), superimposed over the twice daily cycle of practices we continue with in our regular life when we are back in the world. Retreats accelerate progress in this way. But retreats are not a substitute for long term twice daily practices at home. What we do every day over the long term is what will make the most difference in the end.
All of this is designed for maximum progress, making the best use of our nervous system’s natural abilities and the time we have available to do the job.

Stillness in Action: Heritage of Healing

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Charity of the Month

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Heal Your Heart is pleased to announce its first Stillness in Action donation will be made to the Heritage of Healing program. This organization is a great example of a local charity making a difference in its community. If others are also moved to support the work of Heritage of Healing, contributions can be made by visiting Heritage of Healing’s  donation page.

Heritage of Healing is a 501 (c), volunteer-driven organization that is based in Ypsilanti, Michigan and provides personal and community support to low-income families that are battling cancer. The charity accomplishes this through its Heritage of Healing Relief Program, which provides locally grown produce, nutrition workshops, monthly “Walk for Health” fitness walks, children’s school supplies, winter clothing, gas cards, and Christmas gift cards to needy children and their families while they cope with cancer treatment. Heritage of Healing also makes cancer awareness and prevention a major focus of its service, especially in the American Indian community, where cancer diagnosis is disproportionately high. In addition, the charity also organizes monthly movie nights, craft workshops, and occasional brunches for cancer treatment patients and their families. 

The organization aims to provide a robust support network for cancer patients and their families in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. One of its goals is to eventually provide housing to low-income families with a member who is receiving treatment at the University of Michigan Hospital. The specific goals are laid out on the Heritage of Healing website, which can be found here: http://heritageofhealing.org/about/. They also have a page on Facebook, which can be found here https://www.facebook.com/HeritageofHealing.

The founder of Heritage of Healing, Soshana Philips, has been battling bone marrow cancer since 2006. She is a mother of three children and decided to found the charity out of her own experience, strength, and hope. Soshana’s story can be found here: http://www.freep.com/article/20140622/

 

Dasha Mahavidya – Chinnamasta

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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Brilliant as lightning, She stands luminously naked, her body covered carelessly by a garland of human skulls. In one arm, She bears a scimitar and in the other, Her own freshly severed head. Three streams of blood spout forth from the neck, the central stream feeding Her own mouth, the other two lapped up by Her two attendants, Varnini and Dakini. Such is the dramatic iconography of the terrifying Chinnamasta. In some depictions, She dances (or sits calmly) upon a couple in embrace – Kama, the lord of desire and his beautiful wife, Rati.

Chinnamasta represents the force of creation as well as the force of transcendence. The limitation of the limitless light of Brahman (prakasha) in space (akasha) is symbolized by Bhuvaneshwari and in time by Kali. The involvement of the Supreme in all of creation as immanence even while transcending all forms is represented by Tripura Sundari. The primordial, unexpressed, unmanifest sound (nada) self-absorbed in itself in all of creation is symbolized by Tara, while nada (primordial sound) turned toward creation in all of the myriad vibrations as consciousness is represented by Tripura Bhairavi. Chinnamasta represents the coming together of prakasha (light) and nada (sound) to begin the process of creation. In the physical world, the forceful union of light and sound is depicted by lightning. Thus, Chinnamasta is known as the Goddess that shines like a streak of lightning. Brahman is described as the triune of Sat-Chit-Ananda (truth-consciousness-bliss), moving into creation as the other triune – of physical body-subtle body-causal body. The movement of Brahman into creation is forceful enough to seemingly behead the higher triune from the lower triune; the knowledge of Sat-Chit-Ananda is forgottten and the separate self is born, identifying itself as the physical-subtle-causal body, instead of as its true nature, truth-consciousness-bliss. However, this is the play (Lila) of the divine; it is in this forgetfulness that the One can revel as the many. Chinnamasta is this force of separation of the higher from the lower on the macrocosmic level.  

At the time of creation of the individual being, it is Chinnamasta that brings the macrocosmic energy into the individual being through the brahmarandhra, the topmost point of the head. With the descent of Life thus, the brahmarandhra closes, and the individual “forgets” that the energy that runs the cosmos also runs his/her being. In this, the identification as the separate entity is complete. This energy, once descended, courses through innumerable nadis (lines of energy) running throughout the being and bringing life and intelligence down to the cellular level. Of all these nadis, the three most important ones are those that arise from the root or base of the backbone and run along the spinal cord – the ida and pingala flanking and entwining the central sushumna and criss-crossing at various levels along the spine. These three channels are well-represented by the Greek symbol of medicine, the caduceus. The ida and pingala end in the left and right nostrils while the sushumna terminates in the brow center. In ordinary beings, the ida (lunar, cool) and pingala (solar, hot) currents dominate the energy circuit and life is torn between dualities of good and bad, joy and sadness, right and wrong, and so on. The sushumna remains dormant until awakened by various means and is symbolized by Chinnamasta, while Ida and Pingala are Her two attendants, Varnini and Dakini. Once awakened, the sushumna (through the tapas of Tripura Bhairavi) opens progressively up to the brow center where Chinnamasta severs open the brahmarandhra; in Her self-beheading, the identity as the separate self dies. In Her infinite compassion, She nourishes Her dualistic attendants. In being nourished thus, all opposites and paradoxes are reconciled in unity consciousness.

Thus, Chinnamasta is both the force of separation and of unity of the created from the Creator. In fierceness, She is much like Kali; while Kali is known as Chandi, the fierce one, Chinnamasta is known as Prachanda Chandi, the fiercest. Yet, the two are distinct in their modes of action. Kali is the power of action and emotion, and Her mode of action is that of evolution through time, which is often gradual and progressive. On the other hand, Chinnamasta resides at the brow center (ajna) and is the power of will and inner vision, and Her mode of action is also one of evolution, but is instantaneous and forceful. Kali’s work, combined with the tapas of Tripura Bhairavi, and support of Sundari and Bhuvaneshwari prepares the sadhana for this definitive beheading by Chinnamasta. All too often, grosser vices of the ego (tamasic and rajasic) are replaced by subtler (sattvic) ones that are far more difficult to recognize and surrender. We can go from being ignorant to being excessively “full” of intellectual knowledge gained through reading, satsang, discussions and so on. This “fullness” (known as shastra vasana) can pose the most challenging obstacle to liberation and true “knowing”. Hence the saying, “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” that calls to becoming “empty” of such knowledge. The beheading in the iconography of Chinnamasta symbolizes this breakthrough, the result of emptying and cutting through the mind’s self-inflicted veils. It is Her lighting bolt that results in instantaneous destruction of ignorance (identity as the separate self) and transformation into knowledge (of one’s true nature).

As the thunderclap, She is known as Indrani, the Shakti of Indra. In the Vedas, Indra is given the position as the Lord of Lords. He rules over the triple worlds of matter, spirit and life, and governs over the Universal (One or Divine) Mind. As Indra’s Shakti, Chinnamasta rules over the Universal Mind and acts through the human mind, as the power of perception behind all senses. Thus, sense organs are called “indriya”, after Indra, the ruler of the mind who operates through Chinnamasta. In sadhana, as we continue with the practice of Self-abiding, deeply hidden vasanas (conditioning) arise from the subtle and causal bodies in the form of impulses pertaining to the “indriyas”, the sense organs. The mind that registers sense organ perceptions continues to bring up long-ingrained and habit-enforced reactions and impulses. Of all sense-driven impulses, the sexual impulse is the strongest in sentient beings. Whether procreative or perverted, this impulse is the most difficult to control after prolonged sadhana. Even when the impulse no longer arises in the conscious mind, it can continue to arise in the subtle and causal bodies. This procreative energy is the most potent of all; however, in its ordinary impulse and release, it is ill-utilized to fulfill baser desires. Cultivated and directed upward by the grace of Chinnamasta, the procreative impulse loses its hold at the conscious and subconscious levels. At last, it ceases to be an obstacle to sadhana and is instead used to ascend to greater and greater heights. Thus, Chinnamasta reigns supreme over Kama and Rati, whose combined force is irresistible and essential for propagation of life. By this symbolic beheading, the sadhaka is reborn into a different life, one far removed from ordinary consciousness and desires.

It is only the fierceness of Chinnamasta that can instill sadhana with the courage needed to face the next Mahavidya, Dhumavati.

Building a daily practice of meditation

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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The most common initial hurdle with taking up meditation is finding the time and motivation for it. Most often, there is the expectation that somehow life will drastically change overnight by merely taking up the practice. Obviously, this is not how it works. As with everything else, there is a need for commitment, diligence and willingness to “go the distance” with meditative practices. Just like we do not take up an exercise program today and hope to lose 20 pounds by tomorrow, we also do not expect instantaneous changes from meditative practices. Unlike lifestyle changes, spiritual practices certainly can result in sudden changes and insights; however, we must be ready to dive in with the faith that transformation is gradually occurring and will continue to unfold as we cultivate inner silence. The first step to this is to build a daily practice in a stubborn sort of way. Such consistent effort is the cornerstone to all transformative behaviors, be it taking up an exercise program, sticking to a healthy diet, quitting addictive habits or maintaining a positive attitude.

Yogani explains this process beautifully; the following is an excerpt from aypsite.com:

Whatever system of practices we are following, chances are that we have heard, or figured out on our own, that daily practice is the key to success. The journey of transformation takes time, and the inner changes that lead to our progress require daily cultivation.

So, no matter what our approach or level of attainment is, reaching our destination in a reliable fashion depends on having daily practices firmly in place. Wherever we may be, we can close our eyes and meditate – in trains, airplanes, waiting rooms, just about anywhere. If we are willing to be flexible and compromise on our practices from time to time, we can keep up the habit under the most adverse circumstances. There is great value in this, for it assures us of a continuation of practices over the long term, which is the key to success.

We do not live in an ideal world. Even with the best plans for regular practice in our meditation room, it can all go out the window with a family emergency or other intervening events. Does this mean our daily practices have to go out the window too? Not if we have a strategy. That is what we will cover in this lesson. Ways to keep our practices going, no matter what is happening.

As our routine of yoga becomes more sophisticated, involving more practices, keeping it all going in a busy schedule presents both challenges and opportunities. With so many pieces to work with in an advanced routine, we can be pretty creative in compressing our practices when time is short. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Let’s talk about the basics of establishing and keeping a habit of doing daily spiritual practices. One of the easiest ways to do it is make a rule for ourselves that we will do our routine before we eat breakfast and dinner – twice a day like that. If the time of one or both of those meals isn’t stable, then we can tag it to be done upon awakening in the morning, and as soon as we arrive home in the evening. If we are traveling, it gets a bit more complicated, but practices can be done to some degree under just about any circumstances, as long as we honor our habit.

Keeping the habit is not only about doing a full routine. It does not have to be “all or nothing.” The habit is an urge we build into ourselves to do something about this practice at the appointed time that comes twice daily. Having the habit is having the “urge to practice.” This cultivated urge is the seed of all daily practice. It is like getting hungry at meal times. It just happens, and we want to eat. If we have the urge for yoga practices cultivated like that, then we will do them. Most days we will be doing our whole routine. On other days, we may be doing less. But we will always be doing something every session. This “always doing something every session” is very important.

To illustrate what we mean by having the “habit,” let’s suppose we are hurrying down a busy street. We are on our way to a business dinner appointment that will tie us up until bedtime. We are walking quickly, weaving our way through the people we are passing on the sidewalk. The restaurant is just around the corner now. Almost there. But wait! We see a bench, an empty bus stop bench on the sidewalk in the middle of all the people hurrying this way and that way. We have that urge built into us to do practices. It is time. So what do we do? We stop and sit on that bench for a few minutes and meditate. It might be only for two minutes. But why not? Who will miss us for those two minutes? And we have kept our habit to sit. It is amazing how doing something small like that can renew us for an entire evening – centering for just a few minutes, picking up the mantra just a few times. The nervous system says, “Thank you!” And we are calmer for the rest of the evening.

But it is not just about centering for a few minutes. It is also about keeping our habit of twice daily practices. If we are in a crazy schedule for days or weeks like that, and can just sit for a few minutes before breakfast and dinner, then when we recover control of our schedule we won’t be struggling to find our practice routine again. The habit will be there, and then we can indulge it with our full routine, which we know will fill us to overflowing with inner silence and divine ecstasy.

So that is the first thing, you know – keeping the habit, even if it for two minutes on a bus stop bench. It does not matter where it is, or what is going on. We can keep the habit if we are committed. Then it will keep us committed, because it becomes a hunger that comes on its own at the appointed time. Then we will not have to struggle to restore our commitment to yoga once we are free to do twice-daily full routines of practice again.

In this busy world, we will all be faced with the challenge of having limited time for our practices. As we continue with yoga, our desire for progress will become stronger, and we will find ways to keep the necessary time available. Even so, there will be things that come up occasionally that will limit our time, so it is wise to develop an attitude of flexibility and a willingness to compromise when necessary to make sure that we are always honoring our habit to practice twice each day. If we do that, there won’t be much in this world that can keep us from reaching our destination.

Surrender.. A tale of birds and snakes

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

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The central theme of all spiritual traditions is surrender, the giving up of this person that we think we are. It can be said that surrender is the central theme of the Bhagavad Gita as well; again and again, Arjuna is instructed to surrender his will to the Divine (Krishna). Yet, the concept of surrender is volatile and often misunderstood. Importantly, it is the most challenging (and therefore a significant) movement on the spiritual quest. The body, mind and intellect are what we think we are, and these obscure the inner divine light effectively and often totally. At each level, there is a strong sense of individuality, of being a person in control of life and its circumstances, as well as relationships with others and with God. This strong sense of individuality arises from upbringing, values instilled by caregivers and prevalent culture, life experiences that “teach” us to love or hate, to accept or reject, to be strong or timid, to choose this over that, and so on. All along, we have the strong sense that it is “me” that is choosing or doing out of my own “personal free will”. Yet, there is hardly anything “free” about this will, since every choice made is dependent upon a cascade of circumstances that can (if one would want to) be traced all the way to infanthood (and beyond).

Every action has infinite possibilities in terms of outcomes; yet, we ardently hope for one single outcome that is based on our experience of desirable and undesirable. When the outcome is what we had hoped for, we are temporarily satisfied (until the next expectation comes along, as it surely will). When it is not, we are filled with disappointment, regret, resentment and ill-will. This is how we live our lives on a moment-to-moment basis, each moment colored by expectations of the next and based on the experience of the last.

And then we arrive on the spiritual path and take up practices and studying. Here too, the active issue is of control; specific outcomes are expected from sadhana. Practices and spiritual studies are taken up with certain goals; we remain fixated on these goals in a rigid sort of way, happy when a prescribed milestone is reached and disappointed when our experience differs from it. When it comes to surrender, we can misunderstand it to be passive and that no effort is necessary on our part at all. However, because we have become experts at efforting and expecting, such giving up becomes frustratingly impossible. On the other hand, we may tap into tamasic qualities of inertia and laziness and think this is surrender. In fact, the relationship between self-effort and surrender is one of the hardest concepts to grok on the spiritual path; both effort and surrender are necessary, and this is the entire basis of karma yoga.

The surrender that is required is of the active quality. All efforts arising from our passionate desire for God are consecrated to God. And this consecration is an art that has to be perfected along with non-attachment and equanimity. Surrender can never be perfect if there is attachment to a specific outcome or aversion to another. Thus, we perform actions and continue with sadhana with utmost sincerity and engagement, but we are deeply okay with whatever the outcome may be. Why? Because any outcome is the most obvious evidence of Divine Will (all our choices and actions also arise from Divine Will, but the impurities of identification with the body-mind-intellect obscures the seeing of its role until a later stage). For active surrender, this “okay-ness” needs to be at a level that is much deeper than the mind. It must permeate our physical and subtle bodies; our very cells must be bathed in this okay-ness for it to be active surrender. There can be no hope for anything that is not aligned with the greater will. Thus, we acknowledge the desire that drives an action and give it up with an affirmation for it to occur if it is Divine Will. When this giving up occurs at the aforementioned deepest layers, there is an unmistakable release and relaxation. Although Divine Will will determine the outcome anyway, the acknowledgment of the desire and it’s concomitant release make it an active movement. Miraculously, such a practice (known as samyama) results in dissolving of our will into the Divine Will.

This practice, as difficult and imperfect as it is, has been the most beautiful aspect of my sadhana. Over the years, my life (like that of others who practice this) has become a steady stream of miracles. One such incident occurred on a trip to Costa Rica. More than any other wildlife of this lush country, I wished to see the Resplendent Quetzal, a magnificent bird with vivid colors and a long two-feathered tail. As we toured the cloud forests of Monteverde, our many hours spent for one glimpse of this highly elusive bird were in vain. On daily guided tours, we saw every other species of native birds except the quetzal. On our last day in the region, we took a self-guided tour of one last rainforest but the ranger at the ticket booth warned us not to expect to see a quetzal because of unfavorable weather conditions that day. Disappointed, I trekked along, hoping against hope that it might still happen. Halfway through the tour, I suddenly felt the desire dissolving fully, knowing without a doubt that if it was Divine Will to see one, it would happen; it was no longer “my” concern. In a brilliant inner flash of release, there was a whoosh of relaxation down to the bones along with immense peace and joy of just being. The quetzal was forgotten and the magic of the forest captured my attention and heart. A half hour later, a male quetzal alighted on a tree branch right next to us in a glorious flash of blue-green. As we gaped, a female (with shorter feathers) joined its mate and the two remained preening on the branch for a while and flew away just as a group of people approached (they had to see the above picture to believe it). Tears streamed down my face and I was humbled beyond belief. Two days later and on our very last day in the country, I felt that our trip could not be complete without seeing a large snake. We had seen several varieties of smaller ones, but not a big one. Again, this desire was surrendered in a big release and a sense of being totally okay with not seeing one. Minutes later, we were strolling down to breakfast at the forest resort as a guide ran up asking us to hurry – a python had been spotted nearby and it was feeding. We rushed to the spot and watched the strikingly gorgeous creature finish its meal and leisurely make its way into the bush. This beautiful country had been my guru for this valuable lesson in surrender.

In every moment, we can dive into this practice of active surrender. We can put in the effort and simultaneously call for Grace to release all “my-ness” from it and to pour our stubborn will into the fire of Divine Will. The prerequisites for this are inner silence and unwavering faith in the Divine. We have to know (not merely believe) that nothing in the cosmos occurs outside of Divine Will. Our effort, our path, our life and its saga, world events – all these are intricate parts of the cosmos, which moves as a whole according to Divine Will. Any action performed by anyone anywhere moves the whole in a specific direction, all of it dictated by this Will. No action is isolated and affects seen and unseen sentient beings and events in orchestrated ways. By no means is this a fatalistic predetermination, for every action has infinite possibilities in terms of outcomes; all these possibilities and their resultant cascades of outcomes are contained within Divine Will.

In fact, the very movement of surrender is a sanction of Grace and of this all-encompassing Will.

Equanimity and the end of slavery – a dialogue

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

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Question: How do I overcome anger and resentment? I have been depressed most of my life, have been on medications and in therapy for decades, but nothing has really helped.

Response: Can you describe your feelings a bit more? What are you angry about?

Questioner (Agitated and with raised voice): I hate my health problems. I hate myself and hate it when I become a monster around my family. (And in a softer, kinder tone): My wife of sixty odd years is an angel and the kindest person I know. She does not deserve a monster like me.

Response: When you were talking about your wife just now, where was the thought about being a monster?

Question: (Puzzled) Don’t know. Where was it?

Response: When the thought “I am a monster” arises, you become angry, resentful and sad. When the thought “My wife is the kindest person I know” arises, you become kinder yourself. Do you see this?

Question: Yes. You are right. But how do I stop the first thought from arising? It is a running thought all the time in my mind.

Response: Not all the time. You just demonstrated that when you spoke about your family.

Question: True. So how do I stop it?

Response: Let us first examine this – when the thought of being a monster arises, you latch on to it and become its slave. You do what it wants you to do, by becoming angry, resentful and unhappy. What if you did not latch on to it and simply waited for it to pass? As we saw a few minutes ago, the thought always passes (even if it will arise again). Do you agree?

Questioner: Yes, I agree. But how do I stop it?

Response: You cannot force a thought from arising. Think of your mind as a train station. No train stops permanently in a station. Trains come, stay until passengers get on or off, and leave. Thoughts are exactly like trains – they arise, stay a while and leave. If we get onto the train/thought, it will take us places. These are familiar places of heaven (good feelings – happiness, satisfaction) or hell (bad feelings – anger, anxiety, resentment). The fact of it is that any time go to heaven, we will eventually have to go to hell. That is how these trains work – in a “both or none” fashion. Thoughts quickly make us their slaves and force us to do their bidding. The only reason specific trains/thoughts keep stopping at specific stations is because there is a passenger willing to hop on. If we stayed on the platform and never got on the train, it might keep stopping at this station out of habit for a while. But due to the lack of a passenger, it would stop less frequently and eventually stop coming this way altogether.

We break out of the chains of slavery by the practice of equanimity (a.k.a., staying on the platform). The key to this is to stop believing every thought that arises and to see how temporary it is. Belief in a thought (hopping on to it because it is glittery or alluring) is to become it’s slave.

When we break free of this mental slavery, we become astute station-masters and are able to command thoughts to do our bidding and go where we order them to go. In this reversal of roles, the station and the trains arise only to serve us (and not the other way around).

Question: What you say makes total sense. How do I stay on the platform?

Response: There are many things you can do. The breath is the most immediate experience in the body. Bring your attention to your breath and just observe it. Go for a walk. Take up a mantra to repeat – this can be as simple as “stay on the platform”. Watch the impulse to jump on the train out of habit. Merely watching it causes the impulse to lose its power over you. (Note: an advanced practice is to abide as awareness or self-abidance).

Question: If I don’t get on the train to heaven, would my life not become dull and joyless?

Response: No. All trains get you to temporary heavens. Your time there is always short and by the very design of things, you will get on the train to hell by and by. However, staying on the platform reveals another hidden dimension that leads to peace, joy and bliss not found at any train-driven destination called heaven. The only way to discover this is to practice staying there long enough.

The Bhagavad Gita describes this predicament beautifully: “The enjoyments that are born of contacts (with sense-organs/mind/thought, or hopping on the train in this example) are only generators of pain, for they have a beginning and an end. O son of Kunti, the wise do not rejoice in them” (5:22)

Questioner (with a smile): I have never heard anyone talk about this. It makes perfect sense and I see it happen all the time in my mind. I jump on to the thought and am led to anger and frustration by believing it. I feel hopeful already and I am willing to try to stay on the platform. I will report back in a while for some more advice. Thank you.