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So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

 

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

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

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

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

 

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

 

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

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

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

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

 

### AMEN, SELAH ###

 

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole, on April 12th April 12, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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PLEASE NOTE: This post involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.”

20200319_152127_1584651200949

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

– from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

 

 

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

– from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

 

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb last night. One was from a friend, sharing the quote above. The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way. On Sunday, April 12th, Western Christians are celebrating Easter, Orthodox Christians are celebrating Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), the Jewish community is observing Passover and there are some people in the world celebrating both Easter (or Palm Sunday) and Passover. When you consider that this observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keep in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

As you remember, Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and therefore Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originates within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus meets the qualifications. According to most Jews, he does not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Sunday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this. The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:6), by Jack Hawley

 

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:12

 

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:14

In the Exodus story, the Jewish people are slaves in Egypt and G-d commands Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand they be released. Moses takes his brother Aaron along and then, when their show of power doesn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone is subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it’s not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffer. The Jews, who are already suffering the hardship of slavery, also have to endure these additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families are told they are to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They are also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happens in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial speaks to Moses and Moses asks for G-d’s identity, Moses is told three times that the One who speaks is the One who will be with Moses and the Jewish people always. Regardless of what they are experiencing, Rashi explains, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:7-8), by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time), and future Christians, are kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he is betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously is not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb is opened and there is some confusion about what has happened, Jesus is essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, are either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 

– John 3:16 (NIV)

 

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9), by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (April 12th) for my first every Easter Sunday service/practice, 2:30 PM – 3:35 PM, on Zoom. Some of the new security protocols are definitely kicking in so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can practice pragmatism and self-compassion, please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now ((viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is pragmatic and compassionate!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 12th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 12th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 12th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 12th Practice

 

AMEN, SELAH ###

Old and New Commandments April 9, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Oh, the gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels rumbling
And rolling thro’ the land”

– “The Gospel Train (Get On Board),” a traditional Negro Spiritual sung by Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939*

Thursday, April 9, 2020, marks the first full day of Passover in the Jewish tradition and, for Roman Catholics and Western Christians, it marks Maudy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday). Judaism and Christianity are tied together, historically, as they are both Abrahamic religions. They are also connected, historically, because Jesus was a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, who spent the last week of his life observing Passover and preparing for what only he knew was coming: the Crucifixion and Resurrection. What people believe and how they practice their faiths can seem so different that it’s easy to forget they are connected. Pay attention to the details, however, and you will notice there’s a whole lot of hand washing and feet washing during today’s observations.

During a Passover Seder, when Jewish people commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wash their hands before and after the story of exodus is told through the lens of four questions. The first time, hands are washed without a blessing; the second time, hands are washed with a blessing. Like everything else in the Seder, even the name and the questions, the hand washing is crucial and symbolic.

The Hebrew word “Seder” means “order, procedure.” Just like in our yoga practice, everything happens in a very specific order that tells the story of the people, of their faith, and of their exodus. Symbols are used to engage not only the numerically young children at the table, but also those who are spiritually young and may not have studied the Torah. For example, the elements of the four questions (leavened vs. unleavened bread; all vegetables vs. bitter herbs; dipping the herbs in brine or vinegar and also in a sweet paste; eating in a variety of positions vs. eating in a reclining position) are symbolic of how quickly people fled when given the chance to escape Egypt; the bitterness of slavery; the sweat and tears of the enslaved people, as well as the bricks-and-mortar the enslaved were forced to build; and the luxury and privilege implied in eating in a reclining position – as if one has not a care in the world.  The symbolic nature of the different aspects of the observation means that the ritual is both a mental experience and a visceral experience. Still, it’s easy to overlook the hand washing, even though it’s in the Bible.

“For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

– Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

In the Eastern philosophies (like yoga) and religions (like Judaism) arms and hands are recognized as extensions of the heart. They are how we reach out to others, embrace others, embrace ourselves, and even embrace a moment. We use our hands and arms to build the world around us. We also use our hands and arms to love one another, or not, and to defend or support what we love (or not). Two of the aspects of the Divine (found on the Tree of Life) are love (chesed) and strength (gevurah). Furthermore, Jewish mysticism identifies these elements of the Divine as being embodied by the right and left arms, respectively. It is no accident then, nor is it only an element of good hygiene, that hands are washed before handling the sacred food. In fact, in the Hasidic tradition, “Water represents the healing power of wisdom. Water flows downward, carrying its essential simplicity to each thing. It brings them together as a single living, growing whole. We pour water over our hands as an expression of wisdom pouring downward passing through our heart and from there to our interaction with the world around us.”

Of the 613 commandments within the Jewish tradition, at least 21 – 27 are directly related to the observation of Passover, the Seder, the Counting of the Omer (which begins on the second night of Passover), and Shavuot (which begins at the end of the Counting of the Omer). The Last Supper (or suppers, depending on who you ask) is acknowledged as Jesus’ last meal and the source of the Eucharist or Holy Communion in Christian faiths. While the one of the four Canonical Gospels (John) places Passover after Jesus’s death, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) present The Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Therefore, it would make sense that Jesus – a Rabbi, a teacher, long before he was considered by some to be the Messiah – would make sure everyone washed their hands, twice during the Seder. It’s part of the Law, part of the Commandments. What is interesting is that before the Seder, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This is one of the events commemorated by some Christians on Maundy Thursday.

You may recall that one of the events of Spy Wednesday, the day before Maundy Thursday, is Mary of Bethany washing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil (and even before that, a woman offering hospitality by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair). The occasion with Mary, theoretically, causes Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. In John, Judas leaves (after what will be Jesus last meal) and Jesus prepares to wash the feet of the remaining disciples. When Simon Peter objects, Jesus tells him three particularly noteworthy things:

“If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” (John 13:8, KJV )

“Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12 15, KJV )

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34 – 35, KJV)

The word “Maundy” comes to us, by way of Middle English and Old French, from a Latin word that means “command, order” and while it may be associated with the ritual of washing the feet of a saint, showing hospitality, or preparing a body for burial. The command or order associated with this Thursday before Easter is that “new command,” which John reiterates in 15:12 and 15:17. It is a sentiment echoed by one of the last things Jesus says on the cross, when he connects his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son.

Sunset on Thursday night marks the beginning of the Counting of the Omer in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism). The Counting of the Omer is a 49-day observation which reflects the days the freed Jews were in the desert and segues into the commemoration of the people receiving the Torah. When people observe the Counting of the Omer there is an extra element of prayer, of offering, and also contemplation on two connected elements of the Divine (from the Tree of Life). The first night the connect elements are Chesed She b’Chesed (Lovingkindness in Lovingkindness).

Even though it is a completely different tradition, my offering to you on this Thursday, April 8th, is a Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation:

May you be safe and protected

May you be peaceful and happy

May you be healthy and strong

May you have ease and well-being, today and always.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment. Meanwhile, I will upload a guided Metta Meditation on my YouTube channel and post information about how you can offer a little metta to yourself by way of Yin Yoga (April 15th) and mo’ metta to Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs by way of the Kiss My Asana yogathon (beginning April 25th).

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

That’s plenty of time to Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 9th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 9th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 9th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 9th Practice

* NOTE: Despite what is initially said in the introduction, Marian Anderson’s performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939 was made possible by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused the use of Constitution Hall for a concert with an integrated audience.

### MAY ALL BEINGS EVERYWHERE BE HAPPY & BE FREE ###