Posted by Marcus J Freed
Today’s world has no shortage of internal struggles. Challenges abound, from Europe and the Euro to Israel’s secular/religious Jew/Arab troubles. There are institutions like Penn State, whose internal denial and reluctant acceptance of scandal persists. American elite’s struggles with the estimated 99% of the total ‘occupiers’ who took a stand to occupy major cities across the country that are still holding fast, and US news stations are fascinated with the conjugal struggles of reality TV star Kim Kardashian. England hasn’t had major internal struggles since the Roundheads and Cavaliers, but the lower House of Parliament enjoys a daily verbal punch-up to keep life interesting..
When Isaac married Rebecca and during her pregnancy she discovered that the twin babies are ‘struggling’ or within her, she immediately asks; ‘why am I thus?’ (25:22). In other words, ‘why is this happening to me?’
We have all experienced the symbolic equivalent of two proverbial children fighting within our stomach. Sometimes it is two ideas we are wrestling with, two possible jobs to pursue, two courses of action or even which relationship to nurture and which to let go. Some people have strong decision-making muscles and others just freeze, unable to make the a much needed call for detachment and moving on as they are overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear.
Nachmanides (1194-1270) connected Rebecca’s struggle that of Job. In the midst of his depressive struggles, Job exclaimed ‘if only I would be as though I was not born!’ (Job 10:19).
This phrase is very not only appropriate, it is a timeless lesson for life. In a seemingly shameless world, our society promotes and embraces a taboo on discussing mental health. Although many people experience thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives, however fleeting, there is still much shame attached with discussing it overtly. Almost everyone is beset with the difficult existential questions at some point or other – why do I exist – and the aim of our meditation/yoga practice is to help us regain inner balance and joy that is our birthright.
The 15th-Century treatise _Hatha Yoga Pradipika_ explained that a state of yogic balance will be destroyed by six things: ‘overeating, overexertion, talking too much, performing needless austerities, socialising and restlessness’ (1:15). If we find ourselves experiencing inner struggle or turmoil and asking Rebecca’s question ‘Why am I here?’, we need to stop for a moment. We need to slow down, breathe, and introduce some quiet reflection to help retune the internal channel to which our personal remote control is directed.
Our meditation and yoga practice must lead us along the path of peace and bring us into alignment with our true purpose. Yoga means ‘oneness’ or ‘unity’ but we can also translate it as ‘clarity’ or even ‘existential clarity’! When we take control over the ‘channel’ we want to watch, see, and listen to in our lives, we have an opportunity to become still, start listening, and achieve clarity in our lives. We practice variations of Rebecca’s question during our meditations; ‘Why am I thus?’, ‘What is the point of my life?’ or ‘What is my purpose?’. Begin by occupying your body, mind and heart with these key questions, and the answers to life’s biggest challenges have a uncanny way of surfacing on their own.
Marcus J Freed is the creator of Bibliyoga (www.bibliyoga.com) and President of the Jewish Yoga Network (www.jewishyoganetwork.org)
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November 14, 2011 | 11:02 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
Abe’ll Fix It (Chayei Sarah)
Human beings can achieve great things but we also have the capacity to over-complicate things. Hillel managed a memorable soundbite when he summed it all up whilst standing on one foot. Is this a metaphor for human potential? If it’s possible to say more with less and do more with less, then why do we spend so much wasted time, stress and effort in the pursuit of happiness?
Try standing on one foot. You’ll already know Hillel’s mantra. “Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you”. The rest is commentary. Sometimes we get lost in the commentaries although one of the most important footnotes here is ‘don’t push someone else over while they are standing on one foot summing up all of reality’.
Vrkshasana is Sanskrit for ‘Tree Pose’. It is performed by balancing on your leg, placing the other foot on your standing calf or thigh. New yoga students often try to complicate the posture, looking at what other people are doing, wobbling out of it. But it still ‘works’ even if you go slowly and just do what you can. The Yoga Sutras explained that the ‘yoga’ - which can be understood as inner unity and internal balance - is achieved when ‘we calm down our mind’s fluctuations’ (1:12).
A favourite mantra that is sometimes taught in management courses is ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ (sometimes shortened to K.I.S.S.). The trouble is, how can we keep it simple when we are multi-tasking, rapidly emailing, texting, skypeing, calling and more? By breathing…and keeping it simple.
Simplicity stands the test of time. Abraham dies. Except he doesn’t just die. He dies ‘at a good age, an old man and content’ (Gen 25:8). A few weeks ago England lost a national treasure who was an elderly gentleman. I live in Los Angeles and tried to explain the significance of the loss of Sir Jimmy Saville, but it was difficult. ‘He was a white-haired cigar-smoking former DJ who we all wrote letters to and he offered to make our dreams come true on his television programme called Jim’ll Fix It, and I once wrote to ask if I could sing live with Barry Manilow and breakdance on primetime TV’…it’s already complicated. How about; he was someone whose life was centered around giving and he was loved for it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reach the end of our lives feeling happy and content? Or how about feeling that right now?
One of Abraham’s final tasks is to secure the future of his family and that involves finding a wife for his son Isaac. He didn’t rely on dating manuals, compatibility charts, astrological signs, even though according to Kabbalistic sources he was a talented astrologer. He didn’t ask ‘why is my son still single, what’s wrong with him, what did we do wrong, does he need therapy, perhaps we were too easy on him, maybe he’s traumatised from when I nearly killed him on the mountaintop?’. None of that. He wants a daughter-in-law who offers to feed the camels. She enjoyed giving and caring. That’s it. Abraham saw her ‘standing on one foot’ and doing good, and that was enough for him.
We should all be blessed to do the same for one another, to see the good in one another’s daily activities, and to always help re-center one another to the one foot that brings out the best in us all.
Have an inspired weekend and a wonderful Shabbat. Keep it Simple.
The opening and closing of BBC1’s “Jim’ll Fix It”, a British national treasure…
November 11, 2011 | 3:30 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
The male of our species is equipped with the unique capacity to ignore items that are directly in front of its eyes. “the bananas are in the fridge next to the butter” says the female. “I can’t see it” replies the baffled male. “Here” says his mate, pointing at the objects that he was looking at but looked past. If only the gentler gender realised that male DNA is primarily equipped for grand tasks such as throwing medium-range spears to catch the evening’s dinner rather than foraging for berries and gathering one’s nuts.
It all started with Abraham. God does vayera. He ‘appears’ before Abraham who was sitting in his tent (Genesis 18:1). Or was the Divine presence in front of him along? Abraham then lifts his eyes and sees ‘three men standing before him’ (18:2). But why didn’t he see the men walking up? Shortly afterwards God considers ‘concealing’ Abraham’s forthcoming fortunes and the City of Sodom’s misfortune (18:16) but reveals that as well.
How often is the answer standing in front of our eyes but we fail to see it? My yoga teacher Edward Clark once said that ‘enlightenment is around us all of the time. All we need to do is to see it’.
There are later revelations immediately after Abraham’s story, as the inhabitants of Sodom prepare to physically reveal themselves before assaulting the male visitors, while Lot’s daughters reveal their father’s nakedness to effectively perform a drunken rape-and-impregnation. Some revelations, however, are best left covered up, as many a politician will attest to.
People sometimes ask if I teach meditation as well as yoga. I gently explain that there is no ‘as well as’. All is one. Yoga is meditation in movement. It doesn’t matter which form of meditation we choose, as long as we become conscious. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ‘Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction’ (MBSR) is a hugely popular form of, well, reducing stress through mindfulness. But more can be achieved when we become still and become present. More of the world is revealed to us in these moments of stillness.
Mindfulness leads to seeing more opportunities before our eyes. To seeing the ‘truth’ about certain relationships. To listening to the messages our body is sending us.
The Iyengar Institute once published an entire book on how to do the yoga posture Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). A whole book, no less! Why? Because there are subtleties. Over time, we get deeper and deeper into the posture. With meditation and mindfulness, we can get deeper and deeper into our lives. Correspondingly, it becomes richer and richer, and all the more meaningful.
Abraham was present, aware and tuned-in to the Divine voice within, and received immense rewards as a result. By focusing on the process of mindfulness, we can unleash immense happiness that is in front of our very eyes. Perhaps it was next to the bananas all along.
Marcus is the creator of Bibliyoga, artist-in-residence for Jewlicious and president of the Jewish Yoga Network.
November 3, 2011 | 12:32 am
Posted by Marcus J Freed
We are living in times of economic frustration with ‘Occupy’ protests in over 100 cities across the world. These tented cities have captured the imagination of people wanting a redistribution of wealth, but whether they will achieve their aims is yet to be seen. On walking through the City Hall protest at OccupyLA, one thing was clear to me; there was a lack of clarity. At least 20 different causes were being supported, from the more obvious ‘cut the bankers’ massive bonuses’ to the more liberal ‘free love’ to the more controversial (see attached picture; the less said the better).
There are two things that the entire Occupy movement is united on. The first is that they want change. The second is that they want other people to change.
Abraham’s journey is one of extreme change. He was told to leave his country, his birthplace and his family. It is no coincidence that the instructions came in that particular order. We can leave our country by getting on an aeroplane. We can get away from our birthplace by learning different languages and customs, which is somewhat harder. If we are incredibly strong then we can also free ourselves from the thought-patterns and negative behaviours that we have inherited from our upbringing. Even if we have the most wonderful and loving parents in the world, everyone says ‘I’ll do some things differently from my parents’, but how many of us really manage it?
Abraham is told ‘lech-lecha’ which translates as ‘go for yourself’ or the more meditative ‘go to yourself’ (Genesis 12:1). Reach deep inside. Do the work that is needed to change.
The yoga mat and the meditation cushion are places from which we journey towards change. Don’t be fooled into thinking that transformation is accomplished by sticking your arms and legs into funny positions or just sitting still for a few minutes. This isn’t yoga or meditation. Change happens with time, methodological application and effort. It takes a lot of effort to make things look truly effortless.
Where would you like to see a revolution in your life? How would you like to see the world change? Become that change. Don’t dream it: be it. Occupy your mind, occupy your body, occupy your future and occupy your yoga mat.