Passover Ponderings

We are now two days into the Jewish Passover holiday, a celebration of the Isrealite exodus from slavery in Egypt and a reminder of

By Adaptation by Marsyas (Gill/Gillerman slides collection (Yale)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Adaptation by Marsyas (Gill/Gillerman slides collection (Yale)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the fact that no matter how difficult or dark things may seem, there is always a chance of improvement. Everything changes, both good circumstances and bad ones. Nothing stays the same, ever.

The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which means a tight or narrow constricting place. We can all relate to feeling stuck, with no idea how to move or get out. In our asana practice we sometimes do noose pose or pashasana, a posture in which we physically experience the discomfort of being bound. Our arms are literally twisted behind are backs, our breathing is restricted, and our body parts are not in their usual places in relation to one another. As with each and every yoga posture, the physical sensations we experience can move us towards awareness. What do these sensations bring up for us and what insight can those feelings provide?

In pashasana it is we who bind ourselves and we who release ourselves, which can teach us a lot about restrictions that we impose on ourselves and the tools we have within to move towards freedom. But sometimes, the tight spaces in which we find ourselves are not self-imposed. As with the story of the Isrealites sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that typify the feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. What then?

Then, we rely on faith. Faith that though we cannot see a way out, there is one. Passover reminds us of the redemptive nature of time.  We can all move from slavery to freedom, through work, through grace, and through time.

Renewal

Spring greetings, yogis and yoginis!

Here in South Korea, spring has sprung. We went to the 50th annual Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival this past Friday and it was gorgeous.

These pillowy, ethereal blossoms are a stunning notification that springtime has arrived and a powerful reminder of the fleeting nature of all things. Just as quickly as the trees explode into blossom, the white and pink petals fall to the earth, the spectacular show over. At least until next year.

For many Asians, the cherry blossoms are the ultimate metaphor for Life. For Koreans, there is a mixture of joy and sorrow each springtime when the trees begin to blossom. For them the trees are not only a reminder of the beautiful and fleeting nature of all things, but also of a dark period in their nation’s history. Most of the cherry trees in Korea were planted by the Japanese during their occupation of the peninsula. For many years after the liberation from Japanese rule, the trees were cut down, seen as invaders. Recently, though, botanists have discovered that the cherry trees that were planted by the Japanese were a species that originated in Korea. They had been taken from Korea to Japan and then back again when the Japanese planted them as a means to claim land. This discovery has helped to heal the wound somewhat, though it is still a sore subject for many.

Despite all this, the Koreans still celebrate the blossoms. No matter how they got here, they are beautiful and powerful symbols of renewal and hope. The Koreans’ ability to sit with these very layered feelings and to celebrate nonetheless is something I deeply admire.

As we walked around Jinhae and Changwon, taking in the cherry blossoms, the forsythia, and the magnolias, there was a warm spring breeze, bright blue skies, and that wonderful smell of spring that carries with it the promise of longer days, warmer temperatures, and a world bursting into color.

For many of us this time of year coincides with a religious tradition as well. Whether that tradition be Christian, Jewish, Pagan, or otherwise,  all are centered on renewal, resurrection, hope, liberation and the new beginnings that spring from those things.

In our asana practice, each time we end our practice with savasana, we are meditating on these very same things. As we lie on our mat, dead to the world around us, we let go of all of the things we have gathered and are carrying with us. We let go of our expectations, our worries, and our identities. For those moments we simply exist as our essential, stripped-down self. We become like the cherry tree that has gone deep within during the winter months, gathering energy from the Earth, preparing for the rebirth and renewal that will happen come springtime. It is this shedding, this letting go, that readies us for the growth ahead.

As we slowly allow our consciousness to return, gently awakening from savasana, we make our way back to an upright position. We are resurrected from our dead state, and from this place of bareness, or newness, we can blossom.

We have risen. We have risen, indeed.

At least until the next time we step on our mats, and then the beautiful cycle starts all over again.

Wishing all of you a joyful spring and blessed holidays.