Tonight I attended an Anusara yoga class and left the room floating. I felt connected with my body and – though my outer skeleton felt strong – I was so light that I almost felt hollow inside.
I have practiced “power” and flow styles of yoga before, but always shied away from the more spiritual and meditative practices. My main focus was always getting a strong workout so I perhaps too soon dismissed other styles as not being a good fit.
At the start of tonight’s class, the group breathed together three times, exhaling “Om” and chanting in Sanscrit. I didn’t partake in the chant, both because I didn’t know the words and because my entire body was on edge. The chanting seemed eerily cultlike. As my Dad would say, the whole group gave themselves over to “California hippie spirituality” and what did I need that for? Most strongly, my gut reaction was “this could be avoda zara (foreign worship) and halacha (traditional jewish law) would never allow me to participate.” While I have often and even recently viewed halacha as a guideline for living my life, I have long ago stopped viewing it as an obligatory code, which made my level of discomfort of being in that room interesting.
The first time that you do anything “wrong” or “different” or however you’d like to describe it, it feels weird. And then it becomes more normative. I have had my share of what would be traditionally perceived as “transgressions” like not eating strictly kosher, but I have never dabbled in the spiritual practices of any other faith.
On my walk home, this question popped into my head: When was the last time that my Judaism fulfilled me? I love my faith, my culture, my family, my people. I love Jewish community, Jewish history and gatherings. I have no interest in letting them go. But there are two main reasons to practice religion: To serve a G-d because he requires it and wants it, or to enrich your life and give you meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
My epiphany: While Judaism is still meaningful and important in my life, it has not been spiritually relevant or fulfilling in a very long time. What has been filling that void and mentoring me? What has been feeding my soul and nurturing me to work on my middot (personality traits) and become a better person? Not much.
This time period is about opening myself up to other paths, peoples and places but – though I value my Jewish upbringing and background – Judaism also inhibits and colors my exploration in so many ways. How will I know what to teach my child if I haven’t learned the world for myself?
Perhaps our children will rise to Modeh Ani (the Jewish morning prayer thanking G-d for the restoration of the soul), followed by a morning stretch, ancient chant and family snuggle. But in order to get there, I need to truly be present in this world as an open vessel and tonight for the first time in a long time, I feel a lightness and a happiness within.
An interesting tidbit: I later learned that the yoga chant spoke of respect to one’s self and one’s inner and outer teachers – not to deities at all. Also, ironically, the person who introduced me to this practice and brought me to the class is a Modern Orthodox Sabbath-observant Jewish woman who founded many of Phoenix’s Jewish institutions.
Note to parents, friends and self: I’m not rejecting Judaism or negating its importance and relevance. I am practically a full-time Jewish educator, and the Jewish people and practice are too enmeshed in my soul and being to ever give it up. But not exploring complements and supplements to our tradition (not in terms of seeking another religion, but just another way of connecting to the world and life) no longer seems like a sound idea.
What do you think?
posted by ayo