Making It Count

by Marcus J Freed

Do you ever find yourself rushing to yoga practice, annoyed at the
traffic jam or frustrated because you didn’t leave 10 minutes earlier?
Or mildly miffed with a partner because they didn’t do that thing
they’d absolutely promised to do? Or wishing, deep inside, that
somehow life’s latest little challenge could just be a little bit easier?
Perhaps it’s just me.

This week my thoughts turned to the image of a group of Jews
camped at the bottom of Mount Sinai waiting for their leader
Moses to come back down with the hard copy of the ten
commandments. They’ve already experienced the ultimate
moment of spiritual connection when God spoke the Decalogue
out loud, they’ve felt the moment of pure yoga – the connection
between the physical and the spiritual – but now they want a bit
more. They aren’t happy with waiting, they’ve got frustrated, they
want something more tangible, so they build a golden calf. Their
yoga practice has completely gone out of the metaphorical window.
It’s significant that Patanjali placed the topic of pranayama as the
fourth part of his eightfold yoga path in the Yoga Sutras.

Pranayama is the practice of breath control, the way that energy is
actively moved around the body and many subsequent yoga
teachers have gone on to explain how concentrating upon the
breath will allow us to calm our mind and become more connected
with the present moment.

We might read the story of the golden calf as a denial of the
present moment. The Jewish people had experienced a spiritual
high and they wanted more, they didn’t accept that the present
moment demanded their waiting for Moses to return and they built
an idol to satisfy their story of what should have been, rather than
accepting the moment as it was.

This pranayama/present moment idea goes one step further when
we look at one of the names God calls Himself in the Bible. When
Moses meets God at the burning bush, he asks how to describe
God to the Israelites. The simple-but-cryptic reply is ‘I will be what
I will be’ (Ex 3:13-14) and the Jewish yogi might interpret this
understanding of God as pure presence. The Divine Being,
however we choose to relate to Him/Her/It, is being expressed and
realised in every single moment, whether we like it or not. Our role
is not to be frustrated and become annoyed when things are not as
we would like, but to watch it from a place of calm non-judgement,
just as we do when discovering that our bodies are refusing to go
into that asana that seemed easy to achieve last week.

This thought can be developed even further. The period between
Pesach and Shavuot is known as the Omer, and we make a
blessing as we count each night from 1 through to 49, as
commanded in the verse: “From the day after the Sabbath, the day that you bring the sheaf of wave-offering, you shall keep count until seven full
weeks have elapsed: you shall count fifty days until the day
after the seventh week, then you shall bring an offering of a
new grain to the Lord…On that same day you shall hold a
celebration, it shall be a sacred occasion for you …” (Lev.

The omer-count that we do today, since there is no longer a
Temple where we can bring an offering, is a rabbinic device
nudging us into the present moment, methodically allowing us to
connect to each day and deepen our spiritual connection as the
new festival approaches, looking forward to the celebration of
receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Shavuot means ‘weeks’, another reference to the time that we are
counting, and our challenge is to meet God and renew our
connection. An opportunity for the Jewish Yogi is to apply the yoga
practice in the way that we approach this experience. Whether we
are in shul or at home, learning Jewish texts or discussing ideas
with friends, we can observe each moment from a place of calm
and peace, and in that essential moment of shalom, we can
welcome the divine.
Wishing you all a wonderful Shavuot.