Last week we considered how Jacob felt light and his “feet were lifted” when he went through a deep meditation, the previous week we noted how he grabbed onto his brother’s ankle when he was born, but this week he faces the ultimate leg problem – a damaged hip. Well, perhaps an amputated leg would be the *ultimate* problem but this is still pretty uncomfortable. It’s only when he has finished his bout in the ring that he walks off limping and reaches spiritual fulfilment at the same time. The painful truth is; spiritual accomplishment can hurt. And if you’re not careful, it can leave you injured.
Jacob has an all-night wrestling match. Some say it’s with an angel. Others say it’s with the alter-ego of his brother Esau. All would agree it’s a strange coincidence that that this week’s reading coincides with a tomorrow night’s showdown in Northern England, as the Russian-American Dimitry Salovey fights the UK’s Amir Kahn for the World Welterweight Boxing Championship. Of course, it’s just a coincidence that Salovey is also a rabbinic student who’s a year away from ordination, whilst Kahn is a Muslim. What a beautiful piece of poetry in motion.
The ancient yogis talked of the notion of Ahimsa, ‘non-violence’ in the yogic pursuit for spiritual fulfilment*. This seemed at odds with the extremely violent battle scenes described in the ultimate yogic reference poem, the Bhagavad Gita. The contradiction was explained that if a warrior has the correct intention of fulfilling his destiny (what in Hebrew we’d describe as Kavanah), then the violence was purely a means to an end. In other words, throw the spear but do it without internalising the violence. This isn’t dissimilar to the description of King David’s battles in Kings 1 & 2 where he was fighting with the sole purpose of gaining peace for his people, rather than to satisfying the urge of his ego.
Spirituality hurts for most of us, at some time or other. We all have different sources of pain, whether it is the childhood teacher who bullied you into accepting a certain dogma, a fury at God for taking away or mistreating a loved one, or a general dissatisfaction with your life situation that leads to disillusionment or lack of belief in religion. It’s understandable. We’ve all been there. The challenge is – are you willing to go the distance, to fight it out, to lose sleep in order to connect with the Great Unknown, and to spend all night doing so?
Let’s go for some hip-openers. Firelog pose is a great one to loosen-up your gluteus maximus and the other backside muscles, as well as to get some gentle heat moving. For those who’ve attended Bibliyoga workshops, it’s often used in the opening sequence. Here are the stages;
1. Sit with your left leg parallel to the front of your mat.
2. Place your right ankle on top of your left knee.
3. Beginning leaning forwards, keeping your back straight and folding at the hips.
Ultimately it will look as if your shins are stacked on top of one another like firelogs, but in the beginning you may find that your right knee is way up in the air – rather than sitting on top of the left knee. That’s ok – do as much as you’re able to. If your knees start hurting then check your posture as they shouldn’t feel any pain. But you may well get a sore upper leg, which is proof that you’ve engaged the correct muscles.
Jacob stayed with his fight throughout the night and eventually won against the angle. As a result he was given a new name, meaning ‘the one who has wrestled with God and overcome’ – in Hebrew the name is ‘Israel’**. The ultimate championship title, so to speak, and it’s available to anyone who is willing to truly engage on their spiritual quest, to truly connect and to battle it out.
Spiritual accomplishment can be painful and whilst it’s important to acknowledge the source of your pain, it’s also important to keep going forwards. There is so much to enjoy about this life on earth and every day can become more colourful when we find a deeper meaning. So get on your yoga mat, start opening the hips and push yourself to your limits. Just make sure that you don’t walk off with an unfixable limp.
*Yoga Sutras 2:35 – “The practioner will cease to encounter hostility from others by practicing non-harming and non-violence (ahimsa)”
**There is a rabbinic idea that when someone takes on a new name they can become that name. ‘Israel’ is indicative of being upright (yashar) and bringing down the blessings of God (El). See Rashi on Genesis 32:28 to explore further.
The Kosher Sutras©Marcus J Freed, 2010/5770