"Dug your pockets deep for the Golden Calf
You dug a little too deep baby, now you can't go back...
Is it too late baby, is it too late now
Too late to make your dreams come true?"
Moshav Band - 'Too Late' from Dangerous World EP.
As human beings we like to believe in things. This is the essence of human nature and it's absolutely not about believing in a god as such. A fatalist has a strong belief, an aetheist has a rock-solid conviction and even an agnostic has a kind of faith. On the other hand, we also like the feeling of inspiration when we see a remarkable sunset or get a burst of creative energy. Today's Kosher Sutra is about creating space for inspiration and removing the blockages that can stop it from coming.
Greek mythology taught the fable of the nine muses, each of whom were daughters of Zeus, lived on Mount Olympus and were responsible for different kinds of creative inspiration. There was Terpsichore^ the muse of dance, Thalia the muse of Comedy and several more. Poets would traditionally call out for the muse to help them with their writing; Henry V begins with "O, for a muse of fire", while The Odyssey starts with a call to "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns". Nonetheless, if you've ever tried to force inspiration, you'll know that it just can't be summoned at will. The musician Seth Glass has taught that 'the muse doesn't make appointments', in other words, always have a pen and paper ready for when you feel inspired, because you never know when it is going to happen. Writer's block is the nightmare that no artist wants to face, but it hits everyone at some time or other.
This week's Kosher Sutra takes place after the Children of Israel tried to force inspiration. Moses had been gone on the mountain for 40 days (or so they thought because they'd slightly miscounted) and they demanded a visual image of God to pray to, so they created a Golden Calf. You know the story from there - after Moses breaks the tablets, grinds up the calf, makes the worshippers drink the bling-smoothie and then heads back up Mount Sinai to speak with God, which results in him having a glowing face from that moment onwards.
One of the benefits of yogic practice is that it results in improved skin. There is a simple physical reason for this, as we improve blood circulation which begins to eliminate toxins and literally makes us more radiant. Some dermatalogical problems can be caused by stress and a side-benefit of yoga is stress-reduction because we become more aware of emotions and can learn how to breathe and adjust accordingly. This doesn't mean that if you do yoga you will instantly become immune from stress - speaking from personal experience - but when you stick with a practice it is definitely possible to reduce anxiety and summon up the waves of calm. A Floridian scientist has developed Psychodermatology, studying how emotions relate to skin complaints*. We're going to apply today's Kosher Sutra to see how we can utilise Bibliyoga to create glowing skin and to become more open to receiving inspiration.
The real problem with the Golden Calf was that it was idolatory, as the Rabbis have made clear**. When the statue had been made, "the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play" (Exodus 32:4). Rashi explains that rising up to play meant that they were involved with sexual immorality. In other words, they had an orgy. In other other words, there is a 3000 year-old innuendo in the phrase 'rising up to play', but let's not get sidetracked, madam. The real real problem with idolatory is this: instead of making space for Divine inspiration, they were trying to force it. Rather than allowing themselves to be made in the image of God, they tried to make God in their own image. This is the equivalent of taking an ecstacy pill to feel great - whilst it may yield short-term benefits, there is a painful come-down. In this case it was Moses coming down the mountain, and he had a smashing time.
The great American dramatist David Mamet has written about the Golden Calf, and explains how an idol limits our true potential, even though it is comforting at the time:
"the very arbitrary and mechanical choice of the Golden Calf, for example, reveals its meaning: I, the Worshipper, have created you. I have abstracted you from myself..
...The Golden Calf, similarly, frees us mechanically from consciousness of our own egoism. It posseses no qualities either to chide or guide us. We have given it life. Much like the person who creates an imaginary Partner for his or her business firm- a partner on whom all blame can be placed for unpleasant decicions... At the foot of Mount Sinai, in Freedom (adulthood) for the first time, the Israelites desired desperately to return to their preadolescent state. Being deprived of a pharoah (parent) to worship or fear - being deprived of childhood - they took matters into their own hands. They made a statue to allow them to worship the idol of any adolescent - to allow them to worship themselves"***.
It is very easy to create something to blame for our problems and to look at astrological charts for the hope of good news, but it's much harder to be in a state of not-knowing. To be truly flexible and open to what is. To be fully present in the moment. Whether you express this by prayer, ritual or other forms of meditation, it isn't always easy and can actually be scary. Successful artists know that they have to 'not know' in order to create new work, otherwise they will continually recreate art that is safe, predictable and ultimately stale.
So how can we become inspired, and feel good in the process? There is a big hint in this week's parsha, when the Israelites are described as being a 'stiff-necked people' (ie Exodus 32:9 & 34:9). My suggestion is this; they were stuck at the bottom of the mountain and became so disheartened that they could no longer look upwards for inspiration, so they created a stiff-necked creature in the calf. If we are able to make our neck flexible, introduce gentle backbends and begin to look upwards, we can make our body more open to breath (literally, in-spiration), and be more receptive to the creative spirit when it descends. Everyone can be creative, whether you are a teacher, a parent or an accountant (actually, perhaps it's not so great to do creative accounting, but you get the gist).
Today's poses are Cat & Cow. It's simple:
i. Get on all fours, madam. Ensure that your hands are beneath your shoulders, your knees and feet are in line with your hands and that your back is flat.
ii. Inhale and look upwards, arching your back so that your bottom goes up in the air.
iii. Exhale and look downwards, bringing your head towards your pelvis.
iv. Carry on doing this for a couple of minutes. Try experimenting - stretching a foot behind you and bringing your knee towards your chin, or perhaps straightening up into Downward Dog. You can do the Cat/Cow rotations with subtlety or extreme movement, depending on how you feel at any one time. Whatever you do, keep moving with your breath because this is where the magic happens. And try closing your eyes so that you can increase your sensitivity to the movement.
Spring is just around the corner and nature is coming out to play. Yesterday I was hiking in the Santa Susana mountains and saw a whole field of yellow mustard flowers had sprouted in the last couple of weeks. They are beautiful and edible. Inspiration is everywhere, if we are flexible enough to see it.
THE KOSHER SUTRA © MARCUS J FREED/BIBLIYOGA 2010/5770
^This is the inspiration for the name Tripsichore. It's a trip: check it out at www.tripsichore.com
*Karen Mallin, University of Miami.
**See Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 53b.
***p166, 'Make-believe Town - Essays and remembrances', by David Mamet.
Marcus J Freed is a studio-trained yogi, yeshiva-trained educator, published author and classically-trained actor. He’s also the owner of Freedthinking, a consulting firm specializing in drama-based learning, and is the artist-in-residence for JConnectLA & Jewlicious. Marcus has co-wrote and performs his quartet of powerful one-man Biblical plays: 'King David's Greatest Hits', 'Solomon: King, Poet, & Lover', 'Elijah: First Action Hero', and 'The Madness of King Saul'. During the last decade he has developed Bibliyoga®, a system for accessing Jewish spiritual wisdom through the body. His plays have been seen in 20 countries and he enlightens his students with weekly Bibliyoga® “Kosher Sutras”. To join the journey and receive your weekly Kosher Sutra, visit www.bibliyoga.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org .