These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan and Naftali, Gad and Asher. The total number of persons of Jacob’s issue came to 70, Joseph being already in Egypt.
So began last week’s Torah reading in synagogues — physical or virtual — around the world.
It’s the beginning of the book of Exodus, the harrowing and thrilling story of how the ancient Israelites left bondage in Egypt; struggled against God, their leaders, and themselves; and finally began to forge an identity as a people responsible for and to itself. Think “The Prince of Egypt” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but yourselves can free your minds.
So much drama. And yet the book of Exodus begins not with God splitting the sea, not with the plagues, not with Pharoah or the birth of Moses. It begins with genealogy: a list of ancestors, an accounting of who was where at what time.
“Falling out of the pose is part of the pose,” I once heard a yoga teacher say.
This advice goes beyond “if at first you don’t succeed…”
For sure, trying and trying again are essential to the practice of yoga — that’s why it’s called practice. And for sure, there is an ideal way to do any given pose.
But the saying about falling out of the pose contends that there’s more than one way to succeed. That if you can’t achieve the ideal, or a modification of the ideal, you can still succeed, simply by trying. That trying and failing is a form of success. And that falling out of the pose is not a question of if but when: there will be times when you have to make repeated attempts. There will be times when a pose simply eludes you, no matter how hard you try.
Today is the first full-fledged day of the Mary Oliver Challenge, and it is a challenge. My soft animal is feeling the sharp, pointy teeth and claws of anxiety. The challenge is to grapple with that feeling instead of letting it take over or pushing it into a corner where it will lurk, glaring at me and waiting to pounce again.
My last day of work was Tuesday. Wednesday, we left for vacation. Last night, after we returned, I immediately began to feel the pressure of Getting Stuff Done. I unpacked from our trip and started the laundry. Then I set aside time to write in my journal. There was so much else to Get Done: emails, household chores, putting away the stuff I brought home from work and dumped on my dresser last week. Plus things I wanted to do, including writing a blog post and responding to friends who gave me such kind, supportive feedback on the first post. (If you are one of those friends: thank you! I haven’t forgotten you.)
But I reminded myself: there will always be Stuff To Do. I have to learn to live with that. And I made two resolutions for the next day: I would not stress out over chores, and I would not stress out over whether to go to the $5 yoga class that meets downtown on Mondays.