Rules largely govern our lives and, for the most part, they help us. Still, not a day goes by when my kids don’t question (read: protest) widely held rules, from table etiquette to schedules to sharing. I glean a valuable lesson from this exhausting behavior because as we get older and, yes, less rebellious, many of us accept rules without questioning their validity or their impact on us. Are all rules limitations or are some actually tools for growth? Can we loosen up enough to learn about the relationship between our identity and our conduct?
I just returned from a Purim shpiel, a slapstick musical play that my daughter proudly participated in for the third consecutive year. Many holidays are joyous, sure; but they don’t revel in mockery and well, revelry. On Purim, Jews wear costumes, hold carnivals and are purposefully boisterous and disruptive during the reading of the megillah. Why does everyone let loose on Purim? It is commanded so.
Historically, Jews have had to live according to clearly delineated and enforced laws, both religious and secular, more often that not in inhospitable lands. And until recently, Purim was the one day when Jews were not only encouraged, but told to act with abandon in order to question authority and conduct. On Purim, masks are worn to veil one’s known identity while unveiling a lesser known one.
Yet, while it may seem a chaotic, narcissistic show, Purim is grounded in alignment. The text of the Purim story, the megillah, commands Jews to reach out to neighbors and to those in need specifically as they themselves are freeing themselves in the festivities. “Make them days of feasting and gladness and of mishloach manot (sending portions of food) one to another and matanot l’evyonim (gifts to those in need).” Not only is one instructed to give, but to give with abandon (without judging the recipient or questioning how he/she will spend the money). Give because you’re being asked to give. As we wear the mask of our true nature, we extend ourselves to all those in our community — a generous connection that feeds others as well as ourselves.
Like Purim, our yoga practice gives us space to explore boundaries — those imposed upon us and those self-imposed — and to play with those boundaries. On our mat, we explore and challenge ourselves to move differently in a safe and encouraging environment. The festivities and rituals of Purim enhance our individual connection to something bigger, both within ourselves and to what’s outside of ourselves. So, too, does our practice. And like Purim, our practice offers an avenue to express and revel in delight as we co-create with the world around us.
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Aviva Black teaches a mixed level class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 – 1pm at YogaKula Berkeley.