Rosh Chodesh Iyar began Sunday, April 15. The task of this month involves taming our animalistic, primitive nature and elevating it to a spiritual level. We need to integrate these opposing energies and mindfully express them in their highest form to purify ourselves.
This spiritual spring cleaning occurs during the 49 days in which we count the Omer, from the second night of Passover until Shavuot, when we humbly and gratefully receive the Torah.
I meditate on the essence of each month before writing this article. This month I’m sharing my practice and inviting you to do whatever modification suits you for the meditation focus. I sit in the cross-legged lotus position, but you may choose any upright, seated posture. I use mudras, but you don’t have to.
Mudra, a Sanskrit word meaning “seal” or “gesture,” refers to the approximately 28 hand gestures held during symbolic Hindu dances or yoga and meditation practices. These hand positions promote mental stability and focus, in addition to stimulating the body’s meridians, or points of healing.
Each of the five fingers coordinates to an element. The thumb is fire and represents the universe. The index finger is air and the individual. The middle finger is ether. The ring finger is earth. The pinky is water. The right hand represents the yang/masculine/sun, and the left, the yin/feminine/moon.
As Jews, we don’t hold our hands in “prayer pose,” with palms and upward-pointing fingers pressed together, but this position connects the spiritual and material worlds, which is the challenge of Iyar.
During meditation, holding the prayer pose, with slight pressure on the hands, balances the left and right brain hemispheres. Pressing your thumbs against your chest anchors the energy to your heart center. Bowing your head offers a stance of humility before G-d.
Another mudra places the nails of your index fingers under your thumbnails, in the OK sign, like Rafiki in “The Lion King.” Turn your palms up for wisdom and receiving or down for grounding and introspection. Fire and air join to enable energy to enter but not exit.
This month’s esoteric meditation brought me to thoughts about the board game Chutes and Ladders. Not what I expected! I observed the significance and realized that the game represents what we’re trying to do in Iyar.
In the actual game, there are 100 squares on the board. Players advance the number of spaces determined by a spinner. If players land at the bottom of a ladder, they immediately climb up to the top, but if they land at the top of a chute, they slide down to the bottom.
So, instead of 100 squares on a board, we have 49 days leading up to Shavuot. When we’re not behaving mindfully, we drop back down to the lowest level. When we heighten our awareness and discipline ourselves, we climb upward to join with Hashem.
There are seven main middot, or divine attributes. They are kindness, severity, harmony, perseverance, humility, foundation and royalty.
It’s believed that every soul is endowed with all seven, but one of the traits is dominant. This creates each person’s unique way of serving G‑d. Studying these can assist with elevating one’s spirit.
An extended list of 48 middot is taken from a variety of Jewish texts. They have to do with things such as offering a listening ear, engaging in a minimum of frivolity, pleasure, sleep and small talk, developing a perceptive heart, valuing knowledge, loving G-d and all creatures, not being arrogant with one’s learning, having orderly speech, quoting one’s sources, setting others on the path of truth, seeking peace, engaging in discussion with students, sharpening the wisdom of one’s teacher, being slow to anger, performing mitzvot, studying Torah, trusting in the sages, and sharing burdens with friends.
Meditation focus: Sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight for an uninterrupted flow of energy. Choose a mudra if you wish. Honestly assess your thoughts, words and actions. Imagine which might land you at the bottom of the ladder, such as those on Yom Kippur’s confessional list of the Viddui, and which middot could raise your vibration.