It’s worth noting that the official New York on PAUSE guidelines — the “stay at home” order — took effect three weeks ago today. Three weeks. It hasn’t even been a month yet. In many places, it’s been less time than that.
And if you’re feeling like this has been the longest year of your life, you’re not alone.
Ironically, even as we are physically grounded — there are no errands to run, no place to go — we are more emotionally and energetically uprooted, spinning in this vast sea of days and weeks that begin to blend into each other.
So, how can we reclaim some connection to where we are in space and time, especially when we don’t know how long this will last?
Fortunately, the rituals of Passover come to the rescue again.
As I wrote previously, the structured nature of the Passover seder is like a balm to our nervous systems. When we’re in sympathetic overload, we crave order. The seder obliges by giving us a structure: it tells us what to do and when.
Creating structure to your days and week through rituals can help us feel more grounded energetically. Rituals give us a sense of meaning and purpose, and the structure creates safety.
We find comfort in numbers. When we feel unmoored or under pressure, we reach for the data. In over 12 years as a real estate broker, I’ve seen this countless times. When buyers and sellers get jittery, they continually ask me for more data, even when they understand on a cognitive level that market reports are lagging indicators of the market and the other data they are asking for is often not relevant.
Or look at how the stock market drives public sentiment, even though its ups and downs are driven by perceptions of fears and speculation about what’s going to happen.
The seder introduces numbers in two ways.
(a) Making Lists
Anyone who’s ever had a bout of anxiety knows that we often find comfort in making lists. We love lists.
The seder is all about the lists and rituals that are done multiple times.
- 14 parts to the seder
- 4 cups of wine
- 4 questions
- 4 sons
- 4 ritual foods that we eat before the meal (karpas, marror, matzah, and the matzah/marror sandwich)
- we dip foods twice (karpas in salt water, marror in charoset)
- 10 plagues
- 15 stanzas of Daiyenu, reflecting the miracles that God performed for us
- the counting song “Who knows 1” that lists symbolism for the numbers 1–13
Of course, there are productive ways to count and make lists, and there are lists and counting that don’t serve us. The key to using lists and counting to ease anxiety and fear is to keep it healthy.
(b) Counting Days
When you’re angry, people tell you to count to 10. In yoga, focusing on our breath count helps us get through a challenging pose. When we can’t fall asleep, we count sheep.
At the second seder, we begin the ritual of counting the Omer, which we do for seven weeks, until the holiday of Shavuot.
The nervous system is comforted by a clear beginning and ending point. As I wrote previously, this is the function of an adhittahana – a determination.
Counting the Omer is a form of adhittahana — a seven week count where we count days instead of breaths.
I’ll admit that I’ve never really paid much attention to counting the Omer. But it seems to be a tool that has arrived this year in perfect timing to get us through what is likely to be several more weeks of home isolation.
It also offers us an opportunity to invest these days with meaning. More on that tomorrow.