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Counting the Omer: A 49 day Mindfulness Practice

A Way In
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States
Leadership team

Rabbi Yael Levy, Founder
Stacey Meadows, Esq, Chair
Phyllis Myers, Vice-Chair
Jim Feldman, Esq, Secretary
Bea Leopold, Treasurer
Lance Laver
Rabbi Danielle Parmenter
Pat Ryan

Organization website
Prize category
National/International
Operational
5+ years
Target audience
20s & 30s, Adults, Baby Boomers, College Students, Educators, Families, GLBTQ, Interfaith, Jewish Professionals, Unaffiliated
Categories
Community Building, Experiential Learning, Jewish Education, Outreach & Engagement, Ritual, Spirituality

COUNTING THE OMER, the ancient ritual of blessing and counting each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, began as an agricultural rite and evolved into a time of spiritual introspection and exploration. The practice, guided by mystical tradition, focuses our attention and actions on different combinations of spiritual qualities each day.
Through meditation and reflection, our awareness is expanded and we explore and discover how to live in greater harmony with ourselves, each other and the natural world. Counting the omer is an authentic Jewish mindfulness practice that helps us see clearly and act wisely.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

The Jewish wisdom for the mindfulness practice of counting the omer is gleaned from the mystical tradition, which provides a spiritual roadmap for the journey. We weave the mystical teachings with verses from psalms, guidance for meditations and practices for each of the 49 days. For example, Week 1, Chesed, brings forth the qualities of generosity, love and compassion. The week’s overview suggests, “We notice what inspires our generosity and what causes us to close down and turn away. We wonder at our capacity to give and receive love. We cultivate the practice of responding to ourselves and others with compassion and kindness.” Day 6, Yesod sh’b Chesed, Rootedness within Love, calls us to notice the sparks of Divinity within every person and within all creation. As the day is also yizkor, we breathe in love that flows to us from past generations, naming and giving thanks for the gifts and blessings we have received from those who have passed. Our meditation focuses us on our connection to all those who came before and have helped shape the moment in which we find ourselves. Each of the 49 days of the omer presents a new combination of spiritual qualities and guides us in continued exploration and discovery.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

The counting of the omer has been a hidden treasure of our tradition and we take many steps to make this wisdom accessible. We have published a guide for counting, Journey through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer, which is available in book form and as an ebook. The guide explains the omer and offers a teaching, meditation and psalm verse for each of the 49 days, photographs for meditation and blank spaces for reflection. It also includes the traditional omer prayers in Hebrew with accessible translations.

We send out free daily emails to anyone who would like to receive them. These emails contain the teachings and practices, remind folks to count and help us feel connected and supported by each other as we walk the omer journey.

We offer classes and workshops during the omer and make further teachings, meditations and photographs available on our website and facebook page. We encourage reflection and exploration through web and face to face experiences.

Each year we offer a 5 day mindfulness retreat in the high desert of New Mexico to celebrate and experience the omer.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Participants report that they have been deeply moved by this practice. The discipline and focus a 49 practice provides has created lasting changes in their lives: shifting perspectives, inspiring forgiveness, helping change destructive behavior and encouraging awareness, patience, commitment, compassion and gratitude.

The practice has supported people through challenges, provided inspiration and has enriched daily experiences and encounters.

Last year our work with counting the omer was written up in the belief section of the New York Times. (May 2, 2015)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/02/us/responding-to-suffering-by-counting-the-omer.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fon-religion&_r=4

What follows are some responses from people who have followed this practice online with us:

“I'm grateful that counting today we could turn a bad MRI experience into something positive.”

“I have been following the counting of the Omer through A Way In and I am so grateful to you for providing this reflection for us. Every morning I look at the daily psalm portion and am inspired by the perspective of the translation.”

“For the past three years my partner and I have counted the Omer. This year's counting started around the 7th anniversary of being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Much like every day since, counting the Omer is a gift. I thank you for being our guide.”

“This is so helpful, immensely grounding and inspiring at the same time.”

“I want to share with you how much I am enjoying, gaining, connecting to the Omer Teachings you send each day.
I mostly have read them before going to sleep and its giving me a spiritual way to reflect back on my day.“

“Wow. Today's teaching echoes a lot of what's in one of my recent songs. I wrote it as a response to Al Chet, because that prayer always left me wanting more. But it seems to work during the Omer as well.”

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

I’ve learned that there are so many treasures in our tradition waiting to be discovered and brought forth to help guide our lives. Our tradition has practices and rituals that give us the strength and grounding we need to navigate the challenges and the blessings we encounter. It provides a framework for journeying through each day, week, month and year with self-awareness and in relationship to the natural world. I have learned that our tradition constantly calls us into relationship with each other and is adamant about us understanding that we are part of an intricate web of connection and everything we do creates the world for those who some day will call us ancestors.