On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the Day of Creation: this year, beginning at sunset on Sunday, October 2.
The Jewish Sages are always of varying opinions. Some say: we celebrate the 1st Day, the Creation of the Universe. Some say: we celebrate the 6th day, the creation of the First Human Beings.
Unable to separate human life from the natural world in which we are embedded, I come down firmly on both sides.
So many of us are living through disruptive and transformative times, each of us a new creation in process. In chaos. In mystery. In the unknown. So whatever your faith, doubt, or practice, this blessing is for you.
from Sara Eisenberg
In this season when God has been in the field
and is about to ascend to His Throne,
the mind is sharper as it peers inward,
the heart is softening,
the inner workings of all the worlds are being reset –
May you be blessed with clarity,
compassion for yourself and the state of the world,
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Whenever I turn away from a feeling, an interpersonal challenge, a piece of bad news, I throw away a teachable moment. Fear, anxiety, or even strong physical sensations can overcome my curiosity, warn me against crossing some threshold, and keep me from learning something that could change my life.
The first time I landed in a therapist’s office, I was in my early twenties and alarmed. I was alarmed by an unfamiliar pattern – yelling at my young children from morning until night, and at the explosive anger that fueled my outbursts yet never diminished. I was enormously relieved to hear this was “a situational depression.” A response to months of supporting my husband through one more exacerbation of a chronic illness. Trying to keep the kids quiet so he could rest. Relieved I was not pushed to explore my early childhood, which I was sure was full of demons. Relieved I need not yet face my sequestered terror of extinction, of being blown out like a candle in a breeze. I got out of that therapist’s office within six months, my view of myself and life intact. Relieved and none the wiser.
I had thrown away a teachable moment. Several decades passed until the effects of an accumulation of unexamined, misperceived, and misunderstood choices physically and emotionally felled me. I was exhausted.
All I really had left was the moment. And the moment. And the moment. One teachable moment after another. Moments that changed – and continue to change my life by showing me in great detail the gaps between my idealized view of myself, humanity, God/Reality, and how things are.
This means I am more awake to, more able to stop myself from demanding that you see, think, feel, behave like me, so I can be comfortable and safe. I am not immune to the impulse, and I don’t succeed every single time.
And each time I do wake up, someone else gets closer to being who they are and realizing what they came into this world to do.
So it is with both trepidation and excitement that I hold this time as a teachable moment for me, for my people, for my kin, for the American people. In three days, President Barak Obama will dedicate The National Museum of African American History and Culture in the heart of America’s political and cultural capital. This Museum presences and invites each one of us into the stories of the people whose enslavement and back-breaking labor lies unacknowledged yet unextinguished at the center of our national story, and whose music inspires us even as we fail to acknowledge the human spirit and suffering that gave voice to it.
Cracks are showing in the American body politic and psyche, showing up the gaps between our idealized view of ourselves and how things are. It is time to give up our false relief and any illusions that we are – or should be – “post-racial.”
It is time to examine, to perceive, to understand. It is time to study, reflect on, and engage with our full family history. Until we do, each one of us is shackled, and we continue to apply the whip to one another in ever more creative, merciless, and unnecessary ways.
The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers us a teachable moment like no other. Please join me in offering prayers that we will collectively seize this moment to reckon with our full history and reconcile with our kin.
The Museum has invited organizations around the nation to link local events to the opening. You can search the Lift Your Voice a directory to find local events celebrating African American History and Culture in your hometown: https://nmaahc.si.edu/lift-every-voice
There is a particular collision of calendars in my life right now, as every fall. The September new moon has once again brought the Jewish liturgical calendar into play and called me to an annual Accounting of the Soul. I proceed. I hold firmly to my intention to be who I am, plain, ordinary and unique.
And all the while I shift my rhythms in response to the pulls of other cyclical agendas. The mix of rhythms can be as enlivening as a good jam and as bewildering as the cacophony of an orchestra tuning up.
My body calendar has begun to register the shorter days. 7:15 and it’s already getting dark. Mornings can be a little sneezy and congested as ragweed pollination gets underway and leaf mold growth accelerates. The garden looks worn and dried out, and has revived only momentarily with yesterday’s downpour. Apples are hanging so heavily they pull the branches towards the ground, but they are not yet ripe enough for picking.
Then there’s the school calendar. As Labor Day approaches, olfactory memories turn my thoughts to the scent of a freshly opened green and yellow box of Crayolas. I have a commanding sense that playtime is over and it’s time for me to get down to serious work. So I revisit work plans made way back last spring, adjust them for what I can see now that I couldn’t see then, for what I can live now that I couldn’t live then.
The winds and storms of the election year calendar spread troubling waters across my landscape, and I respond by keeping my eye on a near horizon I have set: the hour the last polling place closes on November 8.
But the calendar at the forefront for me at this time of year is the Jewish liturgical one. The new moon signals the beginning of the month of Elul on September 4 and the High Holy Day season that will end at sundown on October 23.
The month of Elul invites me into an extended personal examination of conscience and behavior through the practice of Accounting of the Soul (Heshbon Hanefesh.) Experience has taught me that whatever preparation I undertake now will shape my journey through the whole season.
Overlook the opportunities for conscious change, aka awakening, and any efforts to move in those directions will be much harder during the rest of the year.
How can that be? Is there really a season for change?
The Jewish Sages teach that during this period “God is In the Field,” more accessible than at any other time of year. You can think of the Field as a place you’d choose to meet a friend for an intimate conversation that doesn’t require a latte or even a cup of tea – a Friend who holds a High Position – it can be tough to get together during most of the year. Or you can think of this as Rumi’s field “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing” – there is that much Kindness available to meet whatever honesty, self-responsibility, clarity about my limitations and gifts I can summon for this annual talk.
When Elul ends, God leaves the Field for the Throne of Judgment. I will be judged on Rosh Hashonah, the New Year. I am responsible for my actions, and for their consequences. But God’s judgment relieves me of the burden of self-judgment.And God’s judgment – which includes whether I will live or die, and if I am to die this year, by what means – will be sealed as night falls at the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. You can think of the Throne of Judgment and the King who occupies it as a Reality that responds to our world by bending towards kindness – not leniency, but kindness.
I have often approached this Accounting by journaling my way through an assessment of relationships: to myself, my family members, friends, communities, God, work, creative pursuits. Where have I fallen down as a human being? What needs attention, repair, simplicity, yielding, persistence, forgiveness? Too often the assessment has not come off the paper into life.
Almost a year since the launch of A life of practice, a conscious choice to show up consistently and differently in the world, and I am approaching the Accounting with an intention to make room for the Other without surrendering myself.
I am surprised to find how this intention opens up space in my brain, slows my biochemical anxiety response and even clock time, and actually changes my rhythm and responses. My husband asks me a question, and I respond in a way he can take it in – neither too little nor too much nor the “wrong” information (all well-worn paths).
This is Accounting in action mode.
As I intend and attend to the moment, I return – again – to who I am.
Even as I shift my routine towards longer evenings, reach for the Crayolas, or check in with election news.
Perhaps you are the the one who holds the calendar for your whole family – birthdays, rehearsal dates, soccer matches, PTA meetings, travel dates.
Perhaps you are beholden to a medical calendar, filled with diagnostic tests, treatments, days and times meals will be delivered or transportation provided.
Perhaps you are devoted to the calendar of Mother Nature herself.
What calendar(s) govern your time in this season?
How do you hold to who you are?
P.S. As you reflect, let this sweet melody guide you:
– more than ever I have felt blessed to wake up with a roof over my head, an uninterrupted supply of electricity and running water, ample family time and collaborative work, and absorbing and hopeful conversations in, around, and about Baltimore.
– three family members traveling abroad returned home safely. Two of them had enjoyed a meal at an outdoor cafe where guns and death showed up just a week later.
– has also been a time of sorrows near and far, of losses and illnesses and declining health among dear ones. Of fears both real and imagined in the psyche of our country. Of polarizing words both heart-felt and calculated in this election season.
And because a life of practice is about meeting the movements of life, all of them, the tent of the world I live in has been unimaginably stretched this summer. Not the least by my inviting into that tent my feelings of frustration, resentment, and helplessness at the state of things, even as I bless my blessings and stand up as best I can for the good as I see it.
A Life of Practice blog will start coming to you weekly this fall… and watch for news as the website and blog approach their first anniversary in October.
Do drop me a comment below if you are facing a particular challenge to practice in daily life that you would like me to chew on and write about, or an issue in herbal care you’d like me to shed some light on.
I hope your summer has been full of simple and satisfying pleasures, and that you have had the support to make it through any adversities both strengthened and softened.
July viewed from September
by Sara Eisenberg
Seashells from July travels
four out of five week-ends on the interstates,
a measure of my devotion to not missing out on the best lines of the season:
“You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.”
“Good fool, help me to some light and some paper.”
“I’m a seed in a pomegranate.”
I deduct and reason from the evidence of these seashells