Set your clocks to Winter Standard Time

Some gifts of Winter Standard Time (WST)

WST is my short-hand for the gifts of cold and dark: conditions that help me to overwinter, to nourish myself at the root in advance of spring, when buds will break open and shoots will begin to grow from a healthy root system.

My relationship to the winter season takes precedence over both the news cycle and the Gregorian calendar and renders me a more vital and useful healer, activist, and human being.

Gifts because the cold and dark invite me to stay snug and cozy, move more slowly, receive and give more openheartedly, invite visions and projects to gestate, make thoughtful choices around socializing – how much and what kind. 

My internal clock is running on Winter Standard Time

I cut back on my activity level.

I slow myself down to take my bearings. 

I pause more often and for perhaps hours rather than minutes.

It’s a trick and a practice to remain aware of what is going on without being swept up in the urgencies of the world, my hometown of Baltimore, my family and friends, or terrorized by the shadows of my inner world.

Australia burning. The earth upheaving itself: tremors in Puerto Rico, volcanic eruptions in New Zealand and The Philippines. Political divisions, corruptions, violence.  A perfect job that may or may not turn from temp to permanent. A trigger finger slow to respond to therapy. A search engine that has been high-jacked by an unwanted provider.

I let this last one high-jack my energy and state of mind for an hour: This fairly inconsequential irritation became its own little black hole, drawing good energy after bad, something whose outcome I was sure I could remedy when everything else seemed beyond the reach of my influence.

At this slower pace, I feel more vividly my grief at losses and my rage at injustices far and near. And others’ kindnesses and acts of courage? It is these that bring me to weeping, a true elixir for nourishing my humanity. 

The season favors my rooting in myself – whether in the boredom of familiarity, the wilderness of seemingly barren terrain, or amidst disrupting changes that break my heart open. 

I’ve chosen these seasonal routines to nourish my stamina and to help remedy the effects of the news cycle and my desire to be in control

Physical comforts

Soups, stews, hot teas; weekly unseasonal and affordable bouquets, thanks to Trader Joes; a fuzzy blue afghan emblazoned with stars hand-knit by one daughter for the school auction her sister ran, and that I snagged with the high bid; a snug and stylish pair of leather boots that keep my feet warm and happy when I am waiting outside for my immanent pick-up, as a good LYFT rider does; an evident appetite for the next episode or two of Season 2 of This is Us.

Marinating the work of my heart, Radical Inclusion: the inner work of race and gender

I listen in each conversation for the stories that divide us from ourselves even before they divide us from one another. I want the Intro Workshop coming up in three weeks to take people deeper and usefully into this difficult territory, so I commit to my own vulnerability, learning, wrestling with myself. So I sort through online and local options where I can do my own work in good company. I delve into Decolonizing Wealth, by Native American philanthropist Edgar Villanueva. I compost whatever I can from my own stories about sameness and difference. This well of inner work never runs dry, only deepens.

And in those precious moments when the heart breaks open, WST yields to timelessness

A sense of Isness pervades. The variety and beauty of forms is evident, in all their uniqueness and connectedness. A deeper reality breaks through. Provocative events and people lose their heat, and my heart-intelligence is freed to discern and choose. Difficulties are not left behind. I am not hiding out in a mountain cave removed from the rough and tumble of life. I must be willing to bear my personal and the world’s heartbreaks and injuries vividly, in my body. This is not comfortable. But it is closer to the heartbeat of the Reality we all share. With this practice my vision clears, I can take in new information, consider new possibilities, receive trustworthy inspiration and guidance.

In other seasons of the year or of life I cross different thresholds into the same timeless realm. In this season the long hours of darkness and chill, and my own shadow side are the threshold.

A toast to our good health in the New Year

According to Ayurveda, to be rooted in oneself, to be established in oneself, is the very meaning of health. It depends on the routines that that we establish and how they express our relationship with time & place. 

May you gather your comforts and use them well.  May you nourish the roots that will sustain you through the challenges. May you reflect on the stories that divide you from yourself. May you find sufficient moments of rest so that when the spring energy rises, you will be able to move with it, and on into your seasons of flowering, fruiting, and harvest. I raise my cup of tea and a gingerbread cookie to you. 

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Banner photo by my daughter, Jennifer Hyrkin

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In 2020 I return to posting bi-monthly.

I’d love to hear from you in return: what are the questions that deeply matter to you, the discoveries you are making about living more humanly?

If you are struggling to find your own rhythm, to gather your comforts, to meet the challenges that WILL NOT WAIT…let’s continue to travel and explore together…and bring your friends along by sharing this link with them.

To explore working 1/1 together, or discuss an in-person or online workshop for your group or organization, schedule a 30-minute free consult.

 

A door opens on the new decade

 

 

Enter here if you too are among the irrationally passionate.

I have stepped across the threshold into the New Year of 2020, leaving the Blue Door ajar behind me.

Threshold of the known world

The Blue Door has beckoned me since one night last spring, when my daughter and I sat down at the diningroom table for some late-evening unwinding and conversation…tea, coloring book, and a variety of magic markers at hand. 

Through the following months, I have propped up this image in several places where my gaze fell naturally on it. The blue door has evoked excitement and trepidation. Mystery and speculation. Dreams and fantasy. Calculations and plans. The edge of my known world.

 

The doorway effect

Now on the other side of this threshold, propelled by the consensual logic of the Gregorian calendar,  I experience some version of “the doorway effect” – how psychologist Gabriel Radvansky first described the science behind that familiar question, “Why did I walk into the kitchen?!”  

A small version of the great Life Meaning Questions: “What was I born to do? And more fundamentally “who am I meant to become?”

 

 

I am meant to be right-sized

Like Alice in Wonderland, I have long sought some magic potion that would right-size me: render me big enough or small enough for the life task at hand. 

I find I no longer have the energy or heart to try and sustain anything but being the size I am, doing the best I can with Life among the vines: twists and turns in my own mind, in the affairs of family and friendships, in the disruptions, chaos, and innumerable kindnesses of the World at Large.

My personal life and struggles and the lives and struggles unfolding across the planet are my one single life to live.

 

 

 

…and irrationally passionate

Who I was born to be is one of the “irrationally passionate.”  My motivation to change, heal, awaken is driven by my lived experience and conviction that my own particular pains and the pains of the brokenness of the world are both personal. And are both impersonal, in the sense of the Jewish teaching: healing this broken world is not mine to complete, neither am I free to desist from it.

 

 

 

A life of practice, in practice

A life of practice: more human, not more perfect.

A life of practice I am now wedded to as activist and elder, as well as healer and herbalist.

A life of practice that includes daily life lived with a widening and deepening inclusion of the varieties of humanity and our cultural struggles.

A life of practice that invites the Radical Inclusion of the inner work of race and gender, deeply nourishing to our souls and our evolution.

No choice but to know, intimately,
my yearnings, aversions, despairs:
instructive, dignifying, and precious,
a true north stretched out over empty space,
an earth suspended over Nothing,
 
the very features of
God’s world
and my way home.

A covenant of birth, by Sara Eisenberg

In 2020 I return to posting bi-monthly.

I’d love to hear from you in return: what are the questions that deeply matter to you, the discoveries you are making about living more humanly?

 

If you too are “irrationally passionate,” if the world matters to you in these ways, let’s continue to travel and explore together…and bring your friends along by sharing this link with them.

To explore working 1/1 together, or to discuss offering an online or in-person workshop for your group or organization, schedule a 30-minute free consult.

A brief catalogue of lines

Lines connect us – I can strike up the most surprising conversation with my neighbor in the check-out line. And lines divide us: I’m drawing this one in the sand and dare you to step over it.

In conga lines we share rhythmic moments. In lines of poetry we break open stories and make room to put things together that are clearly out of place in prose.


A brief catalogue of lines

by Sara Eisenberg

I was gloriously out of _______.

He wanted to mark his words:
the shortest distance was a _______
between 
the ● he was making and the ●
of his knife,
(with which he wanted to pin me
before giving his blessing)
a  _______
that ran clear through me
as if I wasn’t even there.


The teachers went on strike in 1974,
my 2nd grader and I took sandwiches down to the picket _______
and we laughed because the 2nd graders, they knew
how to stand and walk in a _______.
The teachers meandered, had no discipline,
modeled being 
gloriously
out of line,
signs tilted this
way and that.


Stolid grey Soviet citizens, 1977: 
they stood in _______s  ringing the block for
fatty meat, for
bread, for
soap.


Cheerful Londoners, 1966 and even now,
they queue up 
at the bus
stop.


1966 there was no _______:
no more right way
to queue up
to get in to the US of A


There is still no _______,

no shortest distance

between two sufferings.

______________________________________________________________________________

Inspired by immigration attorney Matt Cameron

A radical new foothold since I last wrote

New shoes

I purchased these Relaxed-Fit, Memory-Foam Skechers just a few days after I posted my last blog on New Year’s Eve. I put them aside for spring, figuring the pair I was using to slog through the winter would be ready to be retired by then to use as garden-mudders. Turns out I wore them for the first time just a few days ago, well into summer.

These shoes hug my feet. Each step I take connects firmly with the ground. When I stand, I am fully at the X that marks this particular spot. Je suis arrivée. I have arrived. “The Eagle has landed.” 

The Memory-Foam inner soles are not yet broken in, not yet shaped to my habitual posture or the way my right foot rolls outwards with each step. The outside of the heels are not worn down, so each step lands solidly on the four corners of my feet, something that never failed to challenge me in the years I took yoga classes.

The Memory-Foam has no preconceived notions about whose feet they will carry where, and remind my body that it can actually stand upright in a different way, move through the world in a different way, pivot or leap as needed. 

It’s not confidence, exactly, or assurance.  It’s not connected to the self of self-confidence or self-assurance.

 

 

 

More like a state of feeling the truth of something

A base. A point from which something unimagined might develop or unfold. A center of operations. A location of mills and machinery. A gravity, a force that draws my body to its own center even as it is drawn by the center of the earth.

Freedom. Freedom from habit, from preconception. Freedom to move.

In that December post something in me knew I was entering 2019 with resolve: “no choice but to know intimately, my yearnings, aversions, despairs…instructive, dignifying, and precious…the very features of God’s world and my way home.”

I’d spent the prior three-and-a-half years studying with an inspired group of my healing colleagues,  revisiting the nondual healing curriculum I first traversed from 1996-99,  inquiring ever more deeply into the dynamics of the universe and how they play out in my own body, my family, my cultural groups, and the public arena.

As the work has unfolded in 2019, it has been a means to heal a split that had plagued me between the parts of my life that were contracting in distressing ways, and the parts that were expanding in exciting, creative ways, to settle into the One Single Life with which I have been gifted.

 

 

 

The work of noticing preconceptions

I continued to follow an unfolding passion for justice that had re-ignited with the 2016 election.

I plumbed my relationship with boundaries and how both personal habits and cultural norms shaped how open or closed I am to others and to the flow of life. My relationship with agency and choosing and a peculiar disconnect between cause and effect that kept me from taking responsibility when appropriate and even from drawing nourishment from any “success.” How these same dynamics play out among in and out-groups in our country, all of us white folk in a trance to various romanticized notions of our nation, too often innocently asking wrong-headed questions about what is going on and why.  My relationship with my own desires and yearnings, which I had been schooled to suppress, and the consequences for society of the limited opportunities and dashed hopes and expectations of so many different groups. I struggled with patriarchy, within myself, my marriage, and everywhere I looked.  I struggled with my whiteness, my femaleness, my Jewishness, my aging

I read voraciously about all manner of things gendered and racial.  I revisited my own origin stories of race, gender, and feeling different. Adult experiences working as a middle-class white woman in Baltimore City, and working as a Jewish woman for church-based advocacy and health-care organizations.  

I worked with nondual practices, meditations, exercises, in small groups with my colleagues. I explored the states and shapes of the ever-shifting ego through movement and through playing with pipe-cleaners. I have a notebook full of practices for perceiving and naming parts of me, the “who-ises” that too easily remain in the shadows.

I wrote and wrote and wrote to transform this into teachable, transformative material, practices, exercises. My nondual colleagues helped me hone them.

 

 

 

I  call this work Radical Inclusion © : deeper than the stories that divide us – from ourselves, from one another, from our own and our shared humanity.

This is work that respects and honors our family stories and our tribal stories, even while we are intent on bringing our own preconceptions to light. This work nourishes in us a life-changing humility, a readiness to admit and wrestle with the fact that we each have a partial view of the world, and typically stand invested in partial truths.

 

 

It offers us skillful means to cultivate a new, freeing and creative capacity to listen, take in and value the tough differences.

With honesty and kindness we practice: we include one more piece of life, one more piece of life, one more piece of life. Which allows us to be the size we actually are – neither better and wiser nor smaller and more foolish than we are.

For those of you who have followed my blog, or worked with me one on one or in Bend the Arc online, the NEW here is a healing and awakening Presencing of the cultural alongside the personal, the Human Family alongside our family of origin or adoption or construction.

 

An invitation and an offer:

If you struggle with the state of the world, the chaos and sheer meanness, the unrelenting flow of information and misinformation; with the harsh treatment of immigrants and refugees; with privilege, supremacy, and what does it mean to be white; with a family, a workplace or a place of worship where gender, race or other differences bear down on you.

If you hope for a better world or town or neighborhood and could use support to find your way to help make it so.

If you are a helping professional who needs a place to work out your own stuff so you can better help your clients or patients navigate their worlds.

If you want to step into a new pair of shoes, and stand in your own new place…

… let’s talk about how the work of Radical Inclusion with A Life of Practice can

  • nourish and restore you to yourself
  • wake you up to your preconceptions
  • enliven you with new perceptions
  • strengthen you to stand in your identity as your precious self and as an imperfect human being, and stand in the place you choose
  • soften and fortify you to  engage creatively with people who do not share your identity or your story

 

 

E-MAIL ME at alifeofpractice@gmail.com, using #RadicalInclusion as the subject – and we’ll set up a 30-minute consult to talk about how we can partner in this work to guide and support you.

 

Gratitudes: My heartfelt thanks to my teacher Brenda Blessings: you guided me through 4 years of nondual Teacher Training for the Marketplace and many treacherous waters. To my colleagues Kathy Bernstein and Terry Nathanson, you helped me to hone the material and practices and inspired me with your own specialties. To my poetry and all-around nondual buddy Greg Conderacci for your key insights and word-choices and fellowship. To Evelyn, Laurie, and Schlese for your extended commitment to showing up for one another to help me explore the territories of identity. To Lisa S for your questions and engagement with the ego-states that led me to new insights. To Simona Aronow for inspiring me to bring movement and the spirit of dance into this work.

A covenant of birth as we enter 2019

Dear Readers,

I have failed utterly in my attempt to shape some cohesive, meaningful narrative out of the alchemical heat of 2018. A wild mix of chaos, deaths small and large; courageous and inspiring traveling companions; insights, fulfillments, shatterings into greater wholeness, lingering terrors, and refurbishing of the heart.

So all I can do, as the year 2019 is birthed,  is to share with you words I need both to voice and to hear, the contract I am ready to make with Reality, not hide-bound but heart-bound, not only in weeping but also in joy.

May we ask and live into good questions, cheer one another on, and help one another materially as we can in 2019 and beyond.

With love,

Sara

 

A covenant of birth

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Unwinding, 

living threads

lengthen,

straighten, 

send 

life-preserving 

taproots deep into 

disturbed soil,

draw buried 

nutrients to me,

redeem 

an arid moonscape

that 

 

glows now 

with 

succulent

night-bloomers

whose eloquent fragrance 

 

frees bound 

soil, mind, heart,

 

refashions

built worlds, 

 

refreshes

imagination.

 

No choice but to know, intimately,

my yearnings, aversions, despairs:

instructive, dignifying, and precious,

a true north stretched out over empty space,

an earth suspended over Nothing,

 

the very features of

God’s world

and my way home.

A friend’s practice inspires a change of heart

My theatre partner and I saw a completely forgettable show last week, but a story she shared with me over dinner is a keeper:  her words of practice inspired a change of heart. 

We have had a rainy year. The water table in Baltimore has been rising. And recently the temperatures have been frigid – a time of year when “black ice” on the road and underfoot invites skids and falls.  As water poured into the road from a property across the street from her house, Marilyn had a growing concern about how to resolve this, considering what persuasive or even legal means might be at hers and others’ disposal. A longtime Quaker, she told me how she had woken from sleep the day before with this dilemma on her mind, with these words from her contemplative practice: “Let’s see what love can do.” Moving into the day and into action, she talked with some of her neighbors and then her city councilman’s office. By the end of the day salt boxes from the city were delivered and in place.

While the problem is not completely solved, the energy around the issue has shifted to a completely different mode.

We marveled together.

 


You can meet multiskilled Integrative Psychotherapist Marilyn Clark here.


 

Marilyn’s story and words have been working me:  “Let’s see what love can do.”

They shift my rhythm, and hence the way I move with life. Because one of the peculiarities of my functioning has been a split between my cognitive and emotional functions, and they move at different speeds. I have worked with the symptoms of this for years: feeling isolated, unmet, misunderstood. Isolating others, failing to meet or understand them.

It is only recently that I have actually been able to name this behavioral, and physiological, split. For years I have been mystified and troubled by my ability to speak eloquently and passionately on behalf of social causes, moral and ethical positions, justice in the world, awakening and healing – while remaining unable to advocate for myself one on one when my own deep-felt needs are at stake. I can be coolly rational OR express (mostly dissolve into) an emotional state, a deep ravine between the two. I’ve focused my personal healing work on this dilemma the last number months: my dark light.

If you grew up in an emotional desert, and learned to keep your feelings to yourself, or even secret from yourself, you may be familiar with this pattern. This is a great set-up for regularly failing to ask for what is needed and receive it – or not. And for indirect means to get unarticulated needs met: a recipe for one disappointment after another.

Then there is the lag time – ask me what I am thinking or feeling after my words do not have the effect I intend or following a heated exchange: I don’t know. I need to go away and settle down. Sometimes five minutes is enough. Sometimes I need twenty-four hours. Or a number of days.

 

I used to think that when I pulled away, I was cowardly. Or stubborn: if I can’t get my way here, I am not willing to negotiate or compromise. Or small-minded: I just won’t/can’t agree to disagree. Sometimes it feels like I am stepping on the accelerator and the brakes at the same time. And yes, I can give myself whiplash. While I have no doubt that I can lack both courage and willingness to negotiate, as I consider “what love can do,” I can allow for and work with my own disordered rhythms.

“Let’s see what love can do” brings vividness to my dilemma, throws a suspension bridge over the ravine, and offers me solace. The words reorient my system. They presence what creative business coach Jeffrey Davis calls “qualitative slowness.”  They transform the self-judgment into a nod of the head: oh, right, I am human. Again. Still. The words lessen my urgency to retreat, and instead bring forward a wiser part of myself who has just been hanging back.

 

“Let’s see what love can do” brings about in me a change of heart. And that is what I am here for.

 

Practice:

Start where you are, as you are. Perhaps while reading, your thoughts went to a particular relationship or situation, or a rush of feelings came up. Hold the dilemma lightly, as if it were a small bird in the palm of your hand. Wonder at it. Take in its shape and its effects on you. Let the details be very vivid. Then just say to yourself, and to the dilemma – “Let’s see what love can do” – and notice what shifts in your body, your feeling state, your perception.

Please share in the comments. Your story may ease some difficulty for another reader, as Marilyn’s did for me, and bring about a change of heart.

 

 

Giving thanks, offering healing: in practice

Offering our thanks is healing itself, for our own hearts, and the world’s Great Heart

Dear Readers ….

May this day find us each and every one with an abundance of blessings received and equally abundant impulses to pay them forward.

May we feast on a bounty of kindness for our troubled world and our own aching hearts.

May we breathe life into ancient wisdom stories, take instruction from them, and welcome opportunities to join hands with strangers within and without.

May we resolve to understand where we have come from, on whose tribal shoulders we stand, on whose tribal lands and graves our lives are built, and pursue paths to Truths and Reconciliations for the healing of human sorrows.

May we summon our will and our willingness to participate in the ways our Mother Earth reveals she is healing Herself.

May we yield to the solace of Mystery, our incapacity to understand and make meaning.

May we grant ourselves and one another permission – whether to recoil in incredulity or numbness or shed tears as we cry out to the Mystery,  in hurt, in love, in anger, in grief, in fear, in relief.

May we pursue and accept responsibility for the power to do and be good with which we have been gifted by the Mystery.

 

An invitation to practice: 

Contemplate your yearning for personal healing and for healing in the world, and how they are irrevocably one, like the palm and back of your hand. Journal a bit, or let a poem write itself through you. Leonard Cohen’s beautiful lyrics and melody in Come Healing help me sink into this contemplation.

Take a walk – around your own block or in a favorite setting. Be attentive to your environment, and pocket with thanks a few natural objects that capture your attention – twigs, stones, moss, dried plant stalks, broken open nutshells.

Back home, lay your found objects down, and gather bits of broken pottery or glass, a bead or two, yarn or twine, clay or duct tape for threading and binding them together.

Sit quietly as you infuse the items with your healing intentions and compose an offering with these found natural and household items.

Give yourself uninterrupted time to be leisurely, and make arrangement with your family/housemates as necessary. (Any animals in your home are likely to sniff you out in this activity to join their energies with yours!)

Choose any altar – in your own home or in a place in your town or countryside in need of healing, or in the hands of a friend or colleague in need: place your offering in any one of these gracious laps of the great Mystery.

Photos and words of reflection on your experience are welcome!

 

This practice will yield fruit, whether you are able to set aside a block of time to follow all the steps from beginning to end, or whether you do it in stages. If the latter, take time to reconnect with your healing intentions at each step – and follow and trust your own process as it shifts and deepens,  becomes more specific, or changes direction.

Note: This practice is adapted with gratitude from a healing ceremony that two of my healing colleagues and I channeled/designed for A Society  of Souls’ biannual gathering in July, 2018.

 

P.S. I have been peering into the “dark light” these last number of months, while a life of practice’s blog has gone dark. Thank you, dear readers, who have in one way or another blown on the embers, letting me know you missed it! Look for posts to appear twice a month.

 

Today is an empty altar: what offering do you bring?

Today is an empty altar: what offering do you bring?

Because It is no small thing that you and I got ourselves out of bed this morning.

It is the height of summer, and a dry spell to boot. 

The wild ginger that fills my shade bed is prostrate. 

I’m wilted with the heat, a little woozy, not up for standing on a ladder to maneuver two floppy 2×4 fluorescent light panels back in place, where they have to be nestled precisely on all four lips of the opening.

 

I’m guessing that, like me, you are already scheduling meetings and medical check-ups and family and professional gatherings well into 2019 and beyond. 

Meanwhile…

Joan’s sister is recovering from a life-threatening medical event.

Sharon is scheduled for her fifth stent. That hasn’t prevented her from stepping for the first time in her life into a hub of activism in her community.

Pundits across the political spectrum pedal their tired wares.

Four men drive up in a 4-door Infiniti, and shoot 10-year old Makiyah Wilson in the chest as she is headed towards an ice-cream truck.

Tim, who never sang before in public, takes to the stage during Talent Night and belts out The National Anthem. Some stand. Some take the knee. Some holler out at the end, “Play Ball!”

Evelyn’s daughter is treating her to a couple of days’  of midweek quiet at a monastery.

A childcare resource staffer ends up taking a call from an active suicide.

Irene spends countless hours engraving and fusing glass as gifts for our healing community.

 

For just a few days I am taking a vacation from making plans.

Because along with the happenings just described among the countless stream of events, there is this: a web of helping hands.  

“I’ve got meals covered for today.” For a single woman nearing the end of life.

“Can I give you a hand with that?”  (Moving easels and tables at 1:00 am.)

“We need help repairing this hurt – I’ll go knock on ——-‘ s door.”

“I’m heading for: Haiti, the Texas border, the local ICE office, the corner of Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue to talk with that prophet who hangs out there.”

“Just checking in to see how you’re doing – we haven’t talked in a while.”

“No, you can’t use that language in my company.”

“Yes, I am ready to listen.”

 

Instead of planning, I’m stepping back and looking around.

Where are my hands needed? 

My words?

My physical support?

My open heart?

My firm boundary?

My gut wisdom?

My opinion-of-the-moment?

 

What mistaken beliefs, partial understandings, outright delusions prevent me from seeing  who and what needs help?

Help.

Support. Succor. Benefit. Being done good to. Cure. Aid. Assistance.

All stemming from the Old English helpan.

 

As full as life is, every day is an empty altar, waiting for the offerings of my hands.

Your hands. A web of hands that circle the globe.

In free fall? Trust your self-organizing self

When I am falling apart, I have found I can rely on self-organizing wisdom, a seventh grade strategy.

The pleasures of writing began with dodging outline assignments when I was in junior high school. An English or history teacher typically required me first to turn in The Outline, and then use it as a guide to writing the paper:

I Main Idea #1

    A  ….

        1 ….

        2 ….

    B….

II Main idea #2

 

The problem was I am gifted with an associative mind.

Composing an outline drained the life right out of my thinking and ordering processes. My work-around was simple: I did the assignment backwards. I wrote the paper first and then used the paper to construct the required outline. This strategy forced me to front-load hours of homework, but that was relatively easy in comparison to pulling Main Ideas out of thin air. I trusted how my mind works, and how my creativity works.

Fast forward to Goucher College, where I majored in French Lit. I tried to go for a cross-departmental major in English and French, but I was way ahead of the interdisciplinary curve. I wrote my senior thesis on metaphor in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.  A la recherche du temps perdu was published conveniently in 10 rather slim volumes (en francais). This allowed me to read and take notes on one volume per week for the 10-week first semester of senior year, and do other collateral research and write the paper the following semester. 

I took notes on 3×5 file cards. Quotes that stood out. Points made by Proust’s biographers or literary critics. I had several shoe-boxes full by the time I began to write. I spread the cards out on the floor around me and sorted them into piles by theme. Then I began to consider how the themes related to one another, the structure of the whole work, and Proust’s use of language. Metaphor attracted my attention and became the organizing principle. If you had asked me at the time, I would certainly have claimed credit for the whole thing.

 

As a life-long student, it turns out that I have been captivated by self-organizing behavior.

My papers organized themselves. Like animal swarms, neural networks, embryonic and ecological development.

As an herbalist I have likewise come to trust the wisdom of the body. I look for a combination of plants and formulas that will nudge an ailing body back towards health. Typically I offer a combination of restorative herbs and nutrients and encouragement in weaning from habits that make the system work harder. Together these two approaches companion the body in doing what it knows how to do: restore order to its own house. That is to say, healthy relationship among the parts, the body’s functions.

But I still somehow failed to grok that the whole of my own life is a self-organizing process – one that I shape and mold, for sure, but is not, um, in my control. Rather, is guided by an inherent wisdom that is not personal to me at all.

 

It has taken two winters, each with an extended episode of illness, to bring me to my full senses.

Last winter it was dysregulation of my nervous system: sleepless nights, anxiety bordering on panic attacks. None of the considerable inner resources I had cultivated had any effect at all. My friend and master body-worker Johnny had the skill to lead me through a session where the switch flipped and my parasympathetic nervous system – the one responsible for rest, recovery, and digestion, came back online. This winter it was two bouts of flu, each with 7-8 weeks of recovery time. These illnesses, like the previous winter’s, occurred within the context of the unwinding of deep emotional patterns embedded in my body.

Here’s the thing: once the unwinding had occurred, my body knew what to do. I just had to listen. Even the unwinding was my body knowing what to do.When to hold on and when to let go. When to speak up, when to be quiet. When to expend, when to save my energies. This has allowed my whole being to reorganize itself in a healthier, happier way. And gifted me with a greater trust in the falling-apart process.

 

It feels like a free fall, and it’s a time to reach out for help. But this wisdom is there to catch me. And you.

That wisdom is God’s longing to be in this world with us and through us. In Come Healing, Leonard Cohen sings it: the “longing of the branches to lift the little bud,  “the longing of the arteries to purify the blood.”

 

If I had to, I could turn this story into one heck of an Outline.


PS  Wishing you all a summer with enough of the weather, fresh veggies and fruits and outdoor life that most delight you.  Over the next few months I will be posting just once a month. Something is afoot that wants more time: for reading and research and conversation and listening and quiet absorption and integration. It’s my way of “going to the beach” or, as we Marylanders say, “down-ee o-shun.”


Banner photo  Burning Through, by Mary Lansman. Hillsborough Gallery of Art, Hillsborough, North Carolina.

 

Time collapses, the fruits of practice persist

This week I’m drawn to reflect on how clock time collapses in the face of death, life and practice. And yet something vital persists through time.

 

A funeral

Sunday was marked by the torrential rains that once again washed away historic Ellicott City’s Main Street. The locals call it “a 1,000 year storm.” What meteorologists mean by this is there is a .1% chance in any year that such a storm will hit. But the last one hit just two years ago. I’m not sure if actuarial tables follow the same mathematical principles: a seventy-nine year old woman could be expected to live for another ten years. Judy did not.

Judy and her husband Jon were among the first “locals” I met when I moved to Baltimore to go to college. Over the years that we spent time in one another’s homes and on an occasional outing, she was kind and helpful in the way an older sister can be. I lost this couple in a divorce almost forty years ago and had rarely seen them since. Even so, I wanted to be present among the mourners honoring her life. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, the room was full of people greeting one another – so many people in her life who were not strangers to one another.

The officiating rabbi had listened deeply and wisely to what family members recalled about Judy’s life, and wove them into a beautiful and tender picture: significant losses that had shaped her as an adolescent, choices she made to tend to family, to her social work and counseling patients, to community institutions and well-being.

I experienced once again a mix of wonder, regret, and resignation that it is through a eulogy I learn so much about one who has died. The person I remember fondly, “knew” and took to be a whole person – I “knew” such a small part and yet somehow that also contained the whole of her.

I experienced once again how time collapses at such a moment: a lifetime into a 20-minute  eulogy. The definitive ending. Or a person’s departure from the time-bound into some timeless realm. A self-comforting thought.

 

An ordination

Tuesday was marked by a more rare event, and one that I was attending for the first time: the ordination of my old friend Jerry as a rabbi.  Jerry and his wife Becky and I had shared some years together as members of the same weekly Chaverah, a Jewish fellowship. As I pulled up and parked across the street from the 145-year old synagogue, Jerry beckoned me to join in the pre-ceremonial photo-shoot outside. We were delighted to see one another: it had been perhaps several decades.

From a distance I had followed his lengthy journey through both secular and rabbinic studies. This was such a singular culmination of years of effort. According to Becky’s lovingly written bio of her husband he began teaching himself Hebrew out of a book when he was 15, visited Israel five times before he was 20. He earned a degree with honors in Political Science and Spanish. Most recently Jerry completed a Rabbinical degree at the Union of Traditional Judaism along with an MS in Pastoral Counseling.

Several of his rabbinic teachers traveled some distance for the occasion, and  praised Jerry for his devotion, persistence, patience, and provocative questions as a student. But the overall theme of this eulogy-during-life was his menschlichkeit (roughly translated from the Yiddish as humanity, human goodness, honor, integrity). They spoke to his skill in tending to peoples’ needs, to sensing just which words, which tone to strike to help the person in front of him. And they spoke of the partnership between Jerry and Becky, and their numerous acts of kindness, showing up at the door of whoever needed help in the community with practical, emotional, and spiritual support.

 

The similarities to the eulogy spoken at Judy’s funeral were striking: one life story ended, another beginning a new chapter. And yet in Jerry’s life, time collapses regularly. 

Because among the many dynamics of Torah study is the collapse of time.  We are cautioned not to assume the events we read in chronological order in Torah actually transpired that way. And the 63 sections of the Talmud contain conversations among countless rabbis over hundreds of years, as if all were sitting around a table in the same study hall with today’s students.

 

Times collapses, but the fruits of our practice persist.

Whatever we devote ourselves to is our practice.

This is how we build our character, our menschlichkeit.

This is how we write our life story, whose ending is beyond our choosing.

And the fruits of our devotion endure, made, as they are, of love.