The patience to be who I am

PATIENCE is not among my weekly calendar notations:

The 26-hour Yom Kippur fast is over.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The opening Presidential Debate of the season is history.

Colleagues and students entered and left my Zoom rooms this week softened and strengthened by practice and by sharing struggles and wisdom.

A passion-project that has been on hold for some weeks moved a little.

Tomatoes that have been hanging green on the vine have suddenly reddened in the cooling, shortening daylight hours.

This list almost but not quite attains what my teacher Jason Shulman calls “the pure subjective,” a quality of is-ness that such statements display when they are just themselves. As you read through that list, you can pick up whiffs of preference and comparison and judgment that leave them short of “is-ness.”

I consider again the card I pulled for my High Holy Day focus this year: “patience.”

I am born an Aries, “the head” sign: I am a great sprinter. Marathons, not so much.

Can you tell from this post that this is a night when I am down to fumes?

Patience right now feels very close to: I am out of gas.

The Hebrew word for patience is transliterated as “savlanut.” It comes from a three-letter root  meaning burden, load, suffering, pain: the same root of the words used to describe the hard labor of the enslaved Israelites making bricks from straw for Pharoah. Its linguistic cousins include: porter, stevedore, passivity, endurance, tolerance. You can see how these belong to the same word-family.

I’ve devoted myself more to cultivating resilience – the capacity to recover – than I have to bearing burdens. Maybe, I wonder to myself, if I practiced bearing burdens with more patience and tolerance and less suffering, I wouldn’t have to tend so much to recovering?

Meanwhile needs Urgent and Real compete for my attention and energies to:

– stay safe, keep others safe during the Pandemic, with my home serving as  my workplace, since am both privileged and non-essential, a useful contemplation in itself when I have more brain cells to rub together.

– do/be/ join forces for equity: safety and protection under the law and access and well-being for people who have black and brown and olive skins

– figure out how to vote and maximize the chances that my vote will be counted. I already know my vote counts. This year I also have to do what I can to make sure it is counted. This is a new experience for me as a White person.

– plant seeds for collective civic grieving, repair of wrongs, and reconciliation. To lift my spirits, I’m putting a pin in this topic  for a future post.

What you have just read is a narration of my practice of letting myself be the size I am. Which is what I counsel you to do .....during these times and ever after:

Do what you can from where you are, with what you have to work with.

If you’re tired, rest.

If you’re hungry, eat.

If you feel defeated, do a small kindness for someone.

If you’re full of pep, or you have “discretionary” dollars,  choose who and what gets the benefit.

And this, from the Talmud, immediately and perpetually useful:

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,

neither are you free to desist from it.

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Post-script to Passover Seder

The Seder meals are over, the morals of the story linger on.

Tell the story to your children, we are instructed: how the Israelites went down to Egypt, were enslaved and then liberated. Tell the story at the proper time: it is step number five of fourteen parts of the Seder, which translates as “order.” Tell the story as if it happened to you, we are instructed. Elaborate on the story, we are told, the later into the night, the better. `

 

Children wise and wicked: different world-views of “me” and “us”

Early on in the telling, we find there four kinds of children to whom we may be telling the story: a wise child, a wicked child, a simple child, and a child who does not know how to ask.

The wise child asks, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded you?” And he is taught all the details of Passover observance, down to the very end of the Seder – as if he had actually asked, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded us?” – including himself in the community.

The wicked child asks, “What does all this work mean to you?”  In this instance the parent takes the child literally when he says “to you, and responds with a certain harshness because the child has separated himself out of the community.

Lively discussion often surrounds this section, what is called “argument for the sake of heaven,” rather than to prove a point.

What struck me this year is how the text rewards “we” and is harsh with “me.” 

The most obvious pandemic lesson brought home to us humans all over the globe, no matter our nation or tribe, is the deep factual reality of “we,” homo sapiens. Covid-19 is a story that is happening to the human species, each and all of us. There is no “as if” in the telling of this pandemic story. And while health outcome disparities by race and ethnicity have been documented for decades, they are front and center now. There is at least some ray of hope this recognition and documentation will drive more equitable access and elimination of bias as we rebuild our civic infrastructure.

 

Daled amot: the personal space/Zoom rectangle we each occupy? God also occupies.

Rabbi Sue Fendrick wrote a wonderful piece (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/go-ahead-have-a-shvach-seder/) in which she granted “a rabbinic permission – and/or psychological and spiritual authorization” to have “a mediocre, underwhelming, unremarkable, or even kind of pathetic” Seder under the pandemic limitations that govern our lives these days.

She used a term which I had never before encountered: daled amot, which translates as four cubits, the measure of our personal space: the space that we each take up as we keep our six feet (3.81 cubits) from one another.  Rabbi Levi Cooper provided some historical background, (https://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Judaism/World-of-the-Sages-The-four-cubits-of-halacha) noting that since the Temple was destroyed, God has dwelled in each individual’s four cubits. This indwelling presence is often spoken of as the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine.

Those little boxes on the Zoom Meeting screen? They are another form of the dalet amot of this pandemic time. Mostly what we see of one another on the screen is our faces. And when we take the opportunity to gaze softly at one another’s faces on the screen, we see how unique, precious, and  beautiful each one is.  To switch religious contexts, this is namaste: the God in me greets the God in you.

 

Stay in touch with what is important

May we draw ever more deeply from the well of our own wisdom and our trust in God. 

May we forgive ourselves and one another our foolishness.

May we be kind to one another, understanding how truly we are all kin.

May we be good neighbors and well-wishers.

May we be safe and protected from harm as we make our way through the unknowns of the coming days, weeks, and months. 

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Come as you are continues online, Wednesday April 15, 12-1:00 EDT on Zoom

The imperatives of social distancing invite us to co-create sacred and nourishing online refuges.

Come as you are to share an hour of nondual practice

… open-hearted and fearful,

… determined, weary and bearing gifts

Email me at ______ for the Zoom link.

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Banner photo from The Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Raphael Abecassis

 

Arrogance, humility, and the work to be done

We live in disturbingly puffed-up times.

I like to imagine myself among a citizenry seeking the justice that must come with the demise of arrogance: armed only with sewing needles, we advance on a gaggle of huge balloon characters (think Macy’s Thanksgiving parade). Punctured, they let out the sounds four-year-old boys like to make, then collapse into a wild heap on the pavement.

 

Alas, we are all subject to arrogance: Passover to the rescue!

As I prepare for Passover, chametz – food mixed with a leavening agent such as yeast – is a major focus. Any such food is to be separated out and removed. This calls for a close reading of labels on bottles, boxes, and cans.  Then there are the remnants, i.e. crumbs. This calls for cleaning.

This week I have dusted, washed, wiped, sponged, scrubbed, scoured, and swabbed. Sunday, the fridge. Monday, the bathroom. Tuesday, the guest room and my office. Wednesday the livingroom, diningroom, and bedroom. Thursday, the kitchen. It has been a sedentary winter, including several bouts of flu and extended weeks of recovery, so I welcome the activity, although my muscles protest.

I also trust that as I get into crevices and corners with dust-cloth and lambs-wool duster, there is an alchemical shift in my own fermented emotional and thought patterns.

And when all the work is done, there is the gift of this prayer:

All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

In other words, I make the effort I can make. And being human, the effort to rid my house and my person of all remnants of puffery must fail. And still, my effort is good enough.

Then beginning with the Seder meal, and for the next eight days, we eat matzah, which tradition calls variously “the poor man’s bread”  and “the bread of affliction.” We literally “take in” the nourishment of humility. This is not about self-abasement or groveling. Passover, after all, is about liberation, freedom from slavery. Including all the ways that we both over-inflate and under-inflate our value.

 

This hyperbolic world has such a deep need for us to be the size we are.

May we each occupy our rightful place.

May we gather around our tables, tell our stories, ponder deep questions, and praise.

Then may we together free the still-enslaved and open our gates to the uprooted.

 

More on Passover:

We are all strangers in a strange land

Passover paradox: freedom is given yet must be earned

 

Run to do good with a snow shovel

“Run to do good with a snow shovel.” As of this noon, I am moved to add this action to the list of obligatory ways to do good under Jewish law (halachah).

Early this morning in Baltimore we were having a white-out moment. No matter we were less than twenty-four hours into spring by the Gregorian calendar. Wet snow was falling heavily, already bending the bamboo grove in our backyard down to the ground.

After a short night’s sleep, an early-morning on-line meeting, and a late breakfast, I napped. When I woke, a blinding whiteness shone through the window. The snow had stopped. I went to the front door prepared to bundle up and spend an hour clearing the front steps and walk, to see that an Angel-with-a-Shovel had already been by. Two angels, it turned out – Lisa, my next-door neighbor, and Ashley, her neighbor on the other side. Ashley and I have waved hello to one another but never really “met.”

As recipients of an unending flow of goodness from the One Source, Judaism teaches us, so we are bound to carry out acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chassadim), regardless of whether the recipient appears to be “needy” or not, “deserving” or not. Especially acts of lovingkindness extended towards the dead, who cannot reward us.

Thus we are taught to offer unstintingly

to the wealthy and the poor,

to the wise and the foolish,

to the dead and the living.

 

We are taught to offer “all our everything.”

To offer of ourselves, our effort, our resources.

To offer hospitality.

To welcome in and provide for the stranger, and guide her on her way.

To visit the sick.

To celebrate with the couple at their wedding.

To guard and prepare the body of the dead.

To accompany and bury the dead.

To comfort the mourner.

To seek and pursue peace.

To bring people into the presence of the Shechinah, the Indwelling presence of God.

To learn Torah, teach Torah.

No legal (halachic) limit is set on what we can offer: no moment when we can cease from giving and say that we have fulfilled our duty.

Then there is the “running” aspect. It’s not just that we are not to stop and weigh the pros and cons.

The “running” is an actual eagerness to be of service, in the same spirit that G-d “runs” to bestow everything on us. Our “running” is in the image of G-d. All the more-so when we treat the “stranger” as friend and neighbor, in spite of the fact that – like Ashley and me – we may never have met.

As we offer in this way, we give up “reward” in the mundane sense, and as we give without expectation, so we do also receive. nourishment.

More than that, we become partners with G-d in completing creation. With eagerness and as small and mighty a tool as a snow shovel.

Lisa and Ashley: thank you!

Aloneness and connection: the theme of our universe

From the viewpoint of Kabbalah, relationship is the entire theme of creation. 

The One has become Two and then Many, yet each and every part remains connected to every other and to the whole. The transcendent and the immanent, the personal and the impersonal, the material and the highest realms of spirit are present everywhere.

Our essential dilemma as humans likewise is rooted in the underlying conditions of separation and connection.

We feel both our essential aloneness, and the vast possibilities of what it can mean to give and to receive in relationship. 

This is true whether we consider the nature of our relationship with a friend, a significant other, or The Significant Other who devotional poets have long called The Beloved.

The single word “cleave” carries the essential paradoxical dynamic of relationship. This Janus word looks in opposite directions at the same time, signifying both to separate or hew apart, as well as to adhere closely, with strength of attachment. Without the hewing, there is only enmeshment: no real connection, no space into which giving and receiving can be offered.

 

Cleaving

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I have long forgotten what I was made for:

to cleave, to cling and to hew all

at once.

 

With two fingers I tap

on the clear frigid air

of this first morning of the new year,

it shatters but holds together.

 

That same air must pass through

warming shades of blue

wool across nose and mouth to deliver

its essential lode to lungs that

have a new freedom I cannot account for.

 

I cross the room, walk smack into swags of

unseasonable gossamer, that sticky stuff

that has ambushed me in the late-summer garden,

and now presses itself into my crevices as if sealing a vow between

two solids.

 

No longer am I spread out over vast distances, destined

to spin, order and turn worlds,

harbor and protect legions, heedless of sleep: labors suitable to

whole colonies of social insects.

 

To be in my very own skin

where there is space between us

where breath may pass, and words, and love,

that cleaving we were made for.


Banner photo: Duke Gardens by Pat Merriman, Hillsborough Art Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

 

Collision averted and other miracles of the season

Collision averted today, one miracle in a season of miracles. 

Just in time I saw the dull gray sedan coming up on my right as I was about to make a left turn. On a dull gray day, when my mind was preoccupied with irritating matters. One of those near-misses I have experienced countless times behind the wheel, and that I imagine happens hundreds of times a day in crowded parking lots and on heavily-trafficked highways. I send my thanks heaven-ward, as it were, and move on uninjured and unimpeded to my next errand.

 

I am not much given to contemplating the miraculous, but this is the first day of Chanukah.

And the “Chanukah Story” that I grew up with was the miracle of the oil. The Israelites reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Greeks some 1800 years ago. In preparing to rededicate the space for worship, a single day’s worth of pure oil was found to burn in the re-kindled menorah. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days.

According to certain mystical teachings of the sages, miracles emanate from a level of creative power that precedes time and space, where delight infuses the divine urge to create. In some prayers we call upon this level, using the name “slow to anger.”

 

Since we are made in the image of God, this got me thinking about how we humans manifest miracles

I was standing in a long check-out line a couple of days ago. The woman behind me smiled and shook her head. Because she had just reunited with a dear high-school classmate, the woman in front of me. Their reunion may have been a miracle of divine origin. The way the two of them shared their delight with me, a stranger between them, and lifted my down-in-the-dumps spirits was of their very human origin.

 

But the miracle that has become foundational in my life story is about my mom towards the end of hers.

Mom was genteel. She had her views about what it meant to live “like a lady.” She was intensely private when it came to her emotions, her troubles, and her business. She always had a social circle of friends. In fact, she twice made the effort to cultivate a new circle of younger friends as her own peers died one by one. Still, she was not one to reach out to strangers or to others who appeared much different.

But on my last visit with her in the nursing home where she spent the last three months of her life, I was wheeling her through the diningroom on our way back to her room, when she asked me to stop next to a small table. A woman sat alone and downcast over her meal. My mother reached over, patted her hand and said sweetly, “How are you tonight, dear?” They exchanged a few words, and we went on our way, the woman clearly nourished and uplifted: a small miracle of human origin.

I was stunned at mom’s uncharacteristic behavior, and since then have drawn from it deep inspiration. Just a few weeks before dying at age 97 she was growing and changing.

At the end of life, another season of miracles.

 

May you be blessed to see the miracles around you, and to enact your own.

Consequences: how our actions build character

The consequences of some actions are clear.

I drop a glass on the tile floor, and the glass shatters.

I turn away from someone who is talking to me, and something in the relationship shatters – in a small or a big way.

Over the span of a year, a decade, a lifetime – cause and effect tend to be less clear to us. How have our actions and their consequences added up over time? How have we built our character? Out of what have we built our character?

All of which makes me deeply grateful for the Jewish cycle of Holy Days, which are heading toward their annual high point.

It is said that on the Jewish New Year, our names are inscribed in the Book of Judgment. Who will live and who will die. Who will live in peace and who in anxiety.

It is said that ten days later – on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – that Book, and our destiny for the year, are sealed.

During the in between days we are both cautioned and encouraged to engage in three sorts of actions that can assure us of being inscribed and sealed for a good year. (Interestingly enough, the seeking and granting of forgiveness with our fellow humans, a main focus of the whole period of time, is not among the three actions that can “avert the decree” of misery or death.)

Turning, or returning (in Hebrew, teshuvah), which involves heartful remorse, actions to repair or provide restitution for harm done, and resolve to refrain from repeating the behavior.

Prayer (in Hebrew, tefilah), an introspective and simultaneously connecting effort. The Hebrew root connotes both a discerning evaluation of oneself and a strengthening of ourattachment to God. This attachment exists as a matter of the nature of Reality, regardless of whether we feel “close” to God or not.)

Material acts of justice (in Hebrew, tzedakah), commonly understood to be an obligation to give charity, but which can be understood more broadly as acts that redress wrongs to individuals or to social groups.

There is a growing urgency as we near the end of our 26+ hour fast on Yom Kippur, our destiny all but sealed, yet even then our tears are said to be a gateway that remains open.

And the turning and re-turning, the discerning and attachment, the material acts of justice? On we go with these companions, day by day until the year turns once more, as we pause again to face the Character in the mirror.

Rumi-nating on the New Year and sharp knives

First I have to notice.

The month before Rosh Hashonah is devoted to reviewing one’s accounts, seeing what is in need of repair – how my ways of doing and being have uplifted or downtrodden, made whole or split, brought solace or suffering. So first comes noticing.

Some years that is all I can do, and then my resolve to repair, restore, make whole does not have much flesh and bone behind it.

This year I have been blessedly hit with insights into very fundamental dynamics about how I live my life and move through the world, so much so that I can quite literally feel my body moving through space made solid. I can feel with my senses the effects as I move through the world unaware, in self-protective mode, how one “no” after another leaves the world around me roughed up and distressed. And how different the effects when I am awake to my full and imperfect humanity. Then even the “no” changes meaning and claims its actual power.

As I enter this New Year, I am deeply resolved to notice, and to choose the sharp blade as a kindness to myself and the world.

May you be blessed to be a blessing to your dear ones and to the world in the year 5778.

 

Rumi-nating

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I would say yes quickly if

I could, Master Rumi, if

I would.

 

Drowsing or distracted I am clumsy and

ragged, no

less nor more than any

one, propelled through

space thick with love

that I take for wood or

ice that needs a

roughly-handled

saw, a NO that is my first

response.

 

There is nothing for it.

Once born, I am skin and mind-

bound.

 

Then I remember God said and it was

very good.

 

How I would be

fresh from the water stone,

a keen blade slicing through

life, leaving no jagged open

seeping wound.

 

You would only feel the lightest

caress on your bare

skin, met, set

apart from all creation by your precious

unequalled existence.

 


The following came to me some time after I wrote this poem: while I do not keep kosher, I know that to minimize suffering to a permitted animal, a knife used for slaughtering must be extremely sharp,  is inspected both before and after the  slaughter, and must be applied in a single uninterrupted movement that does not tear tissues.

A night of small revelations

I was twelve when Cecil B. DeMille’s technicolor biblical spectacle left me wide-eyed in my neighborhood movie theatre: The Ten Commandments!  Last night I was in synagogue with family in Durham, North Carolina marking the Giving of Torah to the Jewish people: a night of small, nourishing and human-scale revelations.

The evening began with a group of Muslim guests and their imam standing with us around a Torah as the rabbi lovingly spoke about the centrality and holiness of the scroll. He described how the parchment is prepared, and the great care with which the writing is done. For example, should the scribe make an error in the writing of God’s name, that whole section of parchment must be unstitched from its neighbors. The text must be completely rewritten – without error – and then restitched in place.

I had never heard this bit before – about the unstitching, the rewriting, the restitching. At the same time, I was struck by the fact that the stories themselves are full of human error, human imperfections.

The Torah scroll unfolds the ultimate error-ridden, and unfinished, story. It opens with our common origins, the Creation, then traces the early generations of humankind who, within a matter of a few pages are banished from paradise to the labors of childbirth and working the land. We soon fall into envy, murder, and drunkenness. After the Flood God starts over. More generations of ill-will, jealousies and betrayals of one another and God. The Jewish people are enslaved, taken out of Egypt, receive a collective revelation – Torah, wander in the wilderness under the protection of God’s Cloud, and with Moses’ leadership. The scroll ends as God directs Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo to die, in view of the land he will never enter. Nor do we in the Biblical telling. It’s back to the beginning for us too.

Nevertheless, we learn, it is God’s nature to give, and humankind’s to receive.

And on the night of Shavuot, we receive by grappling with texts late into the evening.

We consider the power of the very letters and white spaces of the Torah scroll. We discuss commentaries from a half dozen sources on the meaning and power of blessing. We puzzle in discomfort over a contemporary Israeli poem suggesting that Torah itself will move on, will actually leave us. We wrestle with passages from the deeply mystical text of the Zohar that warn us not to take the stories as anything but garments which clothe the ultimately unknowable Mystery of God, yet also instruct us how to live and care for one another and the world.

I neither saw thunder nor heard lightening, as the Jewish people are said to have done at Sinai. No life-changing insight into myself or my own surely numerous errors of perception, belief, behavior.

But some dew settled on me, some nourishment, much fellowship, laughter, argument, provocation. For which I give thanks.


The banner image, Egg World,was painted by my dear friend Kristine Rasmussen, who knew how to delight in life better than most of us.

An antidote to the excesses of the day

This week I offer

an antidote

to certain excesses:

Truth

אֱמֶת

Pronounced: Eh-met

Read right to left, it is spelled Aleph – the 1st letter of the Hebrew alphabet

Mem – the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet

Tav, the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Truth is One Singular Thing from Beginning to Middle to End.

Show me One True Thing and I am yours forever.


 

More on Important Words: http://alifeofpractice.com/nondual-kabbalistic-healing/timeless-eternal-words-that-root-and-bloom-in-my-being/