Back to basics: I appear to need a good talking-to at the head of this year. Even as I seek to bring kindness, respect, and truthfulness alive in my relationships and work, I see with fresh eyes in how many ways I have twisted myself around and inside out to stay safe.
So I need to remind myself what I’m about at my most sane, and it starts with including the gnarly parts of myself.
So, a few words about inclusion from a nondual perspective: about its origins and power in what I call the Radical Oneness of existence, or the universe, or reality.
Many spiritual traditions view the world in this way. My roots are in Kabbalah, the Jewish wisdom tradition. You could call this Oneness God, the One who Holds (as in He’s got the whole world in His hands), Reality, The Buddha-Nature, Isness, The Great Kindness, The Garment of Destiny, the Quantum Field. One of the Hebrew names used is The Place, Makom.
We humans, on the other hand, split the world. It is our nature. Hard-wired. For our survival.
We make distinctions: this/that, urban/rural, fashionable/out of style, essential/frivolous, normal, i.e.the norm/deviant. Then we go on to label them as “good” or “bad” and attempt to be/do/associate with the good-only. Or we inappropriately ride over, transcend, or erase differences, as in the view that we are a “post-racial” nation.
We do this splitting as we look out at the world. And we do this splitting as we look inward at ourselves.
We tend to include the parts of ourselves that we like – that are up to our standards of behavior or performance or skill or kindness or morality. And to exclude other parts we don’t like. For some of us, it’s the “good” parts we have trouble including, so we deny or minimize – that thing that I do, it’s not such a big deal. Or diminish ourselves in comparison to someone “better.” Or fall into the mantra, “not good enough, not good enough,not good enough.”
The inner critic manages to keep close track of these. So does the task-master. So does the one intent on personal or spiritual growth, who often teams up with the critic/taskmaster on one of the following strategies:
– trying to wheedle, charm, or ring self-acceptance out of us
– turning us into an un-ending self-improvement project by means of “letting go of” or “purifying” or “transcending” or “seeing as illusion”or otherwise getting rid/killing off the parts of ourselves we don’t like.
– shame: that is a category all its own.
Living in this gap between our idealized and our real self is a high-maintenance and exhausting job, all the more-so when we aren’t awake to it.
Nondual practice – rooted in Radical Oneness, turns our attention towards forging a path of deep self-acceptance and dedication to staying at our working edge. We do our best to listen to the intelligence of our strengths and limitations, the parts of ourselves that we like, the parts we hate or despair of, the parts we deny or minimize.
The more we can do this, include each of these parts, come into relationship with them, give them a place, the more wisdom we have access to, and the less our limitations are obstacles in our path.
The more we can do this, the more we live in the world as the size we actually are, neither inflating ourselves nor shrinking away from life. The more we can do this, the more we can be intelligent companions to all kinds of people, even those who who appear most different from us.
As we include our own gnarly differences, the ones so hard for us to tolerate, the more capable we are of creating a world hospitable and nourishing to all the varieties of humanity.
Inspired to explore further? Be in touch to schedule a 30-minute complementary conversation.
Banner photo: photo taken at exhibit of Chihuly Venetians from the George F. Stroemple Collection, Alamance Arts, Alamance, North Carolina
Falling down and getting up again is one of the hallmarks of the Nondual Kabbalistic Healing community that is my home.
This morning I fell down as a leader, and my healer-colleagues caught me.
And this is how it works among the imperfect humans that we are.
I always, always want to be at my best when I facilitate a meeting.
Clear intention. Clear agenda. Clear (preferably flawless) communication. Definitely flawless documents that reach participants in time to prepare. Show up knowing what I want, ready to state it and also make plenty of room for others to state their views. Open to learning and to changing my mind. But still, as a leader, I expect myself to be able to confidently say: we are going in this direction!
Oh, and presence. Taking in what is going on, considering it with wisdom, and…well, you get the picture (aka fantasy) in play here.
Today’s reality: unrelated to any meeting anxiety, I ‘d been awake since 3:00 am before this 8:30 meeting. Still recuperating from a respiratory bug, with a muzzy head and bleary eyes. With an unstable internet connection that could (and did) drop me from the meeting at any moment. I wasn’t the only one. A mom’s cancer surgery. A newborn grandson. A dog’s death. Everyone had Life going on.
One issue on the agenda – creating a Master Calendar for projects, was a big departure for this all-volunteer group’s working style. I expected a range of resistances to this proposal. There was none. On the contrary, people saw the need and how it would help. Exhale.
It had taken me a week to drop into how to frame a second major issue. That involved our vision for the community that we serve, and how to bring it alive in the biennial gathering we are planning for next summer. I felt very clear that offering attendees different creative ways to explore the theme of the gathering – movement, mask-making, a community mural – was the way to go. But in the service of what intention, with what goal? I was alarmed to find that as the chair I was coming up empty. I felt the best I could offer was an empty form. Ugh.
So here’s what happened.
My energies were low, my mind not too sharp, my level of presence questionable. I simply could not run the meeting in whatever my usual style is. This left room for different conversations and inventiveness. Many dots were connected about how this could support that. Oh and of course the theme of the meeting could play out in this inspired way so it was really an integrated part of the whole. And oh this and that person have wonderful artistic specialties they might offer. In fact, that community resourcefulness is precisely what we want to harbor at the big gathering. Oh!
Lesson of the day: I was off my game, and this made room for fresh movement, new information, originality, heartfelt desires, initiative, skills, engagement. What a rich stew. An outcome that helped me get up, and left all of us uplifted, and in awe of one another.
I became useful in a different way when I fell down – off my own standards for myself. My colleagues picked me up and the whole committee enterprise too. Next time you feel off your game, consider you might be making room for something wholly new and brilliant to emerge. Including enlivened trust and intimacy in your group.
I have been asked from time to time in my nondual healing studies – usually as I try to avoid one of my personal demons by pinning down some new piece of understanding, knowledge or skill: “What is it you are trying to solve?”
The “answer” to this question is not a statement, but another question – what I call a motive question, because it is one that moves us powerfully – and unconsciously – into action over and over again throughout our lives.
A motive question makes its presence known in our lives as we repeatedly circle around frustrations, guilts, and disappointments. It dogs us through serial (if monogamous) relationships, work lives, creative endeavors, week-end workshops, pilgrimages, marches.
In the past few days, inspired by the courage and vulnerability of my healing colleagues, I have once again taken up that question: What am I trying to solve as I live my life? It has ushered me deep into weeping with loneliness. I have explored this loneliness before through poetry about my very early life, but I rarely allow it to arrive so fully in my consciousness or my body.
I could say that my motive question is: How can I live so that I avoid feeling this loneliness? Many other voices and opinions chime in. Some sow delight in my being, others plague. I write down what each has to say. Eventually they drop into song together, a refrain of yearning and commitment, a truth-filled response to my motive question:
It’s odd and instructive how a word or a phrase can lodge, a seed in my being, send its roots down, and ultimately bloom.
“With” is one of those words, and it carries the essence and power of Mother.
Staywithme here. This isn’t your dinner order preposition, as in “I’ll have the ravioli with marinara sauce.” Or one of the common public conversation identifiers of the day, as in “I’m with her.” That’s the grammatical role of a preposition in speech: to establish a relationship between two things.
See what happens when you just let “with” roll around slowly in your mouth, in your being, as a flavorof relationship.
What sensations, feeling-state, associations arise?
What nourishment is there for your receiving?
Does it feel personal, as if it is meant just for you?
Does it feel somehow timeless and eternal?
Some mix of the two?
“With” as the essential nature and essence of Mother has been with me for several decades, since early on in my training as a nondual Kabbalistic healer.
ii. ”the held-back goodness of the heart”
“the held-back goodness of the heart” leaped off the page* and took hold of me last week. Perhaps because these days I am so aware of my stash and the unwelcome Withholding One in me who I repeatedly exile to the unheated anteroom of my life.
There are nuances to my withholding, each supported by an assumption.
reserved: goodness I set aside, a vintage wine I am willing break out for occasions that meet my personal standard for worthiness.
saved up: goodness is “mine,” I have mistakenly concluded, and therefore is in limited and nonrenewable supply.
salted away: goodness is seasonal, reckons the squirrelly part of me. It comes and goes, and I’d better collect it when I can. Hmm, so it is not mine exactly.
stockpiled, hoarded: similar to salted away, but infused with dread that some peculiar Edward Gorey-like event will forever seal me off from any access to goodness.
Notice that the nuances are in my withholding. Goodness itself is unchanging. It doesn’t vary in quality or go bad, like those food storage experiments lingering at the back of the fridge.
Notice that scarcity arises from my misunderstanding that I am the only source of goodness. The Sane One in me wholeheartedly testifies that goodness is both boundless and ever-present.
Goodness itself is mine, part and parcel of my imperfect human life and even my personality, yet not something I personally own.
With: timeless and eternal, how I am nourished and nourish others.
Mother: timeless and eternal, no matter what.
*The phrase is from Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael), co-author with David Kopacz MD of Walking the Medicine Wheel, Healing Trauma and PTSD. Thanks to my dear writing buddy Deborah Green for gifting me with the book.
Those of you who have been drawn to this tribe of Good Enough human beings have told me that you appreciate the perspective of A Life of Practice with its focus on becoming not more perfect but more human. Over the past year you have responded especially to posts that offered open-hearted personal stories and models of how to engage with practice in daily moments both challenging and celebratory. I greatly appreciate your traveling with me, and your comments along the way.
The central prayer of Jewish worship is known as the Shma: Shma Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. I learned this prayer as a kid in Sunday school, where it was translated as: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Another and quite accurate translation is: Listen, you who wrestle with God, Reality is One Thing.
In NKH, we throw everything up against this statement. I mean, everything.
Whatever limitation or wart you want to leave out: include.
Whatever the shadow cast by the brilliant sunbeams of your latest inspiration: include.
Whatever you cannot bear turning away from in disgust: include. Include even your turning-away.
Because all those things we edit out or orphan: they haunt us.
They too want to come in out of the cold.
This is the radical practice of Oneness, the alchemical power of Kabbalistic Healing, and the heart of A Life of Practice.
This Oneness is not prescriptive: how human life should be in some idealized or actualized state, some Golden Age past or future.
This Oneness is descriptive: true to how life actually is, lived on the ground, in the mind and imagination, in the heart, in the soul.
This Indivisible Oneness is a fabric embellished by the moments of our One Life
Some of those moments feel like shining, precious gems, others like bird droppings. Yet all are adornments. One Life. NKH’s radical practice of Oneness invites me to make use of everything I am and experience, a potent compost that nourishes and sustains a life of practice.
Practice is our faithful and trustworthy ally on the journey – because we do still need to journey within the One.
The “journey” is then our gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the Presence of God, to Reality, to our own glories and limitations, an integration of our split-off parts, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
Me and my practice – we keep moving with the movement of life.
And on we dance, awake and awakening, healed and healing.
How are you faring in your “journey”?
What have you accepted? How have you changed?
What have you brought in from the cold? What remains huddling outside?
Something about the quality and design elements of this sweater captured me the first time I saw it in the catalogue. The rich earth and sky colors. The embroidered, what? –ladders, tracks, pieces of fence one could climb through; a boundary, but a permeable one?
Each one of these has been a metaphor for practice, given me a different map for my spiritual journeying – a ladder that connects earth and heaven, a path through wilderness and confusion, a way of understanding the vital importance of boundaries that do not wall off life, but let Reality, let God, shine and move through.
For close to twenty years, I was devoted to climbing the ladder, and with poor understanding at that. I was just trying a “spiritual” way to escape from my body and the demands of material life, a life where I felt cut off and isolated even from myself.
I have been enlightened, enlivened, and comforted to find in the Jewish wisdom tradition a map of interpenetrating worlds and multiple paths of knowledge.
This map guides me as I come into relationship with life as it is showing up, with how I am showing up in life, with who I am. This map has brought home to me that relationship itself is the fundamental thread that weaves together all of life. Like a fine lambswool sweater.
From the viewpoint of this depiction of the Kabbalistic universes, even as we journey, we simultaneously live in the presence of all creation. We live in multiple and interpenetrating universes, states of consciousness or soul, often represented as concentric circles, each world surrounding and filling those within it. It is Reality itself, the Presence of God itself, that is the fabric of all.
At any given moment, however, I go through life splitting the world. I limit the amount of reality that I allow to a level of suffering – and joy – that I can bear. I selectively split off and selectively awake, living in one or two of these worlds only.
The “journey” is then our gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the reality of the universes, to our own glories and limitations, a re-unification, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
This understanding fuels my patience to keep working on myself, while I also deeply claim who I am just as I am. To live a life that is not more perfect, but more human. To be willing to be, forever, a work in progress.
The world of doing…
The world of Doing (Hebrew: Assiyah) circumscribes a material world of objects that act upon one another, behaviors utterly without introspection. When split off from the other worlds, what we might call Doing-only, our relationships are black or white: no gray areas. People are objects, either with us or against us, friends or enemies. The body is an object, and we look for silver bullets to fix us. God is far away, at times absent, and our prayers range from the ritual and magical to supplication and bargaining across an otherwise unbridgeable gap.
Separateness is a hallmark of this world. Yet when transparent to the worlds that surround and fill it, our material, physical life is stable and dynamic, preciousness and beauty are everywhere, even in suffering, and we have a deep sense of being at home in the world.
The world of formation…
The world of Formation (Hebrew: Yetzirah) circumscribes a world of self-reflection and story-making, a quantum leap into a realm where the personal unconscious awakens. Our relationships shift as we begin to explore the motivation and intent of our own and others’ behaviors. Most of us spend the majority of our waking and dream life in this state.
This world takes its name from our devotion to “forming” and shaping meaning, understanding and insight out of what life brings us. We have broken out of the trance-like consciousness of Doing-only, and become seekers. The spiritual journey is born here. Personal story is crafted here.
Relationships are more nuanced – we find a single person may be friend, ally, enemy. We can disagree without going to war. Here we can begin to work through the knots of family history and personality. We may plumb what ails an organ of the body for its metaphoric value, and see how words as well as herbs and medicines can heal. Our prayers shift to encompass acceptance, gratitude, thanksgiving, guidance, and mystery. God may be a Friend and Companion.
This all sounds pretty good, right? Progress, freeing, much to celebrate. And many paths culminate here.
But this world when split off remains suffused with duality. In a world of Story-only, we live more responsibly and with growing freedom and skillful means. Yet our relationships remain captive to unceasing comparison, weighing every distinction as good or bad, as it affects our personal safety and well-being. Self judgment, and all of the varied ways we make ourselves larger or smaller than we are thrive in Story-only.
The world of creation…
The world of Creation (Hebrew: Briah) circumscribes a universe of spacious possibility, where we make another quantum leap, this time from the personal unconscious to the nondual and fully human where each person and object is simply itself and takes its place in the whole of reality, distinct and in relationship.
It is through persisting in our personal work in the Universe of Formation that we come into this Briatic relationship with the fullness of our own humanity. Honesty and kindness begin to shine through more and more. We become the size that we actually are, both awakened and still waking up to all that is present in our life.
Conflict does not disappear. But the heat of friction subsides. Cause and effect are understood as a single unified event. Here we pray with complete honesty, however we need to pray.
We can and do split this world off too. In Creation-only we leave behind the body, heart and psychology that make us truly human. We paper over our problems, dissociate from, or actively try to transcend the body, the “Lower Self,” and war. We seek a place of unchanging peace and harmony – precisely what I was after when I was climbing the spiritual ladder.
As we become more and more established in the nondual, in life as it is and as we are, the nature of effort changes. We are not so much seeking, ferreting out, making meaning. Rather we become willing creatures moving and in relationship with the never-ending changes that life brings. We don’t so much use as embody our skillful means. We arrive at right action not only because we have become more discerning of intellect and heart, but because our sense of self is now both personal and not.
The world of emanation…
The world of Emanation (Hebrew: Atzilut) circumscribes a world before there is a world we can even conceive of, a universe of undivided oneness that pre-exists separateness. This universe is essentially unknowable to us, yet is our source and foundation, a mystery that suffuses our material world, emotional and psychological being, and our most honest, kind and enlightened state.
The map that draws us home…
Each of us is delivered at birth into the center of these universes, a separate being wholly dependent on our caretakers, who both tend and fail us in their humanity.
The spiritual “journey” is a gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the reality of the universes, to our own glories and limitations, a re-unification, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
I like to think that what sets us off on this journey – what accounts for the yearning, the wrestling, the ultimate willingness to engage and persist – is the Undivided Oneness that is right here, not yet fully known to me, tickling me and pulling me forward and back.
The map is vital to me not as a shiny or magical key, but because it draws me to notice what is here, and just that noticing brings me into relationship with my life. Hold too tightly to the map, and I risk thinking I can stop the movement of life. So I hold it lightly, and the map brings me more deeply into the territory of who I am, and how life is.
I know this about myself: I treasure this map. Especially for those times when I lose heart. Without help, I may not even be able to locate myself – but I trust the map, I trust Reality. And that Reality teaches me there is no failure, that my inherent optimism about our capacity for healing and wholeness is not a delusion, and that even as I am convinced I am confused and lost, that I am held and safe in the mystery.
An invitation to reflect, draw or journal…
Wherever you are on your journey, what if you trusted that you are being pulled toward the center of your own existence, your home, the heart-intelligence of Reality, the Indwelling Presence of God?
What if you trusted that coming into relationship with your very human self, warts and all, is not an obstacle, but the very vehicle to take you home?
How would that change your relationship to yourself? to others? to God? to your journeying?
Is there anything we want more than to know ourselves and to be comfortable in our own skin? in our own life? to be ourselves? to re-member our wholeness?
Is there anything more difficult than to see ourselves as we are, to see life as it is, to persevere in this exhilarating and terrifying effort?
Most of us have a strong preference, even a habit, of relying on honesty, or falling back on kindness on our healing and awakening journey. But unless we draw on both, we are likely to get bogged down, off track, or lose heart altogether, running from angry ghosts or chasing after angels.
Honesty without kindness is brutal.
We see our faults and limitations, act as judge and jury. We mete out penalties. Or we simply turn ourselves over to a taskmaster whose job it is to bring us up to snuff, into conformity with some idealized version of ourselves. We cut ourselves no slack. All while knowing we wouldn’t treat our friends this way.
Kindness without honesty leaves us complacent.
We let ourselves off the hook, unable or unwilling to see the trail of unhappiness our behaviors leave behind us. We strand ourselves in fantasy.
The truth of any situation is that we are mixed and mixed up, imperfect human beings.
Honesty roots us deeply into reality. Kindness waters the roots.
As we take the help of both honesty and kindness, we can cease shrinking away, turn directly into our life as it is, look directly into the mirror and see ourselves as the wholeness we already are. This is the heart of healing and awakening. This is the heart of ALife of Practice.
by Sara Eisenberg
no upraised arm,
no torch aloft,
no golden door,
no frank welcome.
just me standing guard,
close by the only sign of vacancy:
a tent slit flapping in the night wind.
the timid and the raging,
creatures graceful, one-eyed, or many-toed:
I might, from grudge or curiosity,
inquire into each one’s country
and allow in a likeness.
when I can bear to name
grant it ground
that is not for rent, for sale, for land-grab;
permit it entry without
bath, deodorant, change of clothing;
give up my ragged belongings
and vain efforts to secure them;
then each dark distinction that longs to return
is belonging itself.