This week’s reading is about reconciliation and enmity. About brothers reunited in one story and tribes launched into perpetual warfare in another: the seemingly endless cycle of killing in Israel/Palestine that we’ve lived with so long. It’s difficult to understand, but also important to hope for what seems most needed, fragile, and painfully elusive: shalom, peace.
For a fictionalized version of the Biblical story, read Anita Diamant’s excellent novel The Red Tent. Even knowing the outcome I found myself screaming at the pages, No don’t send them to negotiate! Send folks who understand love as well as war. For a more modern, non-fictionalized version of contemporary Middle East history, try The Lemon Tree. It’s by no means a perfect picture, but does try to show the tangled roots of the conflict.
We, in our smaller mirror, are also often locked in conflict, inside our psyches. You and you, wrestling with your core issues. But embracing the belief that if you could just do that one thing right, or at least better, your life would move forward much more as you want.
I believe in change. That we humans can improve, make progress: both for ourselves and in the outer world. Even if that’s just at the margins of a problem, or intermittently, change is possible. It takes the right mix of kavannah (deep intention), right action, and faith. We’ve certainly seen huge makeover successes. The no-longer smokers or alcoholics, or someone who’s challenged another addiction, whether it’s chocolate or heroin.
What does it take to put your inner enemy to rest? To both say and do This new me is how I will be, now and forward. To release all your muttering and preoccupation with what’s gone wrong, and refocus your energy on how things should be.
We’re too often afraid of change. We try to bribe the future, or whatever powers we pray to: Make it easy. Make it fast. Make it not hurt. Make me successful. Am I done yet? I call it the “wake up thin” fantasy.
Sadly it’s never that easy.
The twelve brothers in this story each represent aspects of self. Allies and mischief makers. The strong, sure, and committed. The stubborn, restless, and impulsive. The angry and entrenched. Some willing to come to the table, communicate, and accept the blessings and burdens of what must follow. Others experts at perpetual self-sabotage.
To really create change, you’ll need to harness this messy and complicated collection of voices.
Exercise for the week: Think about an issue in your life that feels intractable. Something you’ve been griping about for a long time. Shine the light of your knowing into the darkest corners of this problem. Name all your internal brothers, especially the ones you’re least happy about or proud of. Figure out which voices need to be better heard and understood and which are just old noise that’re preventing you from making progress.
Get that far, and listen for the good insights that will follow.