Hooray for my intro to oil painting class, which focuses on process: the getting ready, preparing the palette, and the stroke by stoke doing. The careful application of layers of color, each of which changes what has gone before, bringing it forward and transforming it, helping it evolve and emerge.
It’s all about pacing, and, against all my instincts, about patience. Like the moon, waxing and waning in a regular rhythm. Not the fits and starts of impulse alternating with denial and procrastination. Breathe in/breath out; look/stroke; breathe in/breathe out; look/stroke. Watch the change.
That’s at the core of this weeks reading. After the last plague (the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn) and even before the Jews leave Egypt, they’re given their first mitzvah (instruction) about how to organize their new lives: to establish and live by a lunar calendar. It’s a primal rhythm, and one that requires us to look outside ourselves. It lays down a bass line for both timekeeping and for ritual, and establishes a potent metaphor about what’s growing, emerging and possible, and what it is time to forgo and bid goodbye.
Egypt is a metaphor for our heart. The place where we hold pain. We’re used to keeping it safe, even if that seals in what we should release. We can stay locked in slavery to old hurts for a long, long time, until the cycle eventually shifts. Metaphorical centuries before we find liberation, or the first slice of moon in the sky.
We’re used to the rhythm of our solar days. Wake up and do in the light; rest and dream in the dark. A lunar calendar shifts our perspective. Teaches us that whatever’s lousy or hard will shift, and that whatever’s good may also transform, even if that path is not a smooth and reliable arc.
The moon helps us to think about eternity. Nothing more waxing than being born nor more waning than death in the karmic calendar. But we want progress in this life. Rarely Boddhisatva enough to appreciate how our struggles also help us move through our soul calendar.
The moon’s a visual of expansion and contraction pushing against one other, daring and forcing the shifts. Cycles of learning, getting centered, screwing up again, and starting over. Time after time.
But whether the cycles are fast or slow, by their very repetition they teach us we are not stuck. That no matter how hard we are tested and how long it takes for things to shift, eventually they will. That slavery can transmute into freedom. That the heart can and will eventually choose healing.
Our job is to get into the flow. To find the right speed for the circumstances we find ourselves in. For those of us whose “slow” is 3rd gear, it can be exhausting to take things way, way down. To look so deeply within that time seems to stop.
When we look up into the sky we can see the moon waxing and waning, a metronome to our process. Eventually, we get more of something right. We become ready to move on. To choose freedom. To leave the old crap behind and test ourselves on the waters ahead.