Blessings and More: TorahCycle Vayechi

HerTwelveTribesWe’re brimming over with gifts, especially this time of year. Even my peers who have forsworn No more stuff! can’t help ourselves. There’s always one more bottle of wine or limoncello, or a delicacy of salt, vinegar, or baked goods to exchange. Our cupboards overflow with abundance, all the while we’re trying to empty out, bringing donations to food banks and sending old favorites to thrift shops and new wearers.

We love exchanging gifts and blessings, sharing our things and thoughts. But in the parlance of corporate-speak: Is this their best and highest use? How can we best of what we bring to the world promote growth and healing, for ourselves and others?

We recently celebrated Hanukkah, lighting one more candle each night eight times, celebrating the miracle of abundance and light. On that last evening of bright light, some of us felt an undertone of sadness shadowing the joy of celebration. It was an echo of the Game of Thrones refrain Winter is coming…, a warning that light can be subsumed by dark forces, and that we need to move beyond rituals to keep it alive. It’s a reminder of our responsibility to continue the memory of an ancient miracle with the hard work in our daily lives.

Rituals matter, and help reinforce soul commitments. But actions of observance and the rhetoric of prayer can be hollow if they are not backed up with kavannah, deep intention, the rest of the year. Our daily choices and actions are the biggest miracle we can conjure. They’re generally a lot less fun to practice, and without the fun of celebration and presents, lights and good cheer, it can be harder to conjure the energy to stay on track. Many a person trying to give up smoking, rich foods, or alcohol can backslide when results are slow and temptations are more abundant than rewards and changes.

This week’s reading is all about Jacob blessing his sons. It’s a chance to remind yourself of all the strength and goodness you carry within you, all the assets that will sustain you when hard times and darkness come, as they will, or a chosen goal seems so very far out of reach.

Next week we will begin Exodus, the book of being in and then leaving slavery. Mitzrayim, the pace of constriction is a chance to up the ante on yourself. But now, this week, is a wonderful time to remember all the abundant blessings with which you have been endowed. They’ll not only sustain you but help to liberate you.

As you greet the new year, take some time from the nachos and bowl games to do an inventory of the tools and gifts you have at your disposal. They’ll help you reach your goals, whatever they are. On any given day they might help you earn a living, find a sweetheart, or heal an old wound. Think about your intellect, your emotional intelligence, your adaptability and your willingness to work and help. Your spirituality and your physicality. Your heart and feelings. Your senses of humor, compassion, generosity, and curiosity. Think about your genetics and your karmic assets. Each is a blessing that will help you grow into the you that you want to become.

Finding Your Way: TorahCycle Vayigash

Vayigash 2014Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: It seemed like a great idea at the time. You have all these hopes. It’s inspirational to think you have found “the one,” “the answer,” or at that you’re making if not the finest decision of your life, at least the right and best one for that time. One that’ll have great outcomes. Make you happier, healthier, richer, wiser, whatever quest you are on and hope to make a great leap forward pursuing. If you’re in peril or danger, there’s that special relief that you’ve found sanctuary: happily ever after, lush fields, safe home, goats in every yard, and grain for every pot. Good luck with that.

Life is cyclical: this week’s harbor will become next month’s prison. Now we’re being welcomed by a long-lost brother; soon we will be slaves. That’s Torah. In real life, events usually take longer to unfold, and situations are rarely as dire, thought they can feel like it, which helps ready us for the yet next shift.

Torah is a metaphor for evolution. The morals of the next sections: You have to be ready and willing to change to actually change. It may feel great in the beginning but it gets harder. There’s rough stuff and tough times to get through. Freedom and evolution are great goals. Getting there requires hard work. And then more hard work. It’ll feel better before it gets worse, and eventually better again. The in-between matters. How you do it helps determine when you land.

We have one more chapter in Genesis. Remember this all started with creation. From the void till now, we’ve gone through several cycles of starting over, as a species, families, and individuals. We screwed up before, and are likely to do it again. But if we’re living in good faith, trying to improve, to do better each time around, if we’re paying attention to the lessons and continuing to do our homework, the process is worth it. We may never get where we think we want to go. But each new there will teach us what we next need to learn.

For now, we’re choosing to go down into Egypt. To the place that looks good, for now. Like the new love who offers rescue from lonely evenings, or the job that promises income and advancement, Egypt seems like a sure bet. The reading is optimistic: Joseph is united with his family and they’re invited to move in. Smiles, handshakes, and toasting abound.

Part of the message: before you start engaging with new deep work, make peace with as much of your history as you can. The less you’re packing, the better off you’ll be when you enter the murky, mucky parts.

It’s all a mirror of the healing process, however you go about doing it. This is a powerful time to take stock. Not just the end-of-year best and worst lists. But a soul level, What am I working on and How’m’I gonna do it? kind. Asking and answering will serve you well in the times to come.

Letting It Go: TorahCycle Miketz

Miketz 2014The old adage goes, Revenge is a dish best served cold. That suggests it’s better to be tough (so you are not hurt again) and cunning (until you can get even). Not good for anyone, including those who’ve been hurt. Ditto for immediate responses of anger, physical violence, and words that cannot be unspoken. All set us on a path to unhappiness, disease, dis-ease, and a generalized sense that the world is an unfriendly, even hostile, environment.

But hurt is a heavy burden. You know the difference between the lightness you feel when you are joyous and the weight sadness brings to your soul. In the movie 21 Grams, that miniscule amount is the difference between a living person and their empty husk. Would it be more on a very bad day?

Other than spirit itself, what weights a soul? Wounds, sadness, anger, regret, unrequited longing, unhappy memories, words spoken and not, scars of body, mind, and heart.

The grudges and hurts of a lifetime form a subliminal refrain. Something your parent or a teacher said. The ex you can’t get over. A bad review, criticism from a friend, a mistake you can’t forgive yourself for making, the chance you didn’t take. It all festers. Whether we want revenge, oblivion, or another chance, we’re unlikely to get it this time around. We need forgiveness, from and to ourselves and others.

In this week’s reading, Joseph, now a governor of Egypt, looks down from his dais at the very brothers who sold him into slavery. They’ve come petitioning for sanctuary and grain.

What’s a guy to do? Embrace and thank them for initiating events that brought him to high position? Or hide behind the masks of office and test them, see if they are worthy of his help?

It’s the rare person who would choose the former. But bearing a grudge keeps him caught in a dark place too. He escaped the pit and slavery, but they cast a shadow on his soul. The forgiveness he is working on towards those who wronged him will benefit him as much as those who treated him badly.

Often times we bury our wounds in our bodies. We encapsulate them emotionally but they fester in our aching backs or sour tummies. They simmer, keeping us unbalanced, hurting, and unavailable to be fully present

It’s amazing what letting go of old pain can do to heal us. Recent studies have shown that memory transfers cellularly to future generations. So lineages of abuse and trauma get multiplied. What if we infected one another with forgiveness and goodness instead?

Q: How can we interrupt the cycle? A: No revenge: cold, warm, or otherwise. Keep releasing the anger, grief, and sadness, no matter how old or seemingly small. Remember it; look at it and let it go; then sweep out of your soul. Rinse and repeat. You’ll know when you’re clean.

From Peter Heller’s new novel The Painter:

      It’s not possible to hold that much pain.

There was a silence and then she said, Even the earth rests. The moon swims up, thin as grass, and the stars, and you can see every one. It is a much quieter song.


Which Now?: TorahCycle Vayashav

JosephThe old Zen instruction goes simply: chop wood, carry water. The occasional crisis notwithstanding, most of us live simply much of the time. In ancient times we were shepherds and farmers, busy herding and tilling, hoping the wolves stayed away. Now we go to work, hang with friends/family, cheer for our favorite teams, generally live a comfy, settled reality. Then, just when things seem sorta predictable, along comes something or someone to shake us up, challenge us, make us move out of our comfort zone, sometimes for love, curiosity, or adventure, and others kicking and screaming every step of denial along the way.

In this week’s reading we’re given the Marvel-worthy tale of a pesky younger brother, a dreamer, sure he’s the handsomest and smartest guy in the room. To make it worse, he’s foretelling upheaval and doom, the end of life as we know it.

The Joseph story is so wonderful because despite all the crap that’s done to him, it’s a story of survival and eventual triumph. His and maybe our own. He has amazing access and prescience, chaneling the signals, hints, and whispers that are all around us into the story of what’s coming, even if we can’t see it on our path.

He’s sold into slavery by his own brothers, narrowly escaping death. I see him lowered into the pit in the hands-up/don’t shoot position. Surrendering to a fate that no one would choose but is clearly his road. If you can foretell what follows, maybe it’s not so bad. if you’re the one in the pit, it must suck.

Biblical Hebrew has no tenses. It’s all a matter of interpretation. Was it then or is it now or will it become? Are you in the pit, climbing out, or does it loom ahead?

In real time our winter (like-a-bear-wants-to-be-hibernating) self is responding to all manner of December distractions. The go out/stay in rumblings fighting it out. And just as we officially declare the season of wood stoves, cocoa, and great books, the ratio of light to dark is shifting to brighter, a fraction of a day at a time. Pure cognitive dissonance. Are we trying to climb in or out?

There’s a great holiday in a couple months to celebrate “when the sap remembers to being to rise.” In the meantime, it’s still dreaming in the roots. The Joseph story says, this is the time to deeply listen. To become a little more prescient, to hear the secrets and portents the universe is whispering in your ear, about what is and will be, now and in times to come.

Use what you are told, so that when light shifts into spring you will emerge into your new, sappier, self. The one who spent winter listening, watching, cogitating, and ripening, letting all your guides and muses pour insight into your ears and soul. Be that you. The one who sees what’s coming as though it were now.

Because it’s all about tense. Past present future now. What the Buddhas and cosmologists tell us is true. Everything is present. Whether you’re a prince or in the pit can be a matter of perspective and attitude. And when it’s not, all the more reason to listen up and pay good attention.

On the Mat: TorahCycle Vayishlach

Vayishlach 2014There’s a great idea in theoretical physics called quantum entanglement. The scientifics involve polarity and spin but also lead to my more metaphysical interpretation: once a person, place, or thing has touched/interacted with another, both remain connected at the quantum level. The moral: we’re all part of a system that grows and changes as we evolve and as we believe. We’re all in this struggle together.

We’re responsible for knowing that, for our thoughts and actions, and for how we treat one another. Good makes better happen; evil creates pain and sadness. Assume everyone else wants what you do: more love, health, freedom, safety, bursts of joy, a happy daily life, a satisfied tummy, with some music and poetry thrown in for grace. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all entangle like that.

In this week’s reading Jacob is on his way to reconcile with the brother he wronged. His shadow. His other. How much resistance will that require overcoming?

The reading is about integration. About how your yin and yang fit together. What’s the classic wrestling picture? Opposing feet planted inside one another; arms in shoulder lock. What’s it really about? The intensity of trying to create balance and equilibrium when opposing aspects of self are used to running the show. Or so they think.

Our lives are universes of possibilities. Which one we choose and our response to that choice (emotional, rational, spiritual, and material) is what we’re really wrestling over. Do we really want a 50/50 life? When we fall in love it’s more like 90% happy, crazy, lovesickness and 10% everything else, until we return to reality and want a more grounded relationship. A healing protocol you embrace only 60% is unlikely to lower your cholesterol or blood sugar enough.

Every option will teach you something. Guide you somewhere. Take you to your next level of lessons.

This reading reminds you it’s time to do your work again. Whatever it is and whatever state of evolution you’ve achieved. To do better and do it again. To wrestle and struggle with whatever your piece of the cosmic puzzle is until you know you’ve done the best you can. At least for now.

You will get changed and  may get damaged a long the way. A symbolic limp’s a small price to pay for the transformation. Proof of progress.

Going toe-to-toe with karma is good for us. Whether your shadow takes the form of your spouse, ex, boss, friend, or self, the wrestle-through-the-night challenges strip away your boundaries and resistances as you struggle and sweat.

How I do with my stuff and how you do with yours helps or hinders how we all do and the context we do it in. It all matters. Because every part of the process generates more sparks and more energy and more entanglement. It’s a leveler in the best of ways; we are each evolving. The struggle becomes part of our story. The whole of us.

Dawn comes when the work you are doing feels different. You’ll keep trying things that way until you realize it’s time to try to change it again. That’s what all the rolling and re-rolling of the scrolls is about: us wrestling with ourselves, seeking entanglement with one another.


The Real You: TorahCycle Vayetze



Anyone who’s ever spent a night tossing with insomnia knows the hunger for sleep. Those with scary nightmares long for the light of day, while those enjoying glorious Technicolor dreams are in the twilight we can too rarely conjure. Both are places where we’re instructed and guided in the often cryptic and magical language of dreams.

One theory of dream analysis postulates that everyone and everything in your dream is an aspect of you. That it’s a play for and about you, created by your higher self, your unconscious, subconscious, guides, whatever messengers you believe in, all of whom are fabricating an intricate drama–fantastical, threatening, comic, and/or challenging–often built from the characters and detritus of your daily life. Dreams are trying to get your attention. Encouraging you to examine them, from whatever pieces that you can remember.

Some people train more and better recall with a dream journal, recording each remembered fragment. Others claim not to dream at all. Most of us are in the middle, intrigued and occasionally disturbed by faint and incomplete images that escape like smoke between our waking breaths.

Often we’re left with the lingering feeling that we’ve been told something very i.m.p.o.r.t.a.n.t., and that we have a responsibility not just to remember the dream, as crazy or strange as it may seem in ordinary reality, but to interpret whatever messages it’s asking us to understand. To dig beneath the metaphor, camouflage, and irony, catastrophe or black humor, silly puns, strange sounds, and outright instructions in which the dream gods often cloak themselves.

Their messages aim at the various layers of you, at the archeology of your soul. It’s like stripping away layers of old linoleum floors in a rehab house. But in this case it’s the strata of your past, present, and possible futures. I pay special attention when former residences or dead relatives show up, or with images that become especially important if I find myself clearly engaging with them (as opposed to just watching like it’s someone else’s movie).

This week’s reading includes Jacob’s ladder. Angels ascending and descending while he sleeps with his head on a rock. Coming and going with messages, instructions, blessings, and gifts. In the morning he calls it HaMakom, The Place.

HaMakom is the place of understanding, the moment when the messages make sense. When you know with certainty what your dream is telling you and how you’re supposed to proceed. When the landscape of part/present/future gives you perspective on all directions and all possibilities. HaMakom helps you marry insight to consciousness and know how to proceed.

Most of us return to waking life less clear about following through. I remember shouting loudly to an advising guide last week: I can’t! It’s too hard!! That kind of dream is easy to remember in the light of day, and then to examine my own resistance.

Why refuse to accept such clear instruction? Because we don’t live in The Place. We’re distracted by friends, football, turkey, pumpkin pie, and a zillion alternatives to doing what we’re being told to do.

Which is the real you? The dreamer or the one who wakes in the morning? How can you find your HaMakom?

That Other Me: TorahCycle Toldot


As a front piece to her new book Small Victories, Anne Lamott cites a Billy Collins poem, In the Evening, the last line of which is And the past and the future?/Nothing but an only child with two different masks.

That’s this week. The yin and yang of us. The cunning and the simple one. The compassionate one; the selfish one. The wise and the innocent, calculating and trusting aspects of self. Dualities we’ve had imaged for us since Cain and Abel. You and that other you. Me and that other me. Nothing but us playing with different masks. Putting on the play of our lives.

Who’s running your show in any given moment is a matter of circumstance, habit, and sometimes intention. Some is trainable, amenable to growth. Other ingredients will stick in place for another lifetime or three. If you’re a witness to your own development, you’re probably aware what energies you’re running on and working on, and at least some of the what you stub your toe on regularly.

Eons ago I worked on a project to live “with greater awareness and intention.” On the clumsy, foolish days, I wanna ask How’s that going for ya, honey? But on the good ones, the ones filled with gratitude and wonder, I feel so very lucky to be doing that particular part of the puzzle.

My holiday wishes for us all, May you have many, many more of the good days. And may you understand clearly what the bad days are trying to teach you.

These readings offer us vivid examples of acting from desire and greed, and from nobility and compassion. We’re all of those things, depending on the day. Torah’s a mirror asking us to look at which one we’re being now, so that we can up the ante on our game.

Our attitude and point of view is almost always situational and relative. Even when we get to the big picture, a ten-thousand foot view of where we are in our evolution, it’s hard to hold onto. Our understanding scatters when we’re faced with crises or difficult outcomes. One more time we find “that other me” acting out or pushing boundaries. The big insight is knowing that it’s to help us better understand the lessons we’re here to work on.

We’re rarely appreciative. But karma’s such a patient process.

Physicists tell us that a huge percent of the universe is “dark matter”– the stuff we cannot see that probably makes everything we can see function as it does. To me it’s soul matter, directing the reality we live in. NPR had a story the other day about mitchondrial DNA. It’s what make our cells run; a mere 27 genes out of 20,000 plus, but they function like a battery or energetic motivation. So it’s especially important to pay very close attention when that other you–your inner Esau–the one you’re not always in such a rush to claim–acts out and does something stupid or short-sighted.

Because that’s how our othernesses get our attention. By starting fires in and under us. It’s our job to look at them and listen to them. And to to choose our next steps carefully and wisely.

Till Death Do Us Part: TorahCycle Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah 2013People with relationship issues tend to fall into one of two categories: How do I find and keep a good one? How do I change or dump a bad one? There are auxiliary questions of romance relating to finding/losing/mourning one’s true love. And a zillion issues related to communications, money, messiness, honesty, household chores, and bloopers.

I do know a handful of remarkable relationships. The sort we were weaned to believe in. The decades-long partnerships where both halves have grown and evolved in love and support of one another. Sure, they argue and disagree on matters great and small, but the testing anneals the bond rather than breaking it. It’s admirable and enviable.

Why don’t the rest of us have it? Why’s it so hard to find and nurture the connections that challenge, nourish, and enhance our bodies and souls in equal measure?

I wish I had easy answers.

Every single person who’s looking for a relationship has their own version of “the list.” Qualities that Mr. or Ms. Unknown will have as basic part of their core DNA, lifestyle, and character. The pretty much standard ones (in an order reflecting any given moment) are sensuality, integrity, intelligence, spirituality, communications, financial stability, and senses of humor, honor, curiosity, and common sense. A friend one told me one of hers was “forthright,” which I interpret in part as an absence of passive aggressive or whiny tendencies. The ability to disagree and not hold a grudge or desire to prove one’s point.

My own summary is Someone who appreciates my best qualities and tolerates my worst ones with patience and humor. (And hopefully agree on which is which.

Because let’s face it, we have gnarly places. Ways we respond when life doesn’t go our way. Attitudes and behaviors that make us and/or our loved ones crazy. I’m not talking about serious maladies like substance abuse, or petty annoyances like knuckle-cracking. More retreating to a gloomy corner or the frustrating ward-off of cheerful denial. The kinds of traits that make you feel a loved one is either remote or clueless.

This week’s reading has a servant sent on a mission to choose Isaac’s wife. What seals the deal is her compassion. That’s setting the bar at the right place. Because when the hot sensuality is less frequent and times are tough, what you want, or should, is someone who has the grace to approach life (and you) with equanimity and a sense of caring.

For your sake I hope you’ve had at least one great love. The kind that shakes your soul to the core. A red-hot, zappy, can’t keep your hands off one another that lasts until the end. A love you so much my heart hurts kind of romance.

But I also hope you’ve met the person who satisfies your list. The one you want standing by you in the daylight, both when life seems hard and you can’t make it through alone, and in times when you’re happy and excited about the possibilities life is offering.

Partners like that should be well-loved. I hope you are one and appreciate or find yours.

Knock, Knock: TorahCycle Vayeira

Vayeira 2014Much of lot of Torah is about recognizing and responding to messengers. Messengers and messages that come in various forms. It’s easy to imagine holy messengers looking like white-robed angels. In fact, the Hebrew word for angels is malachim, which translates as messengers.

They come bearing news and pronouncements, instructions and even commands, both joyous and dire. They’re interpreted as performing divine errands. But they’re not on call to you. When you might want them to save or guide you, they can be absent or silent, no matter how much you search, ask or plead.

Who do you listen to then?

This week’s reading has several important moments, with messengers and otherwise. It’s almost a distillation of Torah, framing questions about who one listens to when, how far one is willing to go (in obedience to a god or a spouse), and the generational consequences of those decisions.

In the ultimate supremacy of hospitality, Abraham interrupts a conversation with the divine to welcome three strangers who approach his tent. They are, of course, angels come to bless him and his ostensibly barren wife with news of a child to come. The stories in this reading seed centuries of Middle East conflict: Ishmael/Isaac and Hagar/Sarah, the ancestors of warring tribes, nations, and faiths. It also presents the almost sacrifice of Isaac, interrupted by yet another holy messenger.

Too often we’re shown Abraham acting, but not deliberating, even though he’s confronting serious issues that have deep and long-range consequences. It’s certainly not how I consider far smaller decisions, and contrasts mightily with the bargaining he does to try and save Sodom. What’s the pointing finger trying to tell us?

The metaphor of child sacrifice is scary and compelling. I read it as  putting us eyeball to eyeball with our values. About knowing which voice to follow in very difficult circumstances, albeit of our own making. The whole process that we’re engaged in as humans is about pushing ourselves to understand our true values, and how we’re going to live as a consequence of embracing them. That goes for daily life and bigger things, like elections. If we believe something we need to act to keep it alive.

One of my friends said recently, Nothing important in my life has ever happened where I didn’t hear a call. I feel the same. I’d like to think that if an angel hadn’t appeared Abraham would’ve decided a loving god would not actually require him to kill a child.

I believe in holy resonances but I also believe they’re here to teach us by offering opportunities to step up. In any given moment you have to decide where the lines is that you will or will not follow or cross. Just because you walk down a path doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the sad and bitter end. You get to write your story.

The point is to notice when the messengers and messages arrive. Then to listen very carefully.

You get to decide what you believe in. All the rest is pointing and whispers and hints. And if you are lucky sometimes a great big cosmic pat on the back.

Packing Up, Heading out: TorahCycle Lekh Lekha

P1000256I bought a little piece of pottery last week, shaped like an old- fashioned suitcase. It reminds me that my parents were immigrants, of the We came to this country with $10 in our pockets, so work hard, get an education, and all will be fine variety. (Yeah, maybe, sometimes.) It reminds me of journeys ahead, and of the personal baggage we all bring along. Our memories and hopes, secrets and fears. The things we keep tucked deeply inside, though our close ones would get lots pretty right.

We carry the emotional legacy of our past, of what’s formed us, and often pack what we think we’ll need to stay safe, to avoid being hurt again (at least in the same way). These defensive patterns shield us. But they also insulate us from what might teach or heal us.

In this week’s reading, Abram (soon-to-be Abraham) leaves his land, his parents’ home, and his country. There’s a strong, dynamic, tension between what we’ve always done/how we’ve always done it and our desire, curiosity, and need for the new. The more old stuff we carry with us, the harder and slower it may be to let go. Think Chinese finger puzzle.

There are places in your soul and heart that have been that way so deep and long that you have to actively choose to make room for change. For the unknown. The hoped-for, but also the unanticipated, surprising, even startling and challenging. Easier said than done.

This is a great time to think about what you’re bringing along, and what not to pack. If you need a meat cleaver to discern the difference, put behind you anything that’s hobbling your growth or seems like a repetitive pattern. If you’re not sure, look for bad outcomes and work back to their source. Catherine Shainberg, whom I respect as a teacher, has many great exercises, to help sort grain from chaff.

How can you develop the part of you that’s looser, that’s easier on yourself, on those you’ve tangled with, and on the folks who see and support you on your journey? It takes both will and a willingness to release.

Many folks organize their lives with compartmentalization and denial. An ignore-the-elephant-under-the-rug practice. But a reframe of that, its higher aspect, is to say What hurt me, or how I’ve hurt myself, no longer has authority over me.

A declaration of emotional independence. A clipping of the ties that bound. Leaving behind your stubbed toes and heart surgeries, whether they were literal or visceral. Transcending what you’ve outgrown. And bringing along the best. The joyous and sweet memories. The lessons learned. And the wisdom and flexibility they engender.

It’s about non-resistance. Yes easier said than done. And easy to get distracted by the clamor of our lives or our very human frailties. But if you pull it off, you’ll travel lighter and happier.

The reading concludes with the covenant of circumcision to mark the relationship with the divine. I prefer the metaphor of peeling back yet the next layer from your heart. Unveiling more you. And experiencing everything in your life one notch more intensely. Living more openly, more vulnerably, more receptively, and with less baggage.