The Zealot: TorahCycle Pinchas

PinchasThis reading’s title comes from a rash and intense response to the actions of another. But in defense of zealotry (not Pinchas!) I want to make the case:

We’ve all made mistakes in love. Whether we fell utterly and irrevocably with a zappy crush, manifested or unrequited, or simply said yes to the wrong person because they felt that way about us, most of us have made mistakes of the heart. And for at least a while, we thought we could pull it off without bad consequences. We fueled ourselves with desire and felt invulnerable, lucky, and chosen

But what if we embraced our healing that way. With that same unabashed abandon, screaming yes yes yes all the way, instead of maybe, sure, some day, or if and after? What if we embraced our healing with lust. If we chose ourselves? Fell in love with us?

With a hot zap the payoff is obvious. Smooching. Afterglow. The lovely joyrides of discovering and being discovered.

What if healing felt like that?

I saw a movie recently about magic. And realized I don’t want the illusions deconstructed. I like believing the impossible can happen. Like knowing that we’re all just one blink away from completely changing our realities, or at least our perception of them.

I understand the true goal should be clarity, not illusion. Embracing the raw truth, the whole truth, the so-help-me-God-to-tell-the-truth truth. But wouldn’t it be grand if the truth tasted just occasionally like falling in love, like something warm and sweet, or sultry and savory.

In many healing traditions it’s considered an important and necessary step of healing to embrace the bitter as deeply and often as the sweet. To develop the same craving, the lick your lips anticipation about things like exercise, discipline, and cleansing.

That’s the kind of magic I wanna believe is possible.

So how do you choose a path that you feel passionate about? The path that can lead to a new honey, new body, new job, new outlook, whatever you’re aiming for.

The movie btw was so-so. Too few of the characters were honest. In life it’s good to to know who to trust, to know whom we’re relating to, and how to get to where we want to go. The core of that honesty has to be knowing yourself.

So I’m proposing an exercise. First list all your Pinchas moments. The times you: leapt into lust; acted in self-righteous glory; took some death defying leap; lived by instinct instead of being moderate, rational, and deliberate. The “just do it” moments of your life. As you write, visualize yourself. Feel, taste, and touch those memories with all your senses.

On the next sheet, describe the person you want to become. The one who’s made it to goal, wherever and whatever that is for you. Sit with your future self for a while and let that feeling in. Soak it up.  Then commit yourself to getting there by falling in love with both yous.

If you can harness your inner zealot, you’ll realize you’re lots closer to goal than you sometimes give yourself credit for being.

Learning to Listen: TorahCycle Balak

BalakA guy’s hired to curse the Israelites. On the way his donkey refuses to go forward. He beats her; she says, Can’t you see the angel in the road trying to stop us ?!?

Confession: I’m a sucker for holy messengers. Usually I get advice from well-meaning friends. My typical response I’m trying!!!, even though I believe on any given day that I could be your holy messenger, and you could be mine.

How do we typically respond? After getting nasty test results, for example, we swear healthy vows. Vows we mean deeply and sincerely. In that moment. Note: we also develop robust vow-breaking muscles. So when that next plate of brownies beckons, it’s easy to go unconscious again and munch happily down the road.

Talking critters are harder to ignore. Or to sell a snow job on the path back to comfy ignorance. How can you tell if you’re listening to an angel or a charming seducer? Hint: your inner evil twin more often pushes cake than salad.

One good stalling tactic is to make do/don’t lists. Note: lists imply skepticism about the urgency of what your higher self is shouting. And then such a small step to denial. Or maybe a big one, but repeated often.

Intentions without action are easily ignored, with predictably useless results. With no sharp stick in your butt it’s easy to jog in place, swearing and breaking your vows. For a perfect recipe of stasis, add regular doses of self-judgment.

But that nagging donkey keeps braying: The angel’s still there! Apparently you’re going to have to change.  EEEEEK !!!!

If you’re lucky, your fear of change is brief. If you’re not, get a nosh, because you can dance between fear and self-judgment for a very long time. From my heart of hearts, I offer you a prayer: May each of your fears transmute into hope.

I hope I’m living in a conversation with the divine. That my prayers and pleas are received. That I am both being heard and being instructed. That someone’s listening: God/spirit/angels/however you call what’s at the other end of prayer.

It’d be pretty bleak without that hope.

I try to save angel prayers for life-changing moments. But it’s so tempting to use them on the small stuff. A friend searching for a lost tool, in a moment of supreme annoyance shook her fist at the sky and shouted. Don’t teach me patience! Teach me gratitude!!!

And that’s how it is. If we’re lucky we’re heard and we get told. By an overheard comment in the barista line; a track on your ipod; a rock in the road that catches your eye, all chanting: Change your ways. Stop cursing; start blessing. Clean up your act and you clean up your soul. It’s a two-fer.

Keep listening. Your talking donkeys are all around you. You’ll still need to walk the path and do your karmic homework. Task by task. Test by test. Painful growing lesson to the next. With occasional bursts of joy to punctuate the journey. But if you open your soul and heart, you can turn any curse into a blessing.

Soon blessing becomes easier, even a habit. Instead of self-sabotage, self-judgment, and denial, you’ll have more curiosity, more hope, more commitment, and more mindfulness. You’ll choose the road of blessings.

This week: Listen up!

Oh So Very Very Close: TorahCycle Chukat

ChukatDo you remember from Psych 101 that rats on a treadmill run faster when they get closer to goal? What about you?

This week’s reading’s after a big ellipse in time. Forty years, gone with the turn of the page. The Promised Land so very very close. But the troops are cranky, whiny, and thirsty. HaShem tells Moses water will spring from a rock if he asks, but when it doesn’t flow and gush, Moses gets angry and strikes the rock with his staff. For which act he’s told he will not cross into the Promised Land.

He takes it surprisingly well. Better than I would’ve. By me, after 40+ years of tough slogging and cajoling, he’s earned his gold watch and pension. Milk and honey and a cozy place by the fire.

Perhaps he knows himself so well he understands the consequences of his actions. His angry self is mirrored in the folks tugging on his robe. No one’s worse to be with than yourself when you’re in a bad mood. Wherever you go and whatever you do, there you are, crabby, too-sensitive, and annoying.

Some of us are like the treadmill rats. We find that extra sprint you see in racehorses and runners. The last burst of energy and endorphins amped towards goal because you are so very, very close.

Others of us inexplicably punch on our brakes. Do something rash,  or stupid, or both. Some form of screwing things up so we taint the prize and possibly even our ability to achieve it.

Why? Which of those people are you? Does it depend on the goal? Or your age? Or your health, wealth, love life, or general state of happiness?

Each of us has an Achilles heel. In the physical domain, I’ve been wrestling with mine for two years. And the metaphor’s not lost on me. I’m eyeball to eyeball with some of my most vulnerable parts. The ones that I need to make peace with if I’m gonna emerge fully into what I call Helen 3.0. My own promised land. Different for each of us, but a vision, if we’re lucky, that we’ve had, that we cultivate, and that we aspire to.

I’m trying to befriend my Achilles heel; trying to heal her. Do you know yours? Can you name the part of you that, like Moses’ anger, flashes at exactly the wrong moments. The part that’s like the dinner guest who says something rude and wrong too loudly in that exact and  awkward moment of silence that sometimes descends on groups.

Odds are this part of you is a consistent mechanism for your self-sabotage.  Whatever the trigger, this is how you act out.  Even if you can’t eradicate the underlying dynamics in your psyche, you can identify both this behavior and some interventions, a system of bells and whistles that’ll alert you that you’re about to hit the rock and hurt yourself. It’s gotta be worth a try.

Question for the week: When you’re triggered, how can you act in ways that won’t cause you remorse? What will inspire you with clarity, vision, courage, and stamina?

The Rebel: TorahCycle Korach

KorachGetting to goal takes longer than we want. There’s lots of muttering Are we there yet? Nope. This week’s about self-sabotage. The part that of you needs something to rebel against, even if it’s yourself.

There’s times, individually and collectively, historically and personally, where rebellion is appropriate, honorable, and necessary. Times to resist injustice, to stand up for what’s good and right. When your integrity’s in collision with what’s going on around you, stand up, even if you put yourself or what’s dear to you at risk. This ain’t that.

I walk in the early morning when wild turkeys also stroll about. As I get close, the big toms puff up their plumage and brush their wing feathers against the road. It makes a deep, rustling sound. It might threaten another turkey. But for me, that tom challenging for turf is a distraction, not scary. He’s all show, no power. And shouldn’t stop me from staying on my path.

The week’s story’s about why we cling to false displays of strength instead of embracing our better inclinations. It’s about why we heed what holds us back. The habits that keep us treading quicksand until we’re submerged and swallowed. Our inner enemies, cloaked in all their self-righteous finery. The voices that lead us down the wrong road, or keep us from the right one.

Why don’t we change? Why don’t we listen to our higher selves?

The reasons are pretty consistent. A messy stew of denial, resistance, inertia, stubbornness, laziness, fear, guilt, shame, doubt, and probably others my denial won’t let me recall.

Pay attention when your inner rebel speaks. Listen carefully. Then look carefully at what it’s asking you to say Yes or No to.

Several years ago I made a deep commitment about how I wanted to use my time here, and what it would take to get ready. I knew my Yes would become an axis for my life. Would require leaving narrow places of my own making.

My inner Korach has rebelled often. Yikes. Enough. I don’t have the discipline this journey requires. But time and again I’ve been guided back, sometimes kicking and yelling, and others through gifts of joy and leaps of faith. I believe each of us, no matter how habituated our resistance, deeply wants to live our best self, not our worst one.

It requires making and keeping to your deepest intentions. To persistently shining light into every dark corner. To believing that becoming the people we aspire to be is possible. But to emerge into wholeness, we first need to confront and channel our inner rebel. Need to let the old pains and hurts we’ve shoved down deep come fully to the surface. Need to experience all the sorrow, anger, shame, and tears that accompany that release. Not fast or easy. But necessary.

Only then can we find the courage to say Hineini: I am here. I am ready.

This week: Look at an aspect of your life where you’ve consistently fallen short of your goals. See what patterns keep you from moving forward. Set an intention to change at least one of them.

Who’re You Kidding? TorahCycle Shelach

ShelachI watch movie violence through laced fingers. I don’t mind the faux comic-book kind but deep anger and violence turns my conflict-averse head. It’s not about running scared, but rather appropriate boundaries around what’s not good for one human to do to another.

There’s another kind of scary-ness we encounter in life. The kind we impose on ourselves. The kind of Eek! I can’t do it. It’s too hard, too many obstacles. The bar’s set too high. kind of responses that make us turn tail and wanna run all the way back to our alley alley in free safety zones with our tails between our legs. Even if those mythical safety zones were never so free or good to begin with. Because what’s looming ahead seems just so much worse and scary. Inaccessible. Or maybe worse, as close and real and good as we think we want it to be.

But now?!? Right now?!? What if we’re not really ready?

The first time the Israelites get close to the Promised Land they send out spies, and 11 of the 12 report back that the place is lush and wonderful looking, but the numerous inhabitants are giants and warriors. They scare themselves and most of the others into a poop in your pants kind of afraid.

Get our your mirror and ask yourself: Where in your own life do you do that? What aspects of your self and reality do you so consistently misrepresent to yourself (let alone others) that you prevent yourself from doing exactly what, going where, and living how, you’ve been screaming and crying that you want to be ready to do?

One of the most quoted of Jewish lore comes from Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself only, who am I. If not now, when?

That’s now as in now. Not now as in forty years from now.

Yes hooray to process. But if you’re gonna take your time and most likely suffer more in the process, at least figure out what lessons you’re supposed to be learning. And what better time than now to evaluate what you’ve already learned.

If you do, you get a reward. Not ice cream or brownies. But grapes, pomegranates, and honey. Natural sugars. The kind of authentic high you get when you can really taste the sweetness and bounty you’ve worked so hard to find.

The question of the week: Am I ready now? And if not, where should I set the bar so I can be?

The answer, ironically is not lower but higher. If you lay it on the ground you can step over it any time, but what a hollow victory. If it’s far too high above your head, you may stop trying. But if you set it in a sweet spot just out reach, you may stop scaring yourself and actually live the way you say you’ve been aspiring to. You may actually get to your there, surprisingly sooner than you might think. And definitely sooner than if you stay stuck in fear, or if you flee.

Exercise: List your life goals and tell yourself the truth about both the good and the tough things. Then step up and over.

Who’re You Kidding? TorahCycle Shelach

ShelachI watch movie violence through laced fingers. I don’t mind the faux comic-book kind but deep anger and violence turns my conflict-averse head. It’s not about running scared, but rather appropriate boundaries around what’s not good for one human to do to another.

There’s another kind of scary-ness we encounter in life. The kind we impose on ourselves. The kind of Eek! I can’t do it. It’s too hard, too many obstacles. The bar’s set too high. kind of responses that make us turn tail and wanna run all the way back to our alley alley in free safety zones with our tails between our legs. Even if those mythical safety zones were never so free or good to begin with. Because what’s looming ahead seems just so much worse and scary. Inaccessible. Or maybe worse, as close and real and good as we think we want it to be.

But now?!? Right now?!? What if we’re not really ready?

The first time the Israelites get close to the Promised Land they send out spies, and 11 of the 12 report back that the place is lush and wonderful looking, but the numerous inhabitants are giants and warriors. They scare themselves and most of the others into a poop in your pants kind of afraid.

Get our your mirror and ask yourself: Where in your own life do you do that? What aspects of your self and reality do you so consistently misrepresent to yourself (let alone others) that you prevent yourself from doing exactly what, going where, and living how, you’ve been screaming and crying that you want to be ready to do?

One of the most quoted of Jewish lore comes from Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself only, who am I. If not now, when?

That’s now as in now. Not now as in forty years from now.

Yes hooray to process. But if you’re gonna take your time and most likely suffer more in the process, at least figure out what lessons you’re supposed to be learning. And what better time than now to evaluate what you’ve already learned.

If you do, you get a reward. Not ice cream or brownies. But grapes, pomegranates, and honey. Natural sugars. The kind of authentic high you get when you can really taste the sweetness and bounty you’ve worked so hard to find.

The question of the week: Am I ready now? And if not, where should I set the bar so I can be?

The answer, ironically is not lower but higher. If you lay it on the ground you can step over it any time, but what a hollow victory. If it’s far too high above your head, you may stop trying. But if you set it in a sweet spot just out reach, you may stop scaring yourself and actually live the way you say you’ve been aspiring to. You may actually get to your there, surprisingly sooner than you might think. And definitely sooner than if you stay stuck in fear, or if you flee.

Exercise: List your life goals and tell yourself the truth about both the good and the tough things. Then step up and over.

No Straight Lines: TorahCycle Behaalotecha

BehalotechaIf personal progress were linear and long-lasting we’d all be the people we wish to be and sometimes imagine we are. We wouldn’t battle recidivism or doubt, wouldn’t have to haggle with ourselves every time we’re confronted with choices or temptations, and would know how to get from here to there and from now to then in a manner that’s far easier and more effective than how most of us seem to journey .

Instead, many of us live much of our lives in the conditional subjunctive. The tense that says If only, Only after, the kind of If/when, If/then states of being that help explain why we, like the Israelites, need many years to get to where we think we want to go. We alternate huge sprints of positive and powerful momentum with periods in which we lurch along in bumpy spasms, or, worse, feel painfully stuck.

While we’re travelling, our goals may change. The journey will certainly change us. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may later seem shallow or hollow. Actions or events we never valued may inspire us. Gifts that appeared like manna from heaven lose their luster, or conceal big challenges. And when we’re in pain we sometimes become whiny, greedy children.

Despite the pejoratives, what we complain about also sheds light on what’s missing from our lives. Helps inspire us to get our butts in gear again. Though sadly too often we complain about what’s missing, rather than appreciating what’s good, and how far we’ve come.

Aspirations are great. Are you prepared to have every wish satisfied now? Are you ready to be at goal, whatever that is? Or do you recognize how you grow from the struggles of the journey?

I’m not talking gigantic crises. But rather the benefits from  weeks, months, and seasons spent examining the spots on your soul, whether they’re injuries you caused yourself or wounds imposed by others. These come from unconscious actions and careless speech more often than intentional desire to do harm. But they still cause pain, and keep us tethered.

Every time we’ve been hurt or wounded, every time we’ve suffered sadness, disappointment, regret, fear, jealousy, envy, or any of a host of painful experiences we hobble ourselves. The reason progress takes so long is that we’ve become practiced at embedding these into our hearts and souls, and at projecting those negative feelings onto others. Every time we do, we add another layer of pain that needs to be removed, sooner or later, to get to goal.

The active present tense is a great way to clean those spots. And now’s great time to look yourself in a clear bright mirror, and take an inventory, chakra by chakra, of your emotional traits, habits, and history.

Use your now to get to goal. Focus on one goal at a time and look both backward and forward. See what your journey has taught you, and also what old baggage you’re carting around that’s making you heavy, slow, or stalled. Take some time this week to compost it by the side of the road, so you can move forward with new inspiration and enthusiasm.

The Path of Blessing: TorahCycle Naso

Naso

This week’s reading contains one of my favorite prayers: the Priestly Blessing. I think this prayer is at the core of our relationship with the divine.

It’s said at very special times in the Jewish calendar, though my memory is that it was said whenever I went to services. I think so because I reveled in hearing the deep-voiced rabbi bless us all, with both hands outstretched (in a way that mirrors the Vulcan salute that Spock gives on Star Trek when he says, “Live long and prosper.”)

The three lines are profound and powerful. The prayer creates a womb of love and protection for each and all. If you surrender to it, you’re filled with the feeling that nothing can harm you and that you are an extension of holy light.

Here’s what I remember from my childhood, with apologies to those who don’t like the G word: May God bless you and keep you. May the light of God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God’s face be lifted unto you and may all your paths be paths of peace.

Hard to have a bad day when you’re held in that.

The Priestly Blessing is about being illuminated from without, and of taking that holy light into your beingness, so you are also illuminated from within. Of having your holy spark rekindled. Of bringing that spark into every aspect of how you breathe and live.

That’s a whole lot of prayer rolled into three lines. And a direct key to the heart of why we pray: We want to be and feel loved. We want a divinity that will help us make and enjoy a life of protection and peace.

But the world’s not at peace. Even we aren’t always at peace, within ourselves or towards others. This blessing asks us to create peace so that we and everyone can enjoy it.

Shalom is one anchor of the prayer. The other is “graciousness,” an expansive, inviting quality untroubled by fear or desire. Most of us aren’t in that state often enough. Our prayers are too often about wanting something or avoid something. An ailment healed, or maybe help at work. A shiny red bike or its adult variations. Give me generally outweighs me giving you.

When our personal stories take up all our time and attention it’s easy to miss the bigger picture, what we’re here to do not only for ourselves but for others. If we’re reminded regularly to be, to truly let in HaShem’s light, something changes. We’re prompted to elevate our wishes for a more gracious world for everyone.

The Priestly Blessing offers us a safe place for the most tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves. The ones we think no one ever sees, or that no one would love if they did. The ones we most fear might be wounded or misunderstood. The Priestly Blessing gives us the knowing that we will be loved and blessed regardless. It gives us hope for both inner and outer peace.

Does this blessing give you what you need? If you were writing the priestly blessing, what would it say?