Edge to Edge: TorahCycle Beshellach

Chayei SarahOf all the images in Torah, the fleeing Israelites facing the (as-yet-unparted) Red Sea has a special place in my heart. Long before I started using these readings as a weekly exercise to view personal process, I understood the challenge of facing a challenge and having no frigging idea what the &^$#@%^ to do next.

We often feel like we’ve come so far. Made it through so much. Made a shift, made some progress, on the road to somewhere better. It’s time for celebration even reward, not another rough patch. I’m willing to enjoy kale chips instead of cookies, so it doesn’t seem fair for a giant new obstacle to appear on the path. Not just a daunting one. But a test to my skills, imagination, and commitment. Even my faith in the process itself.

The old saying goes No way out but though. Or in this metaphor, in.

The classic commentary is of the guy who jumps first. Supposedly the sea did not part until the water reached his nostrils. This while most of us are standing around muttering about making a u-turn back to slavery, aka the known, even with its known bad results.

The waters rarely part quite so easily for me or mine. There’s almost always more drama, even when we think we’re in well past our eyebrows. As I’ve paced the edge of my own Red Seas, I’ve paid attention to my reluctance to jump-start change. A recipe for resistance that includes fear, denial, laziness, and contentment….. plus knowing that change has a compelling momentum of its own, as in, more change happens next, and keeps happening. Add your own favorites.

I’m great at vow-making, drawing lines in the sand, and dipping a couple toes at a time in and then out when the water is cold or the undertow is scary. I’ve gotten wet up to my ankles more often than I can count. But to fully commit without turning away or back, still hard to do.

Each edge is a doorway for the next transition. We’re being asked to say Yes, and… and to follow through, no matter how scary it looks or feels.

In the classic before and after pics used in gym and weight-loss commercials, progress is promoted as effortless and speedy. But any of us who’ve tackled a big shift know there’s a whole lot more middle than advertised. That comes later. But unless you take that first big step now, you’re gonna stay stuck on the “before” shore. I can’t guarantee any seas will part. But I can testify that you will feel better once you begin to change your story.

You’re likely to keep basics like your name and your incarnation. But you might have to choose to recommit or leave a partner, job, home, or health regimen. What you gain from leaping over all that resistance is a new sustenance that the metaphor of manna offers: knowing that you are capable of change. To get to your own version of “after,” you need to keep believing in that.

For now, jump in and keep breathing. Oh yeah, sing and dance often on the next edge.

 

Waxing and Waning: TorahCycle Bo

Bo 2015Hooray 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.

 

Testing, Testing: TorahCycle Va’eira

Vaeira 2015When I was young and hospitalized, there was a toddler in the bed next to me. He spent most of the day and much of the night banging his head against the wooden sides of his crib. Surprisingly he didn’t howl in pain, as I certainly wanted to while witnessing his relentless, self-inflicted suffering.

I think about him sometimes when I’m castigating myself for falling short at something I’ve repeatedly tried to do. My efforts are often about physical or emotional healing. Things like strengthening my quads, lowering my blood sugar, or resolving an emotional interaction. If I fall short on my health program or fail to speak my truth, the image of this child sometimes shows up.

I’m not dumb. I know what I should be doing. As my mother once observed, in a painfully quotable moment “If you’re so smart, how come you’re _____.” Fill in your own blank with whatever you’re trying to heal from.

I think a lot about deep personal work. About what we have locked inside and what it takes to release it. About the pain and thrashing we go through along the way, whether that’s self-imposed or comes from the world.

This week’s reading has Moses and Aaron appearing repeatedly before Pharaoh, asking him to free the Hebrews. It’s the classic Let my people go! moment. To which Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his heart, and stays stuck.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew, mitzrayim, means “the narrow place. We’re each in our own narrow place and aiming for our own promised land. But they’re inter-connected. We cycle between times of light and dark. One question this reading raises is how long we’ll stay in those dark times and places. How long we’ll stay stuck, mucking about until we are ready to choose release.

The message is that you need to stop punishing yourself and others, both for your failings and your wounds. That you need to find compassion and forgiveness to move forward. To lighten up and heal. That means not banging your head against a wall, repeating the mistakes of the past.

Those emotions can be difficult to find and invoke, especially when the world feels hard and bleak, scary and unjust. When we face despair and fear, as in the wake of the terror in Paris, it is especially complicated to access our higher selves. It’s easier to bang our heads and scream, even if we are shouting into what seems like a dark and implacable void. Because it’s not just our own selves caught in this cycle of frustration and anger, but the societies we live in.

If we cannot heal ourselves, how can we possibly aspire to healing the world around us? My only answer: we gotta keep trying, and trying, and trying.

I don’t have any easy answers, or words any wiser than what have been said in the past week. I only know that it is important, even vital, for us each to do whatever we can do to stop screaming, stop banging, and stop hurting ourselves and one another.

It may all get worse before it gets better. But if we aren’t all trying to get better, it’s going to stay worse for much much longer.

Good Morning, Mitzrayim: TorahCycle Shemot

Shemot 2015jpgIt took forever but we are finally here. After all the festivities, gifting, and celebrating, we woke up the other day to a clean new year. One unsullied by bad decisions or old habits. A blank slate. Tabula rasa. A new chance to get things right. Resolutions made. Vows to keep them. Optimism abounds.

Not so fast. We have just entered the book of Exodus.

I’ll assume you read the book or saw the movie. Baby Moses cast into the bulrushes to escape genocide: raised in the palace; kills an overseer who’s abusing Hebrew slaves; is exiled to the wilderness; sees a burning bush on Mt. Sinai; talks directly to God; returns to free the enslaved.

The big punch line of the next several chapters is that we get out of slavery. But the work in-between now and then, and the even harder work after, when the overseer is inner not outer, fills the next four books.

This process is a metaphor of “the hero’s journey” that Joseph Campbell wrote about so eloquently. You have to go into the darkness and make it through to find and appreciate the light. Baby Moses represents our holy spark: waiting to be rescued and reclaimed. For now we need to engage the parts of us that are willing to look into that dark place and use what we see to transform ourselves.

It’s the journey of a lifetime, with oh so many paths, both twisting and straight, obstructed and clear. It can be hard to find our way, but it happens with small steps, one step at a time.

Making bricks under an overseer’s whip is a vivid image of the darkness. Direct communion with The Source is a worthy goal. But to get there you must choose the light, and reinforce that choice with every small decision that follows. That’s what our resolutions are about. I’ve been stuck doing X, Y, or Z. I want to change. Instead it’s time to do _______. Fill in the blank.

In Torah there is a deus ex machina to help. Literally. The divine hand, expressed through acts of wonder and magic, plagues and punishment. More on that soon. But the core question remains: Do you like things how they are or do you want them to change? Really? What’re you prepared to differently to turn your resolutions into reality? Are you waiting for a miracle or are you ready to step up? Now? When? How often and consistently? What will make the changes sustainable, not failed attempts?

Moses answers at the burning bush with a word we see at important moments in Torah. He is called and he answers hineini, I am here. It is an acknowledgment both that he has heard the call and that he is willing to be to respond. To step up.

This journey is all about showing up. Step by step. It’s not about saying No, thanks. Please don’t ask me to up the ante on myself. It is about listening to the guides around you and the knowing inside you, and then doing your work 24/7. It’s about choosing hineini, to be present in every moment and choice of your life, Every step on your journey.

Happy New Year.

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

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?