Time’s Up: TorahCycle Bo

 

MiketzWay down deep in most of us is a hurting, a wounding to heart or soul, self-esteem or sense of self, that has brought us to this moment. It’s caused damage along the way, but also brought us to the knowing, both painful and liberating that we’ve reached the point of no return. It’s time to make a decision that will turn that painful it around, whatever your own special it is.

Remember the owwies of childhood, and your ambivalence about both wishing them gone and wanting to touch them? Change comes if you’re willing to dig deep enough to find and touch your inner sore place. You’ll know it by the way it feels: unresolved and always asking for something, perhaps attention, food, or love.

The source isn’t necessarily something that was done to you. It could have started when you failed to step up and take action or responsibility. It’s almost certainly something for which you have not yet forgiven yourself or another. Omission or commission makes no difference. What you most need to let go of  is its hold on you, on how it defines and organizes your story of life.

Confession. During a recent snow-enforced confinement I played Angry Birds (an addictive game of digital slingshot). There’s one bird on reserve (that acts like a neutron bomb) to use when you’ve failed once too many frustrating times at knocking down the targets.

It would be great to have such a ready tool for ourselves, when we’ve gotten stuck doing our emotional homework. Launch the mighty eagle; blow away all your failures and equivocation.

Our inner pharaoh has said Yes/No, Yes/No, Yes/No once too often. Time’s up. It’s time to fling that mighty eagle at yourself.

As silly as it sounds, some of my biblical imagery goes back to the classic 50’s movie, The Ten Commandments. After the last plague, the killing of the firstborn, the pharaoh who’s said Yes/No nine times prior stands holding his beloved son, his face a portrait of anguish, remorse, and regret. Nothing will make that boy alive again.

With luck you won’t need to go through such deep loss to make progress. But the stark and simple clarity that it’s time now to make changes is an important and compelling insight.

You cannot change the past. You can wish it undone, or pretend it was not so. You can’t erase the hurting. But you can transcend it. Can make your future different than your past. Use the energy you spent being angry, or fearing pain will happen again, to make changes, getting out of the narrow places that have confined and identified you for far too long.

The Jews are chased out of Egypt. You have the luxury of choice. To saying Yes to you and to joy.

We’re blessed this year to have this reading come at the transition between old year and new. A time when many of us make pledges about how we want to behave differently. If you make only one resolution, make it to live free of the pain of the past, and to live with greater awareness about what really matters to you in the year to come.

What’s It Gonna Take? : TorahCycle Va’eira

Va'eirah-2013After fruitcake and holiday sales is the New Year and everything that beginning represents. We start new cycles at other times, but the annual ritual of making resolutions is hard to ignore. Planning to get kinder, lighter, more focused or frugal…. Fill in the blanks with your own special challenges of this incarnation.

This week’s reading is about seven of the ten plagues. Various forms of discomfort and warning to deliver one message: Time and past time for change. P.S. The more you resist, the crappier it’s gonna get.

Moses and Pharaoh duking it out. Let my people go! Yes…No! Our own inner pharaoh knows this dance. We specialize in resistance, and are creative self-saboteurs, committed to keeping things as they are (no matter what or how much we say we want them to be different). We’re complicit with our oppression; with all the unhappiness that insight packs with it.

Why the push-pull? The list is tediously familiar: resistance from fear, guilt, laziness, shame, inertia. Stubbornness in every shape and style.

We each carry our own karma. Health challenges in one person manifest as emotional trauma in someone else. Family dysfunction, relationship problems, body shape and image, self-esteem. Pick a card, any card. All yours to wrestle with.

You know what works and what doesn’t. Know when you’re stuck, aimed in the wrong direction, faking it without real commitment, or otherwise avoiding what you say you want to do more or less of. Many of us spend huge amounts of time, effort, money, and enthusiasm making things worse instead of better.

A favorite line from the internet: I wish I weighed what I weighed when I decided I needed to lose weight. That kind of non-progress. Because knowing alone isn’t enough to make change happen.

This story, leaving slavery, is a very big deal. The first and biggest step towards freedom is overcoming resistance. Real change. Yikes!

So what’s it gonna take?

If we need to terrify ourselves with literal or metaphorical blood, darkness, frogs, or boils, then so be it. Hopefully you won’t do too much damage along the way. But it will likely be as annoying and persistent as buzzing flies.

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could don a biohazard suit for the duration, to prevent our emotional toxicity from leaking out? Maybe we’d change faster if we didn’t have others on whom to project our crap.

There’s a great John Gorka refrain: We’re all flashes in a great big pan and they’re turning up the heat. Our holy spark cooking in the heat of our collective, flawed humanity.

But throughout these goings on, this testing, we are slowly waking up. We’re learning something strong and powerful about who we are, what we require, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for what we most truly need.

So take some time during this year-end for reflection. Between the festivities and toasting, find a little quiet time to look at your thrashing, at all the ways you make life harder and more anxious for yourselves and those you love. Think about how to ease the process, and how to prepare for the changes that are coming. Keep that resolution and good will follow.

Wake Up!! TorahCycle Shemot

shemot 2013

We’re at the beginning of the next beginning. Actually 400 or so years into it. It’s like waking into a bad dream: We’re overworked chattel. The sun’s hot. Threats abound. Blessings, poof! We’ll need everything we worked so hard to learn, if only we can remember what that is.

We get used to our realities. We don’t live under overseers’ whips, though our lives are filled with requirements and expectations, to ourselves and others. We go through our days, find comfort where we can, and are happy to collapse in front of dinner and our screens.

We stay in jobs, relationships, and other situations that don’t nourish us. It’s not that we don’t know we’re dissatisfied. Certainly our kvetching and the sadness around our eyes are big giveaways. But we feel like we made a commitment, aren’t sure if just one more try might make the difference, or even what we would do differently, because we’re not sure we’d be able to pull it off.

Economists have a theory called sunk cost. It’s the idea of Don’t throw good money after bad. (And implicitly, stop whining about what you can’t get back and do something different.) Even understanding it intellectually, I’ve always found it hard to embrace. It goes against every fiber of heart. Nooooo! I want this to work out. To be okay. Not to disappoint, or hurt. Not to cause or feel pain. Just hang in. Things’ll get better.

In our attempt to accept the status quo, we keep lowering the bar of what’s good enough to put up with. To our own detriment. As Kenny Rodgers sang: Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

Shemot arives to say Hey! Wake up!!

It’s a shofar blast, jolting us out of our discomfort zone. Time to get going. To acknowledge this now is bad for you and to do something about it. Time to face whatever’s next. Even if the birthing process is unknown, risky, or scary. Because doing nothing is worse.

Eastern religions are full of great enlightenment stories. There’s meditative sitting. Focusing on breath. Solving intractable riddles. And immediate experience, like the woman who groks the wholeness of creation as her chapatti dough drops into hot oil. Snap, crackle, pop and suddenly it all makes sense.

This story will take longer. Lots of hubbub and equivocation before the race for the gates. But it signals the most important message: we will change.

Have you ever woken one morning realizing it’s time to end a job, relationship, or addiction. How could I have stumbled so long in the dark?, you ask. What I need to do is so clear. Duuuuhhhh!!

Each life has good times and hard ones, growth and stasis, joy and sorrow. (For everything there is a season.) But like seasons, lives should transform.

A handful of years ago the book Not Quite What I Was Planning started the idea of a six-word memoir. Try writing one for your life. And for right now. Are they the same or different? What pushes and pulls you, inner and outer? What are they telling you to do next? What six words would you want to write next year?

All Night Long: TorahCycle Vayishlach

Vayishlach2013Let’s get clear. I’m not an advocate of no-pain no-gain. If anything, I honor the high arts of bargaining, denial, procrastination, half-measures, and prayer as sincere, even fervent, alternatives to doing what needs to be done. That’s especially true if the focus isn’t my creative jones du jour, or involves self-discipline in any but brief or minor forms.

Enough about my failings. What about yours? Do you step up and do what’s needed, without avoidance? When you’re given dictums like Eat less, move more; or, Save more, spend less, do you hop to or look the other direction?

This week finds Jacob travelling to reconcile with the brother he wronged. He’s laden with gifts and an army, hedging his bets, as most of us do. We offer our adversary (self or other) both carrot and stick, hoping one will work if the other doesn’t. [Note: What’s a strategy to us might seem foolish or random to an observer. Without consistency, insights are harder to discern. Sigh.]

Jacob wrestles until dawn with a stranger, an angel. A silent and important emissary of the divine. Part of the message: step up, and don’t give up. If you do, you risk staying stuck wherever you are in your process, like when someone yells “Freeze!” in a childhood game.

Continuing until dawn doesn’t ensure a decisive victory. Jacob ends up with a permanent limp. But his name is changed to reflect his commitment and a big chunk of his old bad karma drops away. The message: If you actually work your program, something will change. Not exactly as you might predict or wish for, but for the better.

I’m fascinated by the wrestling metaphor. Not the bombastic faux battles of cable TV. But with the premise that no matter where we go, we’re always gonna come face-to-face with our stuff.

If you ask me to summarize the personal growth story, soul-wrestling would be its verb. It takes place in many domains, from deep dreamland to cold light of day. We are invited and frequent visitors.

Your adversary may wear the face of a mysterious stranger or someone you know. May come at you in a red satin cape or a clown costume, with flowers or with a chain saw. May sound like your internalized parent, a disappointed partner, or an angry boss. But your real nemesis is always your own stuff.

The good news: When our procrastinating and half measures fail, when we’re on the run from our failings, our higher selves show up to change the channel. To give us a real wrestling match. To help us find what we’re made of. And to send us on our way with a deeper knowledge of our own strength and possibilities.

We don’t always hang in. We’re scarred and scared and we sometimes give up, say Uncle. It’s okay.

We still have lots of wrestling ahead of us. But this reading reminds us that it’s time again to go deeper. To embrace your resolve and your endurance. To work your program. Wear your scars proudly; give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished. Then move forward not weakened by the struggle, but strengthened and renewed.

Showing Up: TorahCycle Vayeira

Vayeira 2013

Sometimes we’re asked to do things we don’t want to do. Dinner at your least favorite relative’s. Job-hunting. Dieting. But these are mild and paltry compared to Abraham’s task: to take his son to a mountaintop and sacrifice him.

I’m jumping past an abundance of deep theological issues to ask what happens when you’re asked to do the seeming impossible.

This reading pivots on the word hineini, I am here. An answer given three times. Hineini’s about showing up. About bringing along every part of yourself, faith to doubt and everything in-between. Integrated, even for one instant.

The old quote says Life is made up of moments. Rembrant’s great painting of the Isaac sacrifice depicts the moment when everyone is completely present. It speaks to the exquisite tension of not knowing what will come next. The peek-ahead/fast forward part of you that wants to but doesn’t.

What does being fully present require? It means dropping all fear, all doubt, all attachment to past or outcome. It transcends reason. There’s a trust in the flow that says, If I really show up, what follows will be as it should be.

There’s a big concept in spirituality about surrender: “letting go and letting God.” In contrast to the western idea that we’re responsible for what happens to us. Countered by the Greek idea of fate, or the Islamic inshallah, as God wills it. Or eastern karma: you get what deserve; but your earned betterment might not show up this incarnation.

These days there’s lots of mixed messaging about conscious co-creation. “The Secret” offers us everything, if we just want it enough. The accusation “control freak” judges us harshly for trying too hard to bend the universe to our desires.

How can you find the right balance? Start by releasing what keeps you tied to old patterns. Put them on the altar and let them go. Show up for the change you profess to want.

Sometimes we must sacrifice exactly what we most cherish. Our closely held beliefs. Our addictions. Things we think we cannot live without. Precisely what keeps us tethered to our old patterns.

But it isn’t easy. Even to let go of what seems obvious to release (your anxieties, your painful memories, your sadnesses). They’re entwined in your roots. Part of your identity. Become so much a part of you that you’ll need the knife to cut them out. You may fear the process will hurt, or that their absence will change you too much. Yes, ouch.

But what if you could put anything that holds you back on an altar, and poof have it gone? Like an angel appearing. Your problems solved.

In earth reality it doesn’t happen so simply. Our lives are a complex symphony of surrender and control. Showing up, doing, hoping, and praying in a busy, awkward, uncertain dance. All in the hope that a wise and useful answer will become clear.

This week, think about the hardest sacrifice you could make in the service of your goals. Open every receptor you have. Listen to what you’re told. Then ask yourself how you can be fully present to follow through.

Step By Step: TorahCycle Lekh Lekha

LekhLekha 2013

Judaism is only part of my spirituality. But I genuinely believe that embedded in Torah is great insight and guidance for self-transformation and development. Most of us have embedded in our brains Bible stories and imagery from childhood. But deeper Torah raises lots of questions and challenges that can help you shape your now, and your becoming.

There’s an arc to the evolution of souls: your getting from creation to whatever’s your version of a promised land. Last week, the first thing Noah did after escaping annihilation was to get drunk and have sex. Ooops. Like eating a brownie an hour after starting a diet.

This week, the first thing we’re told is that Abraham is to leave the house of his parents and the land of his birth. He’s to set out for somewhere new and unknown. It’s a metaphor for walking away from what in your past defines you too closely. Whatever constrains your ability to grow and evolve. An instruction to leave behind your old habits. To prepare for the possibility of the new. To change without knowing what will come. But because you are ready to embrace the possibility and importance of making that shift.

Most of us have screwed up. Usually not just once. For our core issues – – love, food, money, or deeper — screwing up is probably familiar territory. Now’s a great time to begin to make a shift. Maybe not packing and calling u-Haul, but by doing something that feels potentially as important. Deciding to make a fundamental shift in the shape of your reality, your daily life, and your beliefs.

The first big step is self-scrutiny. The next, deciding what to change. Everything after is follow through. Aiming yourself in a different direction. Then continuing, step by step. Making your life about who you want to become, not who you have been.

In the beginning, the changes don’t have to be huge, or even consistent. Even doing one thing differently every other day will begin to increase your awareness. Consider every act a choice.

If you’re like most of us, you won’t walk in a straight line. You might go sideways, in circles, even backwards, for days, weeks, or longer. But each step is a step away from the old, a new step on your journey. Self-reinforcing and invigorating when you succeed.

It’s much easer to see other people’s paths. Your friends’, partner’s, or family’s. You have the perspective and vision to see quicksand two steps or two months ahead of them much sooner than they seem able to. You can see them looping around, not knowing they just veered way off course. (They can do the same for you.) It’s harder to see that clearly for yourself.

Life is such a fascinating and tenuous mix of insight and knowing, intention and awareness. We make greater progress when we add in faith. Believing in yourself is a great starting point.

That’s how change should begin. An energized mix of vision and focus. Sep by step it leads to manifesting. Anticipation and determination. Acknowledging the difficulty of change, but committed to trying. All your doing counterbalanced by the receptivity of an open heart.

Step by step.

Second Chances: TorahCycle Noach

Noach 2013There’s a great health prayer that gives gratitude for body parts appropriately open and flowing or closed and contained. It’s really about sufficiency and balance, the harmony of a smoothly functioning system. Excess or blockage can create chaos, as we’re told happened after creation, with generalized self-serving corruption.

Some excesses, large or small, are a source of joy. Falling in love. A beautiful day. Sublime music. A clean house and a good book. Heading out for an adventure.

But highs are often countered by lows. Being dumped. Traffic jams or flat tires. Leaky roofs. Not enough of whatever you think you need to be happy.

This week’s reading’s about what happens after excess. A total reset. Wiping the creation slate clean and starting over. When it happens to you, it’s easy to feel like the folks in the post-Katrina or –Sandy pictures. The forlorn survivors, standing in matchsticks of rubble, as far as the eye can see. Few volunteers to be that poster child.

Our lives are rarely one smooth arc.  We go through many cycles of joy, excess, loss, hope, and renewal. Over love, jobs, homes, births, deaths. Often much more trivial endeavors. Our lows aren’t as brutal as global devastation, but when you’re hurting and weeping, no matter the cause, it can feel that hard.

When we careen too far in one direction, we tip the balance, inviting in lessons that, if we were paying better attention, we might learn without having loss and pain come as teachers.

Chances are you’ve bumped into those lessons before. That they’re the ones, no matter how well you do with your other karmic homework, that you just can’t quite seem to get out from under.

You might see the storm clouds coming. External circumstances pushing you towards some edge. Or your own emotional patterns steering you onto the rocks. The universe is filled with hints and foreshadowing. But, if you’re not paying attention, you can get pretty wet before you find dry land again.

Most of us have good instincts about what’s important to our happiness, whether that’s body, mind, heart, or spirit. Think about the yin and the yang of what matters to you. What you’d really need to create your next world. Bring that on board. Then release what’s ready to be washed away as you enter the ark of your future.

Most of us won’t see doves bearing divine messages. But hopefully you’ll learn the markers of better decision-making and know what to do next.

At the end of the Noah story, the rainbow symbolizes the divine promise that devastation will never again be so total. Translation: once you’ve tanked, there’s nowhere to go but up. You’ve earned another chance to get it right. Another chance to get clearer about how you want to live.

Take time this week to think about the next cycle of your adventure. What do you want your life to be about? What parts do you need to shed, to say Thanks but good-bye? Which to heal and improve? To invest in, give voice, learn from? If you can contemplate the answers with more curiosity than fear, hooray for the promise of this next round.

In the Beginning (Again): TorahCycle Bereishit

Bereishit 2013Someone asked me recently what this blog is about.  My answer: to help you answer the question Who are you in the process of becoming?

Torah readings offer a vehicle for self-transformation. They help us to look through the window of the aspirational self. To listen to what the words are saying about how to live. Me. You. Now.

Almost all of us wrestle with something, for that long night we call life, the way we’ll soon remember Jacob wrestling with the angel.

We each have our own issues and process. Some are unhappy in a relationship or a job, while others long for one. There’s body stuff, and money stuff, and friend/family stuff. All the aspects of our daily reality that our minds chatter and fret about so much and often. There’s soul stuff too, whether that translates into becoming a meditator or simply kinder, deepening a spiritual practice or searching for a resonant path.

We’ve cycled back to Genesis. Creation. The edge of another new beginning.

You may believe in the Big Bang, The Voice/Hand of God, or a different creation story. But anyone who’s ever had a brainstorm knows how quickly something can appear out of apparent nothing. An idea bursts through, alive with energy. The synergy and synchronicity of all of you. Your history and your becoming. Your holy spark glittering to show you the next next. Suddenly a vision, where a moment before there was not. A new world of possibilities, multiplying quickly.

That’s the way to start this year.

Shed last year’s battles and disappointments. Bring with you what you’ve learned, what you earned, and what you aspire to. Leave behind the old struggles, fears, and sorrows. Start over cleansed and optimistic.

Poof! What an idea!

Here’s my invitation: To celebrate creation, give yourself time this week to invite new ideas about how you want to feel this time next year. With hopes you’ll feel like you’d just won the lottery of your life and soul. Like you can create the world you want to live in.

It’s another chance to reinvent you. To edit and to refine. To take everything you’ve learned and have it become your ally. A mini-reincarnation without having to start over again with diapers.

A lot of the “in the beginning” story is about separation and discernment between opposites: heaven and earth, day and night, land and sea, and so on. It’s also about free will: following instructions or risking the consequences of your actions. We all face those kinds of choices every day.

As you make them — consistent, impulsive, risky, wise, or not — some of the glittering possibilities of your great new ideas will fade. And some will grow brighter. The array of bright lights will narrow and cluster. As they do, your life options will become clearer. If you’re lucky or blessed, and can hear the hints and instructions coming from your inner voice, they’ll even show you the paths for your evolving journey.

I’m suggesting folks journal this time around. Whatever strikes you as worth remembering along the way.  If you’re so moved, write yourself or the rest of us a note below.

Forgiveness, and then…: Yom Kippur 2013

Foregiveness-YKThere are so many ways we’ve been hurt and inflicted hurt on others. Numerous categories of harm, from unconscious and unintentional to malicious and planned, even savored.

Yom Kippur, aka The Day of Atonement, is the most sacred of holy days. A time when we, as individuals and a community, ask for forgiveness. A time we atone for our own bad actions committed, contemplated, and witnessed, and good ones not chosen, and forgive others the same. It begins the year with as clear a conscience and heart as we will grant ourselves and those around us.

It’s a fasting day. A time to go inward. A day spent looking into the mirror of our inadequacies, with the hope that we will come away cleansed and renewed. Not a bad bargain for a little hunger.

There’s also literal chest pounding to accompany our moral inventory. The guilty and the rest of us, reciting the oh-so-many ways to short-change goodness. We witness, anonymously, the failings of others as we acknowledge our own.

Sometime this week (Saturday the 14th if you wanna be in the synchronistic groove) reflect on the list below. Look deeply into your memory and your heart. What if you actually honored this set of behaviors as a template for daily life?

An illustrative excerpt (imagine the syncopated thumping and chanting, and each action starting with “We have…”): We have acted wrongly; been untrue; gained unlawfully; defamed; harmed others; been unjust; hurt; told lies; given bad advice; neglected others; laughed in scorn; stirred enmity; treated others with disdain; thrown ourselves off course; and, my personal favorite, we have kept ourselves from change.

Yikes! for most of us. But what if you felt forgiven for your past. And if you set an intention to be more conscious? Start with a clean slate, and promise (perhaps not for the first time) to do better?

You can up the ante with face-to-face or written apologies. But start by looking yourself in the mirror and seeing where you’ve blown it. Pay attention to how you feel as you consider the how’s and why’s of your misdeeds, your persistent shortcomings, even your moments of casual indifference.

Most of us don’t really want to cause harm. We act too quickly, from self-interest, even by trying too hard to help. We think about our own feelings more than others’. Around our core issues we lapse into bad behavior out of unconsciousness, habit, resistance, and fear.

The atonement process helps get your attention. Helps you think about becoming a better person. About paying closer attention to how you act towards others and yourself. About trying to live with more goodness..

It sounds so simple. But we all backslide. Even if your most sincere “I’ll try harder this time” turns out to be a colossal failure, the saying and the trying both matter. Self-forgiveness is the beginning of greater awareness.

Perhaps journal when you go through the list. (Feel free to add your own sore spots.) Try to identify an intervention. Some consciousness-sparking cue that might trigger better attention the next time something snags you. Anything that’ll cue an interrupt and a moment of heightened consciousness. You don’t have to keep score of hits and misses, just remember to remember, and see what that changes in you.

Living Your Dream: TorahCycle Ha’azinu

HaazinuUnless you’ve been under a rock, you know last week was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Synchronistically, this week’s reading is Moses on a mountaintop overlooking his own promised land, the precursor to Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. It’s presented as a song, with the same powerful rhetoric.

Poetry and song get into our bloodstream in ways that rules and regs cannot. They’re inspiring and emotional. They open our eyes as well as our ears. Help us to dream a new world for ourselves. To visualize, even feel, what we have not yet experienced. They create hope.

That kind of dreaming, which I call visioning, unlocks the process of change, both personal and societal.

It’s a process of setting goals. The more tangible ones, like I wanna earn $xx,000 or marry so-and-so. But more importantly of saying: This is who I am in the process of becoming. This is the world I want to create. I’m willing to ante up my time and energy to make it so.

Visioning is a necessary first step to creating change. You can’t ask for what you want until you know what that is. Turning your vision into reality also requires action harnessed to your desires. That’s kavannah, intention, coming from the deepest parts of your head, heart, and soul.

You can manifest vision with intention by surviving occasional thumps on the head, tests of your patience, determination, and willingness to persevere, even without short-term gains. Without a clear vision you won’t have the courage or stamina to last through the process.

If you haven’t yet seen The Butler, go and bring hankies. It’s about the courage of those who stood up and said: I say No. I’m putting my life on the line because I envision a different world.

Only you can know what causes enough discomfort to motivate you to act. But until you say, I’m ready for change now, you’ll feel and stay stuck.

It’s never too late. You might whine, or enable yourself, or grab for the chips and remote because denial is easier than action. But once you’re deeply ready for change, all the energy you’ve used to keep yourself held in place will come roaring to your aide. You’ll be amazed at how invigorated you feel when you start to turn your visions into reality.

There’s a great quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who said: When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.

Vision plus action plus prayer is the fullest meaning of intention. It acknowledges that you’re asking for help from every realm, and channeling that energy into your own life. Sometimes step by weary step can feel like an endless march. But only with true intention can you create the lasting change that you’re yearning for. That’s what the whole arc of Torah, what this blog, is about. And soon we’ll start a new cycle, another chance to get it right, or at least better.

Exercise: Envision yourself on a mountaintop looking into your future. What do you see if nothing changes? How would you prefer your life to look? What are you willing to do now?