The Harvest of Our Lives: Sukkot 2014

sukkot 2014At the end of the day, what do you talk about, you and your soul? Do you get into the existential Why am I here? stuff, or do you think about how you’re doing with your chores, whether they’re simple things like chopping veggies for dinner or deeper tasks like taking a karmic inventory?

In the quiet of the day, what’s the conversation between you and you?

There’s a great holiday that starts this week, early in the Jewish calendar year and at the very end of the Torah cycle. It’s called Sukkot, from the word sukkah, which means booth. Traditional folks build covered shelters, as simple as a frame tented with fabric or wood and a canopy of thatch, harvest stalks, and reeds. They eat and sleep in them. The more observantly elastic take part of each day to meditate outside and share a meal with friends in a less formal sukkah.

The observance is a powerful mirror of the Passover holiday we celebrated six months ago.

Way back then we chose to leave mitzrayim, the narrow place, the symbolic land of constraint. We left slavery and went into the unknown. Now, after reaching our symbolic goal (and a new year), we take time to harvest the blessings of the land, give thanks, and take stock of the insights from our journey.

I’m not always a good practicing Jew. But I cherish the way Judaism organizes the year, the way it moves us inexorably through the cycles of self-examination and growth that so many of us profess to want to partake of.

I frame this writing on the weekly turning of the scrolls because I think that somewhere along the way someone got it right. That there’s a story here, and it’s a good one. That there are paths and processes and journeys that we go on. Spiritually. Emotionally. Intellectually. Physically. That what takes place in the material world happens in parallel in your soul. And if you pay good attention to your process you might learn something that’ll help make it easier/kinder/gentler and also deeper/more meaningful/spiritually valuable. If we all did that, this place would be happier/sweeter/more joyous. And all our paths would be paths of peace.

So if you and your soul aren’t talking, if you don’t think you’re here to learn/grow/improve and to find/create greater goodness and compassion, then what are you doing? Does it teach you or satisfy you? Energize you and open you?

I hope so. If not, then get on with figuring out what’ll give you the same bang for your karmic buck.

As we sit amidst the harvest of the season–the squashes that will sustain us this winter, the aromatics that will flavor our soups, the apples and pears that will sweeten our winter evenings–we give thanks for not only our liberation but for our arrival in this place of safety. Our ability to have perspective and quiet time. No more scrambling and searching and wondering. We have arrived.

At this turn of the seasons, in the oasis of whatever sukkah you choose, take a sweet moment to have a good heart to heart with your higher self. There is simply nothing better.

Ups and Downs: TorahCycle Vayigash

Vayigash 2013

Thanksgiving’s over. We’ve moved on to gifting. We live lives of great abundance. Like Jacob and Joseph united, and the Israelites given a fertile patch of Egypt to settle into, everything seems rosy. We can rub our satisfied tummies and embrace the season’s pleasures. Many holiday gatherings share gratitudes. With good reason. We live good lives. As Joy Harjo, the brilliant Native American poet, says so well: We are rich in this place of many horses.

Now’s a great time to open your heart a little wider and stash in some memories of your abundance. Inhale the last scents of autumn. Appreciate the warmth of hot cider and your family’s embrace. Share you blessings with those who have less. Because nothing lasts, no matter how much we might want it to.

What do you do when times are really good, beyond enjoying them and giving thanks?

You can’t store them up, the way expectant parents might want to stockpile hours of sleep. There’s no way to preserve happiness and contentment,, like you would tomatoes or peaches. No banking system for the good times, so you can draw upon them when the famines return.

Just as no one can predict earthquakes, tsunamis, or natural disasters, we can’t know what’s coming. Jacob’s family thinks they’ve landed in a good spot, not a dangerous one. No one imagines that today’s abundance is a precursor to slavery that will last hundreds of years. Or that the exodus, Judaism’s defining story, is many generations in the future.

Who could have predicted the Shoah, or other horrific genocides? Even after millennia of anti-Semitism, the assimilated Jews of Europe could not have imagined anything as broadly lethal as the Holocaust. The Inquisition had dispersed them centuries before. But even after centuries of legal discrimination and policies of progroms, the Shoah was impossible to conceptualize, let alone to understand. Who would want to?

I’m developing a Holocaust literature project. When I talk to people about it, they either say, Yes, I too read to witness, or recoil, saying, I can’t. It’s too hard.

We’ve all seen Normal Rockwell’s classic holiday scene: a happy family around the burgeoning table. Judaism’s correlate is the Seder. Everything we could possibly want (except leavened bread). We retell the story that begins now: from safety to slavery to rescue, and then the long road to freedom. That, and the first bite of matzo, reminds us we’ve been here before. One more circle around the sun, and we’re still here. We survived slavery and concentration camps. Long road, hard road. Not all blessings and abundance.

When we’re comfortable, even complacent, what motivates us to work harder emotionally and spiritually than daily life requires? Why confront life’s harder aspects if we don’t have to? Isn’t giving thanks enough?

Struggle shouldn’t be a pre-condition to personal growth. But if you don’t do your homework in the good times, the bad ones will feel far worse. If you’ve only coasted on your happiness, instead of sharing your blessings with those who need them, you’ve missed a chance to develop the compassion and equanimity you’ll need later, when the wheel turns again for you. No one can know when that will be.

Harvest Time: Succot 2013

Succot 2013Anyone who’s visited a farmer’s market lately knows it’s a gorgeous time of year. Abundant in virtually every fruit and veggie we could conjure: bright, fresh, full of nutrients and flavor.  As we give thanks for nature’s blessings, we’re filled gratitude and delight. Wouldn’t it be grand to feel so enthusiastic about your own progress?

We’ve also reached almost full Torah circle. The perfect moment to look at how far you’ve come with what you started “in the beginning.”

You know the questions I care about in this blog: How can we create greater awareness and intention? How we can elevate our recalcitrance? How can we better connect to our holy spark? How we can become lighter beings, kinder and more compassionate? How can we heal our core stuff? How can we live with greater goodness and joy? How can we be fully present in the moments of our lives?

This week’s about looking your crap in the eye and saying both Good job! and I can do better.

Acknowledge where you’ve fallen short of the mark you’d hoped to reach. But also remember to give yourself credit. What you failed to score in reality points you may have reached in insight. Getting holier and wiser, or even healthier, more successful, or better partnered is a process that takes time. What’s more important than paying good attention, stepping up and trying to do better?

Judaism has a holiday for this season that involves setting up a small booth. The kind you might see at a craft show. A place to go, eat, and pray regularly for a week. To sit in the field of your being and say: This is what I have sown, and this is what I have reaped.

Poet Marge Piercy, speaking of the High Holidays, observes: I will find there both ripeness and rot./ What I have done and undone/ what I must let go with the waning days and what I must take in./ With the last tomatoes, we harvest the fruit of our lives.

That’s what this week is about. About making good salad, good  blessings, and enough time to contemplate the fields of your soul and your life.

It’s a time to breathe a little deeper and move a little slower. Be more contemplative as your lungs fill with both late summer and incipient autumn. Feel your heart nostalgic for the seasons ended as you remember the bright daffodils in your future.

That’s one of the beauties of Torah. The cycle repeats, and we get to appreciate it before we start again.

Jewish days begin at sundown, and Jewish years in autumn. We go inward into the darker time, getting ready to listen. Now’s the time to prepare to do better, while you can still taste the fresh tomatoes. A time to get ready to change I did into I will. To say good-bye and thank you, before we say Hello again. I’ll do better.

This week take some time to be silent, truly silent, and sit outside. Then listen to what you are being told about what has been and what comes next.

That’s your homework for now, and for the next round.