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.

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.

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?