Day By Day: TorahCycle Mishpatim

Mishpatim-

This is the Year of the Grand Experiment. Living simply, with more emphasis on what matters to health, heart, and soul than to doing and stuff. Buying less,  and more consciously. Going eyeball-to-eyeball with my values, not just about money but with time, food, relationships, energy. Trying to make conscious choices in every dimension of life. Trying to live by guidelines and “rules,” notes that I wrote down last autumn, when I was contemplating what would make my life better, healthier, more creative, productive, and joyous.

The gifts that are coming towards me as I live by these rules are abundant. Some new, others I’ve sought for a long time. Some are delightful. Others challenging. When I do this experiment well, I hear them and if I hear them….That’s the rub, can I keep doing them?

I think the answer is Yes, because somewhere along the way I’ve moved from that old karmic dance routine of “one step forward, two steps back,” to its more evolved sister, two steps forward for every one back, sideways, or standing still staring into space wondering if I really can keep this process going.

This week’s reading has the great line We will do and we will hear (in contrast to a later one, We will hear and we will do). It’s a synergistic form of self-improvement. One that, like a childhood game, doesn’t matter where you jump into the circle. Just that you commit to doing. And keeping doing. Day by day.

This is the first reading in which we get lots of rules. Instructions for daily life: 613 in all coming our way, with 50+ here out of the gate. About everything from cooking to praying. Rules for behavior. But more importantly, an expression of values.

Sinai gave us the biggies, the Ten Commandments. These rules are the how-to manual for daily life.

When I work with people, coaching or problem solving, I’m always trying to get them to understand their values, and how those values influence and relate to their goals. What they’re striving for as well as their ethics and moral elasticity.

How we live daily life should be an extension of our values.

There’s a concept in Jewish mysticism of the big face and the little face: the face of the divine and our own. The little a reflection of the big. In the image, so to speak. There’s also the value of treating others as we wish to be treated.

If you cannot see yourself clearly, it will be harder to see another. Ditto to respecting, accepting, loving, having compassion for, and caring for yourself and others.

Take some time to think about your own values. Relationships, money, time, food, your body, and your spiritual practice. You can call them rules if you need a prod or an organizational tool. But in a more elevated consciousness, it’s about committing to living with ritual and with intention. About making the choice to elevate your actions by consciousness and awareness. Each choice, each moment. You may not see the face of God, but you can very clearly see your own.

Holy Wow: TorahCycle Yitro

Chukat

We all have forms of practice. Spiritually obvious ones like daily meditation or prayers, and more grounded forms like running or gardening. Leaving Egypt is like getting your K-6 certificate for doing a good job with your practice, so far. It’s a big deal.

So what do our guides do?  Give us a recess or two to figure out the lay of the land and the new us we want to be? Nope. We’ve barely got our feet on the trail and we’re catapulted to the holy of holies. A chance to seriously up our game.

Sinai imagery is of thundering sound from a cloud and lightning shrouded mountaintop. Hearing color. Seeing sound. Every sense askew from both message and delivery.

How about you? Do you want your next batch of lessons to arrive by knocking your doors off? Or do you prefer a process that guides you carefully, even gently, to greater insights and blessings? Do you want those lessons to deepen who you already are, or to challenge you to become different?

Torah talks about our physical senses being shattered open by revelation. The sacred geometry of mind and matter is complex and not under our direct control. But I get regular affirmations that what we think affects what happens in our lives, both for good and ill. We can’t make things happen, but when they come we can decide whether to welcome or run from them.

At its core, the Sinai experience is about deep kavannah, commitment and intention. Intention in a multi-dimensional, seven chakras at a time way: Yes. I’m all here and all in.

To reassure those who aren’t always so ready: in the story, the people close their eyes, cover their ears, and beg Moses to serve as their interlocutor. But for an instant, we each had a chance to say a profound Yes.

Buddhism teaches the importance of preparing for death. For the “go towards the light” moment between nows when you can shape your karma and consciousness. That moment’s also about intentionality and choice.

Mantra: Each choice matters, and impacts what happens next.

The big choice is choosing intention. This reading asks, What’s it gonna take to get your attention? A Holy Wow, a sweet arm around your shoulder, or something else? The universe has many ways, from kind to sly, even scary, of knocking on our doors. Some ways we neither invite nor welcome. But it also responds well to commitments that are deep and true. That align your holiest self with your deepest intention.

Get clear on what you want so you can start asking for it.

I welcome holy moments, but haven’t always accepted the responsibilities that accompany their invitations. As I age, I increasingly value the importance of listening to these messages, whether they come with trumpets or as whispers, as subtle hints or with clear instructions about what to do and how to live.

My advice: The next time you’re scared and want to cover your ears and eyes, instead embrace the idea that what’s happening is for your highest good. That it’s an opportunity to jump tracks, up your game, catapult yourself in the right direction. Then open your hands in gratitude and say Yes.

 

 

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.

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?

The Vow: TorahCycle Mattot

MattotThis week’s reading is officially called Tribes. Lots of warring and strife, and the slaughter of both enemies and innocents. It starts out saying: A vow’s a vow. If you said you were going to do (or not do) a certain thing, if you swore an oath, then (ahem) you’re actually supposed to follow through. As in, not break your vow.

There’s a caveat about vow annulment. Not surprisingly, just abandoning or ignoring vows isn’t kosher (excuse Jewish pun). In specific circumstances certain people can be released. But before you spring for the crack of light in the doorframe, remember that vows honored are generally successful, and those abandoned are usually not.

Are you ready to demonstrate obedience and discipline to something you think still matters, something that might change your life?

Vows are made in times of crisis (no atheists in foxholes, they say). Also in deep moments when we hope to motivate ourselves for betterment.

We make lots of promises along the way, to self and to others. Some are absolute, but many take that “if, then” form of “after X, I’ll be good about Y-ing.” A carrot on the end of life’s stick; a reward to aim for.

We often make things complicated with conditions and rules, when the secret is much simpler, hidden in clear sight like Poe’s purloined letter: Live exactly the life and healing you want to achieve. Wanna be less angry, then stop shouting. Thinner, eat less. Kinder, do more for others.

There’s a famous illustrated Zen story about finding the bull. (Google for the pictures.) It’s a metaphor about the steps on the path to enlightenment. Which boil down to vowing only one vow, and then keeping it: I will keep my vows.

What if consciousness were that simple, if everything followed from that one act?

Not complicated. Not lots of rules and measuring, trying to remember when, what, or how X and Y were. What if you simply lived the way you say you want to live? In your open heart, with clarity and consciousness, as though you were already at goal. Being both receptive and active in equal measure, at the right times and places. Worrying less about your house, your car, or your job. Not fretting about what your partner said, why you don’t have one, or what would make things better in your relationships.

What if you lived in goodness and joy and gratitude? With greater awareness and intention?

What if there was only one vow: to let go of all the old stories and live the you that you’ve hoped to become, the one you wish you already were and secretly bemoan you might never meet. What if you embraced that you, the one who keeps your vows? What if all your inner tribes stopped fighting one another? No more arguments, failure, or recriminations. No  more waiting to find enlightenment. Instead, a successful you. Innocence regained, with the fresh wisdom and insights that come with it.

Sit with this one. Take a few minutes every day to let it roll around you and breathe you in and out. What if you vowed your deepest wish? And kept your vow.

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!