What Do You Bring to This Party?: TorahCycle Naso

Naso 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know what it’s like at a potluck where everyone’s brought the same thing. Cheese/crackers or dessert have a time and place, but sequencing and variety are more interesting, nourishing, and tastier.

In this week’s reading each of the tribes bring offerings to inaugurate the altar on different days. Each is described individually but they are the very same gift. What’s this trying to tell us?

Our DNA tints our hair, skin, and eyes. The circumstances of birth impact our material comfort. But each of us is here working out very individualized karma. We create families and friend networks, communities and tribes, each to help us solve and reveal a little more of the mystery.

Our lessons interact with one another in a splendid and intricate dance. It’s staggeringly complex, a little scary, and very beautiful. The word for this is awe, which in Hebrew is y’ira, a word that intertwines jaw-dropping gratitude with healthy doses of Yikes!

Only in brief moments do we even get brief insights into how the whole system works. Unless of course we get enlightened, and then, I’m told, there are no more questions. Just deep/broad wisdom and understanding. Plus lots of cheerful smiling, if the Dalai Lama is a good example. For the rest of us, regular karmic homework. More or less in any given moment. But minute by minute, passage by passage, Spirit invites us to grow.

This happens to us as individuals and as part of the collective. We do our work dancing with and tripping over one another. Friend and foe. Ally and nemesis. Lover and enemy. We have more in common than we sometimes remember when we dispute politics or religion. But each action, each thought, each prayer is another heartbeat in our being-ness and evolution.

There was a great FaceBook post the other day (apologies for length): Dear Human: You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often. You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story. Love, in truth, doesn’t need ANY other adjectives. It doesn’t require modifiers. It doesn’t require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU. It’s enough. It’s Plenty.

This it our party and, like in the classic went-to-school-naked dream, we’ve all shown up in our karmic birthday suits. We can bring all the offerings we want. But they won’t buy us a pass on any of the terror, thrills, tragedies, and blessings of being here.

No RSVP required. You’re here. Let’s dance.

 

 

On the Road Again: TorahCycle Bamidbar

vayetze 2013We’re used to measuring. We experience both excess and scarcity, but tend to think more of good things will make us happier and help dim the annoyances of daily life. That’s true about love, but when we feed our lust for chocolate, drugs, and other cravings, less would be a better path.

We count our lives in days and years, though the things we remember best are moments: the first bite, not the twentieth. We measure by future events that may never happen, and from past ones that may be old baggage it’s time to set by the side of the road.

How do we decide what’s the right road, and what to bring along? What does experience teach us, and what’re we still struggling to learn? What’s buried in the creases of those old maps we keep folding and unfolding, trying to find our way?

When I was a kid, my wise mother had a simple dessert rule: one cuts, the other chooses. So much energy to get the bigger piece of cake, when learning to skip sugar would’ve been the better lesson.

How do we change? Are behavior and identity fixed? I’d like to think not, though believe we’re each in this wilderness to experience unique lessons, ones that are built into our karmic DNA. We are capable of learning them. Even my auto-correct (as befouled as it sometimes make things), has acquired an elegant mystical vocabulary through repeated word use. Maybe we too can grow, albeit slowly.

In ancient tribes roles were assigned, and fixed for life. Do your family of origin stories still define you? If not, how do you find or make your own tribe?

In Alice Hoffman’s new novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things, the two central characters make their way in a dark world. Each carries serious burdens, complicated by complex feelings for family, mentors, and friends. It’s a fascinating, sad, and ultimately redemptive book that navigates a landscape of incredible beauty and harshness in early 20th-century America. Hoffman raises important questions about what separates us and what pulls us towards one another.

Who are your inner tribes? If you took a census, as this week’s reading does, what parts of you would guard the innermost sanctuary and which would be on the fringes? Are you more often fierce or holy, impetuous or wise? Who are you to yourself, and who to others? How much do you share, and what do you keep hidden away? Why?

This journey is all about becoming. We are at the beginning of book four. Bamidbar. In the wilderness. What better time and place to figure out who you are and who you are becoming.

I just turned 65. Cheers for aging and wisdom. Sighs for creaky knees, and the sins of youth come home to roost. This is still a long road, I hope, learning lessons all the time. The more we trek through these passages, the more familiar the wilderness becomes. It’s never the same journey one day to the next. Our job is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, learning ourselves along the way.

Holy, Holy, Holy: TorahCycle Kedoshim

Kedoshim-2014I’ve always love the synergistic connection between holiness and wholeness. Many of us embrace the holistic paradigm, seeing the whole as more than the sum of its parts. In theory, we should see ourselves as whole and holy (and each holy me as part of a whole and holy us). But more often we go though life scratching at our most annoyingly repetitive parts, and forgetting to use our better and stronger ones.

In a wonderful old Woody Allen image he’s clutching a piece of land, bequeathed him by his Russian serf father. It’s about the size of a cupcake. But it’s “his” and he holds it fiercely. Preserving that small patch is like tending your ego self in your current lifetime. It takes lots of work to keep it whole. And to make it healthy And, oh yes, to become holy, or at least holier than you might often feel.

This week’s reading is about paths to holiness. My lazy person’s gripe with Leviticus has always been that’s all about rules. Rules and regs. Laws and rules. Do’s and don’ts. And then more and more of them. Mostly they’re a great collection how to treat one another, moral compasses, aimed at creating strong and civilized community, though some feel arbitrary. There’s certainly lots to remember, let alone follow

As lapsed addict Nurse Jackie, Edie Falco admits to her sponsor, I have a problem with authority. Most of us do. We display varied responses, from rebellion to sucking up. Mostly we create complex, idiosyncratic dances to convince ourselves that our moral virtue is intact; then we scurry home with our paycheck, promotion, kudos, or whatever we needed from authority.

But what if, instead of being opportunities to rebel or feel guilty, those rules and regs were useful and helpful? If they created a path pointing exactly to the sense of grace that you seek?

Sure, they’re a minefield of chances to screw up. But what if you could envision a whole/holy you on the other side? Someone worth the effort of becoming. That’s the bait of before/after pics in weight loss and gym membership ads. Follow this holy carrot to a new and better you.

But what if by being just a little holier, you could actually become that you?

And what if, instead of being forced, ruled, or regimented into the process, you moved towards it. If instead of shirking or shying away from the path, you embraced the doing?

I have a friend who says, Don’t start a diet unless you’re really excited about it. What if you got excited about tending your small patch of you?

You know your stuff (which I call karmic homework) and I know mine. We probably have some good guesses (and probably some wrong ones) about each other’s. But what if we actually lived in a way that helped us get to where we wanna go? What if we followed the rules and they helped?

My lessons for the next phase of my life: Get excited about my karmic homework. Enjoy doing it. Do it well. Trust where it’s leading me. How’s that sound to you?

Brick By Brick: TorahCycle Metzora

SheminiThe protagonist of Stephen King’s novel Dr. Sleep has a deep, guilty, secret. He builds his life around it, hiding it in the foundation of his identity, always believing that no matter how much good he does, he’s still the guy who did That! When he finally spills in an AA meeting, something miraculous happens. He realizes everyone around him has heard and possibly done worse.

We don’t need to build our lives on a dark foundation. Better to build them with our best actions, and clean out old dry rot as we grow.

This week’s reading’s about ritual purification of a house with patches of red and green on its walls. The high priest assesses if it’s possible to cleanse or if it should be demolished. A house can mean a dwelling but it’s also a symbol for self.

For decades I thought in eastern metaphors. I would have said I was a Buddhist or Bu-Jew. A fundamental goal of many eastern religions is transcendence of the self. Goodbye to the idea of I/me. I’ve come to believe that there’s great benefit in elevation through self. Not in a chest-thumping ego way, but in a we’re-here-to-do-good way. So when I hear house, I think of self as our home base in each incarnation.

We’re here wearing earthly clothes exactly because we’re supposed to be working on earthly things. Cleaning up the place, energetically as well as ecologically, while we move our personal karma along. Helping out day by day, in both random and conscious acts of goodness.

You don’t need a scorecard to measure the good you do. It shouldn’t matter if you’re an activist or just in the right place and time to help. Whether you do a big deed or are a willing ear or shoulder to cry on, or a pair of helping hands for someone in need. However you make our collective self happier, sweeter, and more harmonious elevates your self and the rest of us. Your actions reflect the higher and better good, and raise the bar for all of us.

You and I and everyone we know have a unique and necessary constellation of talents and skills. Yes, plus all our foibles and habits and annoyances. But in the toolkit of us, we’ve got everything we need to cleanse this house of ours.

When you arc too far into greed, gluttony, or any form of darkness or sin, your ego attracts mold and dry rot. It doesn’t take a priest to see the changes in your personality, vocabulary, and day-to-day choices. The rest of us observe and feel it all too easily.

We build the houses of our lives brick by brick. By acts of kindness or acts of selfishness. By our caring or our indifference. Now’s a great time, right before Passover, to clean out the dirt before it does damage. Spring cleaning your character as well as your cupboards.

Start by looking for your old splotches. Then get out the bleach and begin paying better attention in each moment. If we can stay more conscious, live with greater awareness and intention, we might be able to prevent what we’d otherwise hide and then need to heal.

Yes, Me: TorahCycle Vayikra

Va'eirahThe most common answer from kids to Who Did This?!? is Not Me! It doesn’t change much as we grow up.

We’re quick to put distance from our flaws and failings, especially once they’ve been discovered. We try hard to be noticed for achievements, but are often surprisingly shy to accept praise, even when it’s well-deserved. Such a strange mix of seeking on the one hand, and hiding on the other.

Who did this? Not me. Ummm……., Yup, me.

We need to take credit for the good we do, and responsibility for the not-so-good. It turns out better in the end. Dodging rarely does, as politics often proves: It’s not the misdeed that screws you, but the cover up.

This week’s reading, the first of Leviticus (a book primarily about laws and rules) is about what to do after we’ve done wrong. Atonement rituals, specifically sacrifices, for spiritual transgressions, bad actions, and sins real or even merely possible.

Lots of places to set the bar. And many bendy, twisty things to do once you get there. I’m a metaphorist, so words are as real to me as offering up critters or grain. I’m hoping sincerity counts on the scales of justice, as well as literal sacrifice.

Regardless of form, it’s useful and healing to have atonement rituals. You might get there by truly saying Sorry, by making a peace offering, or by sacrificing in measure and kind, or with your time and energy. All to wipe the slate clean, or at least cleaner.

The first step is simple and necessary: taking responsibility for your words and deeds. First to yourself–in whatever squeaky voice of conscience you use. And then to whomever you’ve wronged. Even when it stings, it feels good to raise your hand and say Yes, me. And then to do what needs to be done.

We know we’ll feel better on the other side. So why’re we so slow to raise our hands?

I think because we’re used to hugging the midline. Dodging blame even when it’s due, and ducking praise even when it’s well-earned. We may feel guilty for saying Not me when we need to. So when we’re appreciated, we’re more modest than we should be.

That’s how karma accretes. Like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls downhill, the layers that shield our holy self grow each time we don’t step up. Jewish mysticism calls these layers klipot. Think of them as husks or veils. Coverings that conceal your inner holy spark. Every time you do anything less than be your highest and best self, you add more klipot to your holiness.

These rituals help thin those layers. They’re meant to happen soon after we blow it, not to wait for the annual fall confessional, when we core dump all our sins. Don’t wait; step up now.

There are wonderful website and postcard projects where people can take their darkest secrets and toss them overboard with anonymous confessions. Not as direct as an apology, but a good first step in saying Yes, me.

However big or small your sins, imagine how much lighter you’d feel if you did that. How much brighter would your holy spark shine? How much happier would you be?

All Those Gifts!! : TorahCycle Vayechi

Her Twelve TribesOur inner selves reflect different aspects of who we are, or like to think we are. Our lover. Our banker. Our artist. Our bargainer. Our internalized parent. The proverbial inner child. The manifestor and the needy one.

This week Jacob blesses his sons with what range from character assessments to hopes for their future. Individually the blessings are interesting; as a group they encompass a useful and hopeful set to build a future upon.

What’s the point of blessings? It’s great to be smart, attractive, or athletic. But beyond making life easier or happier, what good do blessings do?

Blessings are somewhere between the best hits of elementary school (understanding things like how weather works), and the best of adulthood (falling in love, appreciating music, poetry, or wine). The discerning and savoring selves: your brain and sense of wonder dancing happily together. They’re also teachers and guides.

Blessings help you become clearer about who you are and what you’re here to do. Blessings help you get on with life with less fuss and grumbling.

Note: Blessings aren’t like shopping. You can get better or worse about using and appreciating your blessings. But you can’t trade them in for new or different ones, like you might a car. They’re gifts, not assets. They should inform your ability to do your karmic homework.

What you need to do more/less of, and when to start or stop doing so, isn’t a secret. Probably not to you. Certainly not to your guides, or even your friends and family (many of whom would be happy to tell you). Instead of waiting for an instruction manual, say Thanks and use your gifts. You’ll figure it out.

We don’t always use our blessings wisely. We get too ambitious, overshoot the mark. Or are too cautious, don’t try as hard as we should.

We have small triumphs, like mastering a new techno toy. And larger ones, like a better job or happier relationship. And we screw up. We learn from our failures, and sometimes get luckier than we ever though we could or even deserve. Favorite lines from Joan Baez, Life’s a thump ripe melon. So sweet and such a mess.

Blessings are what get us from one melon to the next. They’re somewhere between home base and everywhere you’ve always wanted to go.

I’m calling 2014 The Year of the Grand Experiment. Manifesting my lists of how I’d want to live if all my blessings were happily working synergistically, and I were truly honoring what I tell myself is important. Baseline reality: choices around time, money, food, and stuff. Deeper: spiritual practice, creativity, and emotional growth. Winnowing the cupboards and expanding the soul.

What a great week to meditate on your blessings. Don’t focus on things that come with worldly acclaim. Think about aspects of self that make you happiest to be you, and that offer clues and challenges about how to live your evolving life.

The next parts of Torah are about how to free yourself from what constrains you. Take some time now to think about how your blessings can illuminate the journey to your personal promised land.

Karma Ride: TorahCycle Vayeishev

KarmaRide 2013We’re all here for different reasons, working out our unique and evolving karma. But yours, mine, theirs are at core pretty much the same stuff even if the nouns, verbs, locations, and languages seem very different. My cosmology says we’re all learning the lessons of understanding and compassion. I may get hung up on one piece of it and you on another. So we get different stories to live and tell along the way.

Those stories are our lives. If you think of each incarnation as a going to sleep and waking up in a different dream, then we’re each here dreaming, trying to make sense of the imagery and lessons of those stories. Dreaming is the metaphor of this and next week’s readings: what we’re being told and how to make sense of it in ways that are useful.

Joseph, our new protagonist, has a wild ride. Like the spinning cups at the amusement park, knocked and jolted from every side, turning all the while in crazy loops.

His story this week: he’s daddy’s favorite son; full of himself; wears a distinctive “coat of many colors”; is gifted with prophetic dreams (in which he’s the boss and the hero); gets tossed into a pit by his jealous brothers, then sold into slavery; becomes the target of his owner’s wife’s affections; resists her would-be seduction; lands in jail; interprets more prophetic dreams; gets a reputation for being insightful and special.

It’s clear early that he’s not going to become a simple herder. There’s a star on his head (even if he painted it there himself) that says, Look at me. Big things coming.

Most of our journeys are less dramatic. We take longer to find our gifts. Sure, there’s the occasional Mozart, a prodigy at age six. But most of us come into our own more slowly, in stages, over time. Or even blossom late, like Grandma Moses. Our gifts are learned from all our stories, the joyous and the painful, the easy and the hard. The living dream of our journey.

Using Torah as an allegory for personal growth helps you see its archetypes as both for and about you. Instructive if not directly prophetic. A tool to help you get more from your process.

There was a recent radio story about people with the chance to choose one super power. The most popular were the ability to fly or to become invisible (with gazillion caveats, like How fast? or Do my clothes go invisible too?). Joseph’s super power is dream interpretation. What to others is a complex jumble of images or strange situations is for him a vivid and prophetic story.

Insight about what’s coming, or at least what energies are turning the gears, creates perspective. And as much as most of us wouldn’t choose slavery and prison, each piece of the journey helps him to where he’s doing. Ditto for you.

Even if you can’t fly, become invisible, or prophesize, think about what makes you special. How did you acquire and deepen those skills? How they can help you get closer to your goals? How can they help you make better choices on your journey?

Your Evil Twin: TorahCycle Toldot

Toledot 2013

We’ve all got them. Not just one; more like a handful. They usually appear as counterpoint to however we’re trying to be. Typically at inconvenient, even critical, moments. The shadow sides of who we aspire to become, even if we generally act more evolved.

There’s no mistaking when they show up. Like an anti-fantasy. You’re aiming for charming: out comes the truth teller or the boor. Need to be articulate or persuasive: stupid brain takes over. Your evil twin embarrasses you. It also steers you to self-sabotage, both active and passive, decisions both made and avoided.

To be clear, your evil twin might be something I aspire to. My best self might be someone else’s evil twin. We’re all here doing learning different lessons. So our shadow selves take different forms and bring different lessons.

This week’s reading’s about two brothers. Opposites: bookish vs. hunter, sly vs. forthright, strategic vs. wanting immediate gratification. The one who lies and cheats to gain an inheritance? After his own tough homework, he’ll transform into a revered patriarch. There’s hope for us all.

Torah’s enacted in a time when we lived more outside. Sat by the fire after dark. Looked at the stars and shared stories. Who a person was, was in part who they were told to be.

Who “you” are is how others speak and think about you, as well as who you feel on the inside. A gap between aspiration and action can exist even when it’s just you watching. But when your twin takes the wheel, your foibles are prime time.

We tend to see what we want and surround ourselves with folks that seem to like and accept us. If our shadow has little need to appear, we can coast pretty easily through our days. No need to look into our darker corners.

But each time your inner twin reaches for the foresworn chips or chocolate, picks a bad relationship, acts stubbornly, selfishly, or foolishly is a chance to look deeper. To ask what your hidden, hungry, unfulfilled self really wants.

We’re attracted to certain types of people or situations. We know when we’ve met our kin, whether that’s religion or voting pref, profession or sexual orientation. Your twin feels safe, and less likely to act up or out.

Other times we seem predestined to butt heads. Things and people that don’t fit so nicely, no matter how you might want them to. That electric bristling of not liking. Nothing seems to come out right. Murphy’s law condemns every word and action. What a playground for the evil twins!

These people and situations are in our lives to teach us. Yes, the lessons reflect a side of ourselves we’d rather not  be known for. But seeing and naming are good ways to bring your shadow into the light. Not always pleasant but necessary to grow,

Think about people and situations that push your buttons, where your not-best-self pops out of the woodwork. What do they have in common? Knowing will show you the parts of you that need more work and integration. They’ll almost certainly offer you more chances to do your karmic homework.

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!