Hide and Seek: TorahCycle Vayakhel-Prkudey

Yitro

In the mid-80’s a British illustrator came up with a clever set of visual puzzles that challenged viewers to identify a playful character amid throngs of other similarly-clad folks. It reminded me of a game that readers of the Sunday NY Times played, in the days of the great Al Hirshfield. He signed each week’s entertainment cartoon with a number, like 3 or 5,  by his name: that was how often the name NINA would be hidden in the angles of his cover story drawing.

They’re variations of hiding the truth in plain sight. Challenging and simple. And like the optical illusion of the old/young lady or lady/vase, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee, or believe it took so long, or that you could ever not have seen it. But until you do, there’s so much mystery and searching.

This and recent readings have focused on the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelis would cart with them through decades of trekking. The instructions are given twice, in such tediously exquisite detail that one finds oneself hoping against hope that there’s a revelation so simple and obvious waiting for us once we perceive it. In the interim, there’s counting and measuring of objects as diverse as dolphin skins, spices, and jewels.

We’re told that HaShem will hover over the mishkan in a cloud, so everyone will know they are not alone on their journey. (Always a deeply satisfying reminder: Spirit is with you!) Moses alone will be invited in to talk face-to-face, like you and your best buddy over a cuppa. Come in; sit down; receive the word. That’s when the system works well and you’re in synch with your guides, listening to and hearing one another.

When I was far younger, and every incoming call was a blush-evoking maybe-a-date, my father would answer the phone saying just too loudly, Nobody home! on the principle that anyone too easily cowed was someone I’d be better off without.

That’s how the mishkan works. Your inner Moses has to be brave and smart enough to receive truth. And the universe generous and lined up for you to actually hear it. (Note to self: it helps to be listening.)

Each of us has our own cues: a deer on your walking trail; a synchronistic message from a loved one; a vibrant dream; or even a bright penny by your feet. When things like that appear, we listen a little harder.

The mishkan’s like an extra antenna. Designed to operate on all channels like a SETI beacon beaming out and scanning the heavens, hoping we’ll meet another set of souls with a different cosmic address,

We’ve got a lot of trekking in front of us. But having the mishkan with us helps keeps out feet and souls aimed pretty much aimed the right way, assuming we can hear the directions.

However you think of your mishkan, this is the perfect time to visit it. You’ll find something much deeper and more profound than Waldo.

Getting Better: TorahCycle Mishpatim

Vayeira 2014

Jack Nicholson has a wonderful line in the movie As Good As It Gets. He’s a selfish misanthrope wooing Helen Hunt, and, in a desperate move to forestall rejection, says, You make me want to be a better man. Who wouldn’t fall for that?!

Like the G word, everyone’s idea of being a better person is different. I’m going to use the word goodness as shorthand. Goodness is not so much observant piety or zen-like enlightenment, either of which might be a worthy goal depending on what matters to you. I’m talking about becoming a kinder, gentler, more compassionate human. The kind of folks we need more of on the planet, if only to keep it spinning towards the light.

How do we become better people? Do it on our own? Through another? After struggle and tragedy? Through gratitude and compassion? Is it a state of grace that sticks, or do we repeatedly need to up the ante on ourselves when we go back to our old, unconscious ways.

This week’s reading and the next are like mismatched twins: instructions on finding the path and then losing it in a dramatic way. It’s a long way to home.

The reading includes the statement We shall do and we shall hear. Note this is directly contradicted later in Torah by We shall hear and we shall do. It brings up the which comes first chicken/egg question.

Do you get better access to your higher self, your guides, whatever divine goodness you believe in if you walk on the right path?

In counseling there’s a modality called the comprehensive resource model. It’s a psychological version of prayer. It asks for help, from all your allies and guides seen and unseen. The simple organizing principle beneath it is this: I need you. Please show up. Guide me and help me heal. Not much beats that feeling of that wind at your back.

I come from the do-as-you’re-told school of karmic homework. For me that’s inner voice more than books of rules. But both paths lead to goodness.

Most of us know goodness by how it feels, whether we’re on the giving or receiving end. Both contribute to a pay it forward world, in which goodness multiplies and spreads like a beneficent virus.

The core teaching is a direct follow-up to last week’s Know your values. Live with goodness and you will hear more — from Spirit and from this world –- about how to become a yet better person. You’ll feel better inside and you’ll keep getting told more of what you need to hear and do to keep feeling that way. And, a great side benefit, to help those around you feel that way too.

Someone posted recently on FaceBook, Once you’re happy why would you be with anyone who doesn’t make you feel that way? No duh. Feel the goodness and you’ll attract more blessings. Maybe even find true love.

 

Good Morning, Mitzrayim: TorahCycle Shemot

Shemot 2015jpgIt took forever but we are finally here. After all the festivities, gifting, and celebrating, we woke up the other day to a clean new year. One unsullied by bad decisions or old habits. A blank slate. Tabula rasa. A new chance to get things right. Resolutions made. Vows to keep them. Optimism abounds.

Not so fast. We have just entered the book of Exodus.

I’ll assume you read the book or saw the movie. Baby Moses cast into the bulrushes to escape genocide: raised in the palace; kills an overseer who’s abusing Hebrew slaves; is exiled to the wilderness; sees a burning bush on Mt. Sinai; talks directly to God; returns to free the enslaved.

The big punch line of the next several chapters is that we get out of slavery. But the work in-between now and then, and the even harder work after, when the overseer is inner not outer, fills the next four books.

This process is a metaphor of “the hero’s journey” that Joseph Campbell wrote about so eloquently. You have to go into the darkness and make it through to find and appreciate the light. Baby Moses represents our holy spark: waiting to be rescued and reclaimed. For now we need to engage the parts of us that are willing to look into that dark place and use what we see to transform ourselves.

It’s the journey of a lifetime, with oh so many paths, both twisting and straight, obstructed and clear. It can be hard to find our way, but it happens with small steps, one step at a time.

Making bricks under an overseer’s whip is a vivid image of the darkness. Direct communion with The Source is a worthy goal. But to get there you must choose the light, and reinforce that choice with every small decision that follows. That’s what our resolutions are about. I’ve been stuck doing X, Y, or Z. I want to change. Instead it’s time to do _______. Fill in the blank.

In Torah there is a deus ex machina to help. Literally. The divine hand, expressed through acts of wonder and magic, plagues and punishment. More on that soon. But the core question remains: Do you like things how they are or do you want them to change? Really? What’re you prepared to differently to turn your resolutions into reality? Are you waiting for a miracle or are you ready to step up? Now? When? How often and consistently? What will make the changes sustainable, not failed attempts?

Moses answers at the burning bush with a word we see at important moments in Torah. He is called and he answers hineini, I am here. It is an acknowledgment both that he has heard the call and that he is willing to be to respond. To step up.

This journey is all about showing up. Step by step. It’s not about saying No, thanks. Please don’t ask me to up the ante on myself. It is about listening to the guides around you and the knowing inside you, and then doing your work 24/7. It’s about choosing hineini, to be present in every moment and choice of your life, Every step on your journey.

Happy New Year.

The Real You: TorahCycle Vayetze

Vayetze

 

Anyone who’s ever spent a night tossing with insomnia knows the hunger for sleep. Those with scary nightmares long for the light of day, while those enjoying glorious Technicolor dreams are in the twilight we can too rarely conjure. Both are places where we’re instructed and guided in the often cryptic and magical language of dreams.

One theory of dream analysis postulates that everyone and everything in your dream is an aspect of you. That it’s a play for and about you, created by your higher self, your unconscious, subconscious, guides, whatever messengers you believe in, all of whom are fabricating an intricate drama–fantastical, threatening, comic, and/or challenging–often built from the characters and detritus of your daily life. Dreams are trying to get your attention. Encouraging you to examine them, from whatever pieces that you can remember.

Some people train more and better recall with a dream journal, recording each remembered fragment. Others claim not to dream at all. Most of us are in the middle, intrigued and occasionally disturbed by faint and incomplete images that escape like smoke between our waking breaths.

Often we’re left with the lingering feeling that we’ve been told something very i.m.p.o.r.t.a.n.t., and that we have a responsibility not just to remember the dream, as crazy or strange as it may seem in ordinary reality, but to interpret whatever messages it’s asking us to understand. To dig beneath the metaphor, camouflage, and irony, catastrophe or black humor, silly puns, strange sounds, and outright instructions in which the dream gods often cloak themselves.

Their messages aim at the various layers of you, at the archeology of your soul. It’s like stripping away layers of old linoleum floors in a rehab house. But in this case it’s the strata of your past, present, and possible futures. I pay special attention when former residences or dead relatives show up, or with images that become especially important if I find myself clearly engaging with them (as opposed to just watching like it’s someone else’s movie).

This week’s reading includes Jacob’s ladder. Angels ascending and descending while he sleeps with his head on a rock. Coming and going with messages, instructions, blessings, and gifts. In the morning he calls it HaMakom, The Place.

HaMakom is the place of understanding, the moment when the messages make sense. When you know with certainty what your dream is telling you and how you’re supposed to proceed. When the landscape of part/present/future gives you perspective on all directions and all possibilities. HaMakom helps you marry insight to consciousness and know how to proceed.

Most of us return to waking life less clear about following through. I remember shouting loudly to an advising guide last week: I can’t! It’s too hard!! That kind of dream is easy to remember in the light of day, and then to examine my own resistance.

Why refuse to accept such clear instruction? Because we don’t live in The Place. We’re distracted by friends, football, turkey, pumpkin pie, and a zillion alternatives to doing what we’re being told to do.

Which is the real you? The dreamer or the one who wakes in the morning? How can you find your HaMakom?

That Other Me: TorahCycle Toldot

shoftim

As a front piece to her new book Small Victories, Anne Lamott cites a Billy Collins poem, In the Evening, the last line of which is And the past and the future?/Nothing but an only child with two different masks.

That’s this week. The yin and yang of us. The cunning and the simple one. The compassionate one; the selfish one. The wise and the innocent, calculating and trusting aspects of self. Dualities we’ve had imaged for us since Cain and Abel. You and that other you. Me and that other me. Nothing but us playing with different masks. Putting on the play of our lives.

Who’s running your show in any given moment is a matter of circumstance, habit, and sometimes intention. Some is trainable, amenable to growth. Other ingredients will stick in place for another lifetime or three. If you’re a witness to your own development, you’re probably aware what energies you’re running on and working on, and at least some of the what you stub your toe on regularly.

Eons ago I worked on a project to live “with greater awareness and intention.” On the clumsy, foolish days, I wanna ask How’s that going for ya, honey? But on the good ones, the ones filled with gratitude and wonder, I feel so very lucky to be doing that particular part of the puzzle.

My holiday wishes for us all, May you have many, many more of the good days. And may you understand clearly what the bad days are trying to teach you.

These readings offer us vivid examples of acting from desire and greed, and from nobility and compassion. We’re all of those things, depending on the day. Torah’s a mirror asking us to look at which one we’re being now, so that we can up the ante on our game.

Our attitude and point of view is almost always situational and relative. Even when we get to the big picture, a ten-thousand foot view of where we are in our evolution, it’s hard to hold onto. Our understanding scatters when we’re faced with crises or difficult outcomes. One more time we find “that other me” acting out or pushing boundaries. The big insight is knowing that it’s to help us better understand the lessons we’re here to work on.

We’re rarely appreciative. But karma’s such a patient process.

Physicists tell us that a huge percent of the universe is “dark matter”– the stuff we cannot see that probably makes everything we can see function as it does. To me it’s soul matter, directing the reality we live in. NPR had a story the other day about mitchondrial DNA. It’s what make our cells run; a mere 27 genes out of 20,000 plus, but they function like a battery or energetic motivation. So it’s especially important to pay very close attention when that other you–your inner Esau–the one you’re not always in such a rush to claim–acts out and does something stupid or short-sighted.

Because that’s how our othernesses get our attention. By starting fires in and under us. It’s our job to look at them and listen to them. And to to choose our next steps carefully and wisely.

Knock, Knock: TorahCycle Vayeira

Vayeira 2014Much of lot of Torah is about recognizing and responding to messengers. Messengers and messages that come in various forms. It’s easy to imagine holy messengers looking like white-robed angels. In fact, the Hebrew word for angels is malachim, which translates as messengers.

They come bearing news and pronouncements, instructions and even commands, both joyous and dire. They’re interpreted as performing divine errands. But they’re not on call to you. When you might want them to save or guide you, they can be absent or silent, no matter how much you search, ask or plead.

Who do you listen to then?

This week’s reading has several important moments, with messengers and otherwise. It’s almost a distillation of Torah, framing questions about who one listens to when, how far one is willing to go (in obedience to a god or a spouse), and the generational consequences of those decisions.

In the ultimate supremacy of hospitality, Abraham interrupts a conversation with the divine to welcome three strangers who approach his tent. They are, of course, angels come to bless him and his ostensibly barren wife with news of a child to come. The stories in this reading seed centuries of Middle East conflict: Ishmael/Isaac and Hagar/Sarah, the ancestors of warring tribes, nations, and faiths. It also presents the almost sacrifice of Isaac, interrupted by yet another holy messenger.

Too often we’re shown Abraham acting, but not deliberating, even though he’s confronting serious issues that have deep and long-range consequences. It’s certainly not how I consider far smaller decisions, and contrasts mightily with the bargaining he does to try and save Sodom. What’s the pointing finger trying to tell us?

The metaphor of child sacrifice is scary and compelling. I read it as  putting us eyeball to eyeball with our values. About knowing which voice to follow in very difficult circumstances, albeit of our own making. The whole process that we’re engaged in as humans is about pushing ourselves to understand our true values, and how we’re going to live as a consequence of embracing them. That goes for daily life and bigger things, like elections. If we believe something we need to act to keep it alive.

One of my friends said recently, Nothing important in my life has ever happened where I didn’t hear a call. I feel the same. I’d like to think that if an angel hadn’t appeared Abraham would’ve decided a loving god would not actually require him to kill a child.

I believe in holy resonances but I also believe they’re here to teach us by offering opportunities to step up. In any given moment you have to decide where the lines is that you will or will not follow or cross. Just because you walk down a path doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the sad and bitter end. You get to write your story.

The point is to notice when the messengers and messages arrive. Then to listen very carefully.

You get to decide what you believe in. All the rest is pointing and whispers and hints. And if you are lucky sometimes a great big cosmic pat on the back.

Because I Said So!: TorahCycle Chukat

JoshWhat pisses you off? Bad drivers when you’re late? Annoying colleagues, stubborn friends, or forgetful partners? Poorly designed tools, new software? What makes you lose it? Grit or gnash your teeth. Shriek, smash pottery, or just plain lose your cool.

I recently lost a beloved pet. Death’s high on my things-that-piss-me off list. Not so much my own death; if that was gonna happen now it probably woulda. But the damn finality of it. The can’t pick up the phone and find you now finality. Or in this case, shake the bag of tuna treats and see my kitty come running.

Even though I believe in reincarnation, the transmigration of souls, and high-falutin’ stuff like talking to unseen guides and all the wonderful things my generation helped scatter about, connecting with spirits that are energetic rather than manifested is harder and less reliable. It requires a certain sense of intention, kavannah. A committed, more focused way of doing things. Slower than my instincts generally motivate. Not to mention careful listening and a whole lotta faith.

So I can empathize with Moses, who’s spent 40 years shepherding the whiny masses. They’re hungry and thirsty, and when HaShem says water will flow from a rock, Moses gets impatient and angry and wonks it with his staff to hurry things along. I’m amazed he didn’t snap sooner.

Anger is such a murky emotion. So seemingly transparent, but usually the tip of a deep pool of other, older, feelings. Flailing at what doesn’t obey us, what doesn’t confirm to our desire to reshape the universe as we think it should be, can be momentarily cathartic.

I’m empathetic. I’m often moving too fast. Not always paying enough attention to fine details or sharp edges. My recent construction project helped. Enforced an ability to be more at peace with, or at least more tolerant of, what I could not control. It was a good and needed teaching.

But like most folks I’m not very good with a profound sense of helplessness. We like to say, Let go and let God. But really! Sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith. And then we blow it.

Usually there are consequences (rarely good ones), to us or worse, to others. They tend to make us rueful and sad, angry at ourselves for not paying better attention all along. This reinforces the helplessness, because we can’t change the past any more than we can avoid the deaths of those we love.

The day after, one of my wise friends quoted me a great line of lyrics: Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. It helped.

If we’re paying attention, we’ll learn from our lessons. Get a little smarter. Do better or at least maybe different the next time. No guarantee we won’t blow it again. And again and again. That’s why we’re here, doing this work. To keep blowing it until some day we don’t, and get to wherever it is we go next.

We get wiser. A little more healed. Find enough solace and blessings in what we have and can hold, love and be loved by, that even though we don’t get to enter the promised land right now, we get to see it is indeed there, waiting for us when we are ready.

Lucky us.

 

Home Base: TorahCycle Terumah

Terumah 2014A lot of my spirituality comes from the idea of being told. Of instructions about everything from my karmic homework to where I put my glasses. Messages that come with a deep sense of knowing: a synchronous recognition in my head, heart, and gut. Like the puzzle piece that slides perfectly into place, it’s an awareness of direction and action that just feels right, even if sometimes it also seems challenging, or ironically simplistic. Of course I need to be listening to hear it.

Most of us get instructions for from context. From family, teachers, partners, and mentors. Verbal and nonverbal. (Insert the classic image of my mother pulling her shoulders back and square like a drill sergeant, hissing Stand up straight!) Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t, to our benefit or peril.

The reading’s about the construction of the miskhkan, the portable ark the Jews will carry through the desert. It acts as home base. A place for people to gather and listen, and for HaShem to communicate with them. Such a fascinating contradiction between the core idea of indwelling spirit (our holy spark) and the need for a special site for God to visit and instruct.

I recognize and respect sacred spaces, from the comforting hush of formal sanctuaries to the hidden magic of ancient painted caves. But I prefer the idea of a portable sanctuary that’s in me. A beacon emitting the Help me, Teach me, Thank you signal the way the SETI Project sends earthly transmissions to whoever’s out there listening.

My word for that inner mishkan is HaMakom, a God-name that means The Place. Completely portable. Where the inner and outer rest within one another. HaMakom can occur anywhere in space-time. In nature or dreamtime, meditation or inspiration. It’s a conversation between worlds seen and unseen that feels just right.

No one yet knows how long they’re gonna be on the road. Making something together is a bonding exercise. Everyone contributes: money, ideas, thread.

The idea that you could make a place to invite the divine to show up is seductive. The instructions, like Noah’s ark, are many and specific. Part of the message: it takes work and time to get where you wanna go. Lots of steps. Collecting. Measuring. Assembling. Blessing. But like the old cartoon about the seeker parked outside a guru’s cave, just because you show up and ask, doesn’t mean you’ll hear anything

Atop the mishkan are two cherubs. They face one another, with a space between them. When I first heard Charlie Hayden/Pat Metheny’s album, Beyond A Missouri Sky, I was fascinated by the openness between the notes. A breath. Like an open heart, that space is our inner mishkan, our receptor site to get spoken to.

There’s lots of instructions coming. For now they’re delivered without recriminations and scolding. We’re encouraged to do good and well. Offered hope in the possibility of progress. Even its inevitability, if we listen well and choose a righteous path with an open heart.

Create HaMakom by honoring your inner mishkan. Stay open and listen well. The more you do, the better you’ll hear the answers you seek.

Here and Now: TorahCycle Vayetze

vayetze 2013

We all have sacred places. Places that make us feel completely safe, held. Places that expand our consciousness. That connect us with the world of the unseen, either by their majestic grandeur or their simple peace. As we go through life, those places and their talismans shift. Your crib and blanket give way to a special park or beach, or a magnificent vista. Any places that come with a special knowing and a healing resonance we respond to as sacred, and accord them reverence and appreciation.

This week’s reading finds Jacob on the road. He’s left his father’s house and his brother’s anger; he’s off to find a wife. The image of a stone shows up several times, early as a pillow and later as the memorial of a peace treaty. Both times, the sites are declared holy places.

Stones sometimes say Notice me! when I’m out walking. I especially like it when they appear as I’m wrestling with a problem, trying to gain insight and clarity. They come home to sit with others that said hello in the past.

Altars everywhere. That’s a lot of what Torah is about. Journeying from sacred place to sacred place. Finding them, recognizing them, naming them. Acknowledging both the divine presence and the reciprocity of that relationship.

This reading brings us the phrase Jacob’s Ladder, a stairway he dreams of, angels coming down and angels going up. Last week for Halloween folks had faux cobwebs everywhere, obscuring things. This is the opposite, a route of direct transmission. He calls it HaMakom, literally “the place,” as in God was in this place and I did not know.

HaMakom is a place to ask questions as much as to hear answers. There’s a quality about the asking, getting to the bedrock of your sincerity, that clears away all the extras.

The Hebrew word for angel is generally translated as messenger. And that’s ultimately what angels are. Bringing you what you need when you need to hear, see, or receive it. These messengers can be the person who stops to help you with your flat tire or the stone on your path.

We are those messengers too. Appearing in hamakom for one another as and when we are meant to be. Angels in our human skins.

In Nicole Krauss’s History of Love she says: Angels sleep unsoundly. They toss and turn, trying to understand the mystery of the living. They know so little about what it’s like to fill a new prescription for glasses and suddenly see the world again, with a mixture of disappointment and gratitude. Because being human is more complicated, more raucous, and more painful. But the more we engage with what we’re here to do, the more vital it feels to do it well and right. The more clearly we see.

Hamakom is not just your own little bubble. It’s all of our bubbles interacting at the same time. So it’s important to be here now. In hamakom. For you and for the rest of us.

Whenever stones or angels talk to you, listen up. Hamakom is wherever you go, wherever you are invited. It’s where you are right now. We’re always in hamakom.

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!