Blessings and More: TorahCycle Vayechi

HerTwelveTribesWe’re brimming over with gifts, especially this time of year. Even my peers who have forsworn No more stuff! can’t help ourselves. There’s always one more bottle of wine or limoncello, or a delicacy of salt, vinegar, or baked goods to exchange. Our cupboards overflow with abundance, all the while we’re trying to empty out, bringing donations to food banks and sending old favorites to thrift shops and new wearers.

We love exchanging gifts and blessings, sharing our things and thoughts. But in the parlance of corporate-speak: Is this their best and highest use? How can we best of what we bring to the world promote growth and healing, for ourselves and others?

We recently celebrated Hanukkah, lighting one more candle each night eight times, celebrating the miracle of abundance and light. On that last evening of bright light, some of us felt an undertone of sadness shadowing the joy of celebration. It was an echo of the Game of Thrones refrain Winter is coming…, a warning that light can be subsumed by dark forces, and that we need to move beyond rituals to keep it alive. It’s a reminder of our responsibility to continue the memory of an ancient miracle with the hard work in our daily lives.

Rituals matter, and help reinforce soul commitments. But actions of observance and the rhetoric of prayer can be hollow if they are not backed up with kavannah, deep intention, the rest of the year. Our daily choices and actions are the biggest miracle we can conjure. They’re generally a lot less fun to practice, and without the fun of celebration and presents, lights and good cheer, it can be harder to conjure the energy to stay on track. Many a person trying to give up smoking, rich foods, or alcohol can backslide when results are slow and temptations are more abundant than rewards and changes.

This week’s reading is all about Jacob blessing his sons. It’s a chance to remind yourself of all the strength and goodness you carry within you, all the assets that will sustain you when hard times and darkness come, as they will, or a chosen goal seems so very far out of reach.

Next week we will begin Exodus, the book of being in and then leaving slavery. Mitzrayim, the pace of constriction is a chance to up the ante on yourself. But now, this week, is a wonderful time to remember all the abundant blessings with which you have been endowed. They’ll not only sustain you but help to liberate you.

As you greet the new year, take some time from the nachos and bowl games to do an inventory of the tools and gifts you have at your disposal. They’ll help you reach your goals, whatever they are. On any given day they might help you earn a living, find a sweetheart, or heal an old wound. Think about your intellect, your emotional intelligence, your adaptability and your willingness to work and help. Your spirituality and your physicality. Your heart and feelings. Your senses of humor, compassion, generosity, and curiosity. Think about your genetics and your karmic assets. Each is a blessing that will help you grow into the you that you want to become.

See What’s Coming: TorahCycle Re’eh

Re'eh 2014The weather here has been crazy lately. Only the occasional Just f-ing too hot! But more than toasty far too often. What’s been strangest has been the mugginess. A thickness of air that makes your lungs work harder. And now, after some cleansing rain, the crisp scent of autumn.

We’re responding ambivalently. Not wanting to let go of a summer that always seems to begin too late and be too short. But also noticing that some mornings it’s just a little cool. Apples and pears are winking at us from the farmer’s market stalls. Strawberries saying good bye. And while we’re crying Too soon, too soon, there’s also an inner part that recognizes that the time for change has arrived right on schedule.

I feel this way when I drive to the coast. That moment when you smell how the air has changed. That salty under taste and shift in the wind. The edge of transition, imminent and welcoming. We’ve been preparing so long. It’s almost time.

This week’s reading talks about life in the Promised Land, the building of the Temple, and three annual pilgrimages to it. The holidays commemorate the exit from slavery, the giving of the 10 Commandments at Sinai, and the harvest festival. These correspond to a conscious re-birthing, defining the rules of daily life, and gratitude for the bounty that we’ve earned.

We’re still six weeks from the Jewish new year. There’s big potential for processing this time of the year, and a very conscious process of doing so that starts in about ten days. Yeah, yeah we’re supposed to be conscious each moment of each day. But identifying these special times, the holidays and their pilgrimages, real or metaphorical, helps keep us honest. They set us up to experience the shift as more than just a turn of the calendar page and the naming of dates.

Most of us are hard-wired for autumn and January 1 as transition times. Like students and teachers readying their school supplies, we’re subliminally getting ready for a shift of season. We don’t know how its gonna be when we get there and then. But we’re curious. And so very very close. We can see, smell, and taste it in the air, our food, and our daily attire, as well as on the calendar.

We’re not just curious about what it be like there. But how will we, I, me will be like there and then. What new parts are going to emerge, perhaps parts I’ve been nurturing and cheering on to step up and do better, take more responsibility. And also curious how older parts of my nature will shift around, find new ways of relating to one another, maybe even take a back seat.

The weekly readings get their names from their first word. This week’s Re’eh, means “see.” It comes from the choice between blessing and curses, and the designation of two mountains in the promised land to represent them. This is a great time to “see” how you’re doing as you prepare for the coming transition. To prepare yourself to choose the life of blessings that you so deserve.

Time’s Up: TorahCycle Bo

 

MiketzWay down deep in most of us is a hurting, a wounding to heart or soul, self-esteem or sense of self, that has brought us to this moment. It’s caused damage along the way, but also brought us to the knowing, both painful and liberating that we’ve reached the point of no return. It’s time to make a decision that will turn that painful it around, whatever your own special it is.

Remember the owwies of childhood, and your ambivalence about both wishing them gone and wanting to touch them? Change comes if you’re willing to dig deep enough to find and touch your inner sore place. You’ll know it by the way it feels: unresolved and always asking for something, perhaps attention, food, or love.

The source isn’t necessarily something that was done to you. It could have started when you failed to step up and take action or responsibility. It’s almost certainly something for which you have not yet forgiven yourself or another. Omission or commission makes no difference. What you most need to let go of  is its hold on you, on how it defines and organizes your story of life.

Confession. During a recent snow-enforced confinement I played Angry Birds (an addictive game of digital slingshot). There’s one bird on reserve (that acts like a neutron bomb) to use when you’ve failed once too many frustrating times at knocking down the targets.

It would be great to have such a ready tool for ourselves, when we’ve gotten stuck doing our emotional homework. Launch the mighty eagle; blow away all your failures and equivocation.

Our inner pharaoh has said Yes/No, Yes/No, Yes/No once too often. Time’s up. It’s time to fling that mighty eagle at yourself.

As silly as it sounds, some of my biblical imagery goes back to the classic 50’s movie, The Ten Commandments. After the last plague, the killing of the firstborn, the pharaoh who’s said Yes/No nine times prior stands holding his beloved son, his face a portrait of anguish, remorse, and regret. Nothing will make that boy alive again.

With luck you won’t need to go through such deep loss to make progress. But the stark and simple clarity that it’s time now to make changes is an important and compelling insight.

You cannot change the past. You can wish it undone, or pretend it was not so. You can’t erase the hurting. But you can transcend it. Can make your future different than your past. Use the energy you spent being angry, or fearing pain will happen again, to make changes, getting out of the narrow places that have confined and identified you for far too long.

The Jews are chased out of Egypt. You have the luxury of choice. To saying Yes to you and to joy.

We’re blessed this year to have this reading come at the transition between old year and new. A time when many of us make pledges about how we want to behave differently. If you make only one resolution, make it to live free of the pain of the past, and to live with greater awareness about what really matters to you in the year to come.