Day By Day: Counting the Omer

TOLEvery year in spring mystical Jews do a seven-week daily meditation. It’s multi-dimensional tour of aspects of divinity and self called The Counting of the Omer.

The practice stretches between two major sacred festivals. First, Passover, commemorating the exodus from Egypt (“the narrow place”), but more symbolically about leaving places of constraint. Think about a momentous life shift, like divorce, or a healing crisis. It’s about moving into a new and better you. Forty-nine days later comes Shavuous,  Sinai, being in the divine presence and taking it in through every pore of every incarnation.

They’re the book ends. Here’s how the middle works:

Tree of Life in Judaism refers to the symbolic tree of creation and to a paradigm of how to look at the world. The Tree is a set of stacked triangles that operate in triads: a characteristic, its opposite, and a balance point. They’re traditionally represented as spheres, called sephirot. The bottom seven are a strong and useful paradigm to use for solving any personal issue you’re wrestling with, aka getting out of a narrow place.

The first triangle is about unconditional love, discernment, and compassion. For an example, in relationship terms, think about: I love you madly forever; I need more boundaries, space, and time; Let’s work out something that’s good for us both. The  names of these spheres are chesed, gevurah, and tipheret.

The second triangle is about your life force: What energizes you? How and where do you aim it? What’s possible? In creative terms, it’s your Eureka! moment; your final draft/exam/signature/etc; and the possibilities that open up come from becoming an author/doctor/homeowner/whatever you’ve been striving to manifest. The spheres are netzach, hod, and yesod.

The seventh sphere is malkuth, the kingdom of here and now. This reality. How you pull all that powerful everything into the day-to-day of this life you’re living.

Week 1, which starts Tuesday April 15 at sundown, is a week of meditating on chesed. How you are open, generous, expansive, giving, and filled with love. Every Tuesday at sundown for the next six weeks is committed to each successive trait.

The holographic path has circuits of each sphere within the primary trait of the week (7×7=49 days). Omer-holoFirst you think about how loving you are, then why it’s good to have some boundaries, how to set them with grace,….and so on daily, through each trait. You can Google for daily meditation prompts from various perspectives, or ask and listen to your heart for questions as well as answers.

I recommend naming/numbering journal pages with the traits before you start, because it’s easy to slip behind and harder to get back in queue. This is a practice very worth doing, especially if you can identify one issue that you’ve been grappling with and feel like you’re stuck in a repetitive cycle that’s not leading you forward. You may not get to goal, but you will almost certainly get new insights and ideas about how to change your perspective and behavior.

So just for fun, starting bedtime Tuesday, think about how you are giving, loving, open, generous, and kind, in all the aspects of the Tree of Life, and see how it changes your now. Then work your way through each trait.

Ups and Downs: TorahCycle Vayigash

Vayigash 2013

Thanksgiving’s over. We’ve moved on to gifting. We live lives of great abundance. Like Jacob and Joseph united, and the Israelites given a fertile patch of Egypt to settle into, everything seems rosy. We can rub our satisfied tummies and embrace the season’s pleasures. Many holiday gatherings share gratitudes. With good reason. We live good lives. As Joy Harjo, the brilliant Native American poet, says so well: We are rich in this place of many horses.

Now’s a great time to open your heart a little wider and stash in some memories of your abundance. Inhale the last scents of autumn. Appreciate the warmth of hot cider and your family’s embrace. Share you blessings with those who have less. Because nothing lasts, no matter how much we might want it to.

What do you do when times are really good, beyond enjoying them and giving thanks?

You can’t store them up, the way expectant parents might want to stockpile hours of sleep. There’s no way to preserve happiness and contentment,, like you would tomatoes or peaches. No banking system for the good times, so you can draw upon them when the famines return.

Just as no one can predict earthquakes, tsunamis, or natural disasters, we can’t know what’s coming. Jacob’s family thinks they’ve landed in a good spot, not a dangerous one. No one imagines that today’s abundance is a precursor to slavery that will last hundreds of years. Or that the exodus, Judaism’s defining story, is many generations in the future.

Who could have predicted the Shoah, or other horrific genocides? Even after millennia of anti-Semitism, the assimilated Jews of Europe could not have imagined anything as broadly lethal as the Holocaust. The Inquisition had dispersed them centuries before. But even after centuries of legal discrimination and policies of progroms, the Shoah was impossible to conceptualize, let alone to understand. Who would want to?

I’m developing a Holocaust literature project. When I talk to people about it, they either say, Yes, I too read to witness, or recoil, saying, I can’t. It’s too hard.

We’ve all seen Normal Rockwell’s classic holiday scene: a happy family around the burgeoning table. Judaism’s correlate is the Seder. Everything we could possibly want (except leavened bread). We retell the story that begins now: from safety to slavery to rescue, and then the long road to freedom. That, and the first bite of matzo, reminds us we’ve been here before. One more circle around the sun, and we’re still here. We survived slavery and concentration camps. Long road, hard road. Not all blessings and abundance.

When we’re comfortable, even complacent, what motivates us to work harder emotionally and spiritually than daily life requires? Why confront life’s harder aspects if we don’t have to? Isn’t giving thanks enough?

Struggle shouldn’t be a pre-condition to personal growth. But if you don’t do your homework in the good times, the bad ones will feel far worse. If you’ve only coasted on your happiness, instead of sharing your blessings with those who need them, you’ve missed a chance to develop the compassion and equanimity you’ll need later, when the wheel turns again for you. No one can know when that will be.