Finding Your Way: TorahCycle Vayigash

Vayigash 2014Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: It seemed like a great idea at the time. You have all these hopes. It’s inspirational to think you have found “the one,” “the answer,” or at that you’re making if not the finest decision of your life, at least the right and best one for that time. One that’ll have great outcomes. Make you happier, healthier, richer, wiser, whatever quest you are on and hope to make a great leap forward pursuing. If you’re in peril or danger, there’s that special relief that you’ve found sanctuary: happily ever after, lush fields, safe home, goats in every yard, and grain for every pot. Good luck with that.

Life is cyclical: this week’s harbor will become next month’s prison. Now we’re being welcomed by a long-lost brother; soon we will be slaves. That’s Torah. In real life, events usually take longer to unfold, and situations are rarely as dire, thought they can feel like it, which helps ready us for the yet next shift.

Torah is a metaphor for evolution. The morals of the next sections: You have to be ready and willing to change to actually change. It may feel great in the beginning but it gets harder. There’s rough stuff and tough times to get through. Freedom and evolution are great goals. Getting there requires hard work. And then more hard work. It’ll feel better before it gets worse, and eventually better again. The in-between matters. How you do it helps determine when you land.

We have one more chapter in Genesis. Remember this all started with creation. From the void till now, we’ve gone through several cycles of starting over, as a species, families, and individuals. We screwed up before, and are likely to do it again. But if we’re living in good faith, trying to improve, to do better each time around, if we’re paying attention to the lessons and continuing to do our homework, the process is worth it. We may never get where we think we want to go. But each new there will teach us what we next need to learn.

For now, we’re choosing to go down into Egypt. To the place that looks good, for now. Like the new love who offers rescue from lonely evenings, or the job that promises income and advancement, Egypt seems like a sure bet. The reading is optimistic: Joseph is united with his family and they’re invited to move in. Smiles, handshakes, and toasting abound.

Part of the message: before you start engaging with new deep work, make peace with as much of your history as you can. The less you’re packing, the better off you’ll be when you enter the murky, mucky parts.

It’s all a mirror of the healing process, however you go about doing it. This is a powerful time to take stock. Not just the end-of-year best and worst lists. But a soul level, What am I working on and How’m’I gonna do it? kind. Asking and answering will serve you well in the times to come.

Letting It Go: TorahCycle Miketz

Miketz 2014The old adage goes, Revenge is a dish best served cold. That suggests it’s better to be tough (so you are not hurt again) and cunning (until you can get even). Not good for anyone, including those who’ve been hurt. Ditto for immediate responses of anger, physical violence, and words that cannot be unspoken. All set us on a path to unhappiness, disease, dis-ease, and a generalized sense that the world is an unfriendly, even hostile, environment.

But hurt is a heavy burden. You know the difference between the lightness you feel when you are joyous and the weight sadness brings to your soul. In the movie 21 Grams, that miniscule amount is the difference between a living person and their empty husk. Would it be more on a very bad day?

Other than spirit itself, what weights a soul? Wounds, sadness, anger, regret, unrequited longing, unhappy memories, words spoken and not, scars of body, mind, and heart.

The grudges and hurts of a lifetime form a subliminal refrain. Something your parent or a teacher said. The ex you can’t get over. A bad review, criticism from a friend, a mistake you can’t forgive yourself for making, the chance you didn’t take. It all festers. Whether we want revenge, oblivion, or another chance, we’re unlikely to get it this time around. We need forgiveness, from and to ourselves and others.

In this week’s reading, Joseph, now a governor of Egypt, looks down from his dais at the very brothers who sold him into slavery. They’ve come petitioning for sanctuary and grain.

What’s a guy to do? Embrace and thank them for initiating events that brought him to high position? Or hide behind the masks of office and test them, see if they are worthy of his help?

It’s the rare person who would choose the former. But bearing a grudge keeps him caught in a dark place too. He escaped the pit and slavery, but they cast a shadow on his soul. The forgiveness he is working on towards those who wronged him will benefit him as much as those who treated him badly.

Often times we bury our wounds in our bodies. We encapsulate them emotionally but they fester in our aching backs or sour tummies. They simmer, keeping us unbalanced, hurting, and unavailable to be fully present

It’s amazing what letting go of old pain can do to heal us. Recent studies have shown that memory transfers cellularly to future generations. So lineages of abuse and trauma get multiplied. What if we infected one another with forgiveness and goodness instead?

Q: How can we interrupt the cycle? A: No revenge: cold, warm, or otherwise. Keep releasing the anger, grief, and sadness, no matter how old or seemingly small. Remember it; look at it and let it go; then sweep out of your soul. Rinse and repeat. You’ll know when you’re clean.

From Peter Heller’s new novel The Painter:

      It’s not possible to hold that much pain.

There was a silence and then she said, Even the earth rests. The moon swims up, thin as grass, and the stars, and you can see every one. It is a much quieter song.

 

On the Mat: TorahCycle Vayishlach

Vayishlach 2014There’s a great idea in theoretical physics called quantum entanglement. The scientifics involve polarity and spin but also lead to my more metaphysical interpretation: once a person, place, or thing has touched/interacted with another, both remain connected at the quantum level. The moral: we’re all part of a system that grows and changes as we evolve and as we believe. We’re all in this struggle together.

We’re responsible for knowing that, for our thoughts and actions, and for how we treat one another. Good makes better happen; evil creates pain and sadness. Assume everyone else wants what you do: more love, health, freedom, safety, bursts of joy, a happy daily life, a satisfied tummy, with some music and poetry thrown in for grace. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all entangle like that.

In this week’s reading Jacob is on his way to reconcile with the brother he wronged. His shadow. His other. How much resistance will that require overcoming?

The reading is about integration. About how your yin and yang fit together. What’s the classic wrestling picture? Opposing feet planted inside one another; arms in shoulder lock. What’s it really about? The intensity of trying to create balance and equilibrium when opposing aspects of self are used to running the show. Or so they think.

Our lives are universes of possibilities. Which one we choose and our response to that choice (emotional, rational, spiritual, and material) is what we’re really wrestling over. Do we really want a 50/50 life? When we fall in love it’s more like 90% happy, crazy, lovesickness and 10% everything else, until we return to reality and want a more grounded relationship. A healing protocol you embrace only 60% is unlikely to lower your cholesterol or blood sugar enough.

Every option will teach you something. Guide you somewhere. Take you to your next level of lessons.

This reading reminds you it’s time to do your work again. Whatever it is and whatever state of evolution you’ve achieved. To do better and do it again. To wrestle and struggle with whatever your piece of the cosmic puzzle is until you know you’ve done the best you can. At least for now.

You will get changed and  may get damaged a long the way. A symbolic limp’s a small price to pay for the transformation. Proof of progress.

Going toe-to-toe with karma is good for us. Whether your shadow takes the form of your spouse, ex, boss, friend, or self, the wrestle-through-the-night challenges strip away your boundaries and resistances as you struggle and sweat.

How I do with my stuff and how you do with yours helps or hinders how we all do and the context we do it in. It all matters. Because every part of the process generates more sparks and more energy and more entanglement. It’s a leveler in the best of ways; we are each evolving. The struggle becomes part of our story. The whole of us.

Dawn comes when the work you are doing feels different. You’ll keep trying things that way until you realize it’s time to try to change it again. That’s what all the rolling and re-rolling of the scrolls is about: us wrestling with ourselves, seeking entanglement with one another.

 

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?

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.

Packing Up, Heading out: TorahCycle Lekh Lekha

P1000256I bought a little piece of pottery last week, shaped like an old- fashioned suitcase. It reminds me that my parents were immigrants, of the We came to this country with $10 in our pockets, so work hard, get an education, and all will be fine variety. (Yeah, maybe, sometimes.) It reminds me of journeys ahead, and of the personal baggage we all bring along. Our memories and hopes, secrets and fears. The things we keep tucked deeply inside, though our close ones would get lots pretty right.

We carry the emotional legacy of our past, of what’s formed us, and often pack what we think we’ll need to stay safe, to avoid being hurt again (at least in the same way). These defensive patterns shield us. But they also insulate us from what might teach or heal us.

In this week’s reading, Abram (soon-to-be Abraham) leaves his land, his parents’ home, and his country. There’s a strong, dynamic, tension between what we’ve always done/how we’ve always done it and our desire, curiosity, and need for the new. The more old stuff we carry with us, the harder and slower it may be to let go. Think Chinese finger puzzle.

There are places in your soul and heart that have been that way so deep and long that you have to actively choose to make room for change. For the unknown. The hoped-for, but also the unanticipated, surprising, even startling and challenging. Easier said than done.

This is a great time to think about what you’re bringing along, and what not to pack. If you need a meat cleaver to discern the difference, put behind you anything that’s hobbling your growth or seems like a repetitive pattern. If you’re not sure, look for bad outcomes and work back to their source. Catherine Shainberg, whom I respect as a teacher, has many great exercises, to help sort grain from chaff.

How can you develop the part of you that’s looser, that’s easier on yourself, on those you’ve tangled with, and on the folks who see and support you on your journey? It takes both will and a willingness to release.

Many folks organize their lives with compartmentalization and denial. An ignore-the-elephant-under-the-rug practice. But a reframe of that, its higher aspect, is to say What hurt me, or how I’ve hurt myself, no longer has authority over me.

A declaration of emotional independence. A clipping of the ties that bound. Leaving behind your stubbed toes and heart surgeries, whether they were literal or visceral. Transcending what you’ve outgrown. And bringing along the best. The joyous and sweet memories. The lessons learned. And the wisdom and flexibility they engender.

It’s about non-resistance. Yes easier said than done. And easy to get distracted by the clamor of our lives or our very human frailties. But if you pull it off, you’ll travel lighter and happier.

The reading concludes with the covenant of circumcision to mark the relationship with the divine. I prefer the metaphor of peeling back yet the next layer from your heart. Unveiling more you. And experiencing everything in your life one notch more intensely. Living more openly, more vulnerably, more receptively, and with less baggage.

One More Time: TorahCycle Noach

NasoHere’s the good news about the Noah story: we get another chance. Assuming we’re identifying with the hero. And why would we not?

What if you got a do-over? A real, honest-to-goodness second chance to redo your life. To redefine yourself in some substantive and meaningful way. How would you live then?

It doesn’t matter whether you got there by hitting bottom with bankruptcy, addiction,  a health crisis, or by making new agreements with yourself about your next now. Whether the road is easy or hard, this week’s reading says, you get to head out again.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey describes the trip pretty well: aspire to a great goal, try/fail/fall/keep trying, purifying your soul and karma in the process. Who hasn’t already done it a coupla zillion times? Raise your hand high if you’re where you want to be, and then tell the rest of us how you did it.

Torah says the first ten generations become rife with all manner of corruption and decay. We don’t hear about their journey. Just know they screwed up so badly it’s HaShem who wants the do-over.

In most lives it’s more mundane, but we’re still hobbled by bad decisions, usually about money, partner, career, or habits. Too often we go back to our vices instead of doing our holy work. In the actual Torah story, after getting to dry land, Noah blows it almost immediately with women and wine.

It helps to be curious what we got so wrong. If you know the old stories maybe you’ll have better vision about the big picture. I say that believing that you/we/I are here now to get it right. Or at least better than our previous tries. Because none of us gets it right at once. Even if you do, you get another lesson thrown at you. So do this one as best you can. You don’t wanna have to come back to clean up stray threads of karma.

We’re standing in the gateway of our second chance. In the moment when you decide the future is gonna be different from the past. The whole rest of Torah is the journey to make that true. Trekking through soul space. Learning yourself, finding a tribe, earning and achieving the redemption you have just been granted. We get a rainbow to mark the experience.

Why wouldn’t you sign on for that ride? Why wouldn’t you do it now? (Really, why wouldn’t you? Why haven’t you? Why do you feel hesitant or unready to? Chew on those for a bit.)

It’s time to go back to Go. Back to baseline. Time for the next take. What do we do? We say Yes. That’s what Noach offers. A chance to come out of the wet and the storm and build a fire. To think about how grateful you are for this one more chance to be you. And then to do a good job of it. Your soul is watching and wishing and hoping you’re going to

Lucky you.

The Harvest of Our Lives: Sukkot 2014

sukkot 2014At the end of the day, what do you talk about, you and your soul? Do you get into the existential Why am I here? stuff, or do you think about how you’re doing with your chores, whether they’re simple things like chopping veggies for dinner or deeper tasks like taking a karmic inventory?

In the quiet of the day, what’s the conversation between you and you?

There’s a great holiday that starts this week, early in the Jewish calendar year and at the very end of the Torah cycle. It’s called Sukkot, from the word sukkah, which means booth. Traditional folks build covered shelters, as simple as a frame tented with fabric or wood and a canopy of thatch, harvest stalks, and reeds. They eat and sleep in them. The more observantly elastic take part of each day to meditate outside and share a meal with friends in a less formal sukkah.

The observance is a powerful mirror of the Passover holiday we celebrated six months ago.

Way back then we chose to leave mitzrayim, the narrow place, the symbolic land of constraint. We left slavery and went into the unknown. Now, after reaching our symbolic goal (and a new year), we take time to harvest the blessings of the land, give thanks, and take stock of the insights from our journey.

I’m not always a good practicing Jew. But I cherish the way Judaism organizes the year, the way it moves us inexorably through the cycles of self-examination and growth that so many of us profess to want to partake of.

I frame this writing on the weekly turning of the scrolls because I think that somewhere along the way someone got it right. That there’s a story here, and it’s a good one. That there are paths and processes and journeys that we go on. Spiritually. Emotionally. Intellectually. Physically. That what takes place in the material world happens in parallel in your soul. And if you pay good attention to your process you might learn something that’ll help make it easier/kinder/gentler and also deeper/more meaningful/spiritually valuable. If we all did that, this place would be happier/sweeter/more joyous. And all our paths would be paths of peace.

So if you and your soul aren’t talking, if you don’t think you’re here to learn/grow/improve and to find/create greater goodness and compassion, then what are you doing? Does it teach you or satisfy you? Energize you and open you?

I hope so. If not, then get on with figuring out what’ll give you the same bang for your karmic buck.

As we sit amidst the harvest of the season–the squashes that will sustain us this winter, the aromatics that will flavor our soups, the apples and pears that will sweeten our winter evenings–we give thanks for not only our liberation but for our arrival in this place of safety. Our ability to have perspective and quiet time. No more scrambling and searching and wondering. We have arrived.

At this turn of the seasons, in the oasis of whatever sukkah you choose, take a sweet moment to have a good heart to heart with your higher self. There is simply nothing better.

I’m Sorry: Yom Kippur 2014

YK-2014On any given day, what I believe may differ from the day before. I’m pretty consistent about basic physics. Gravity, for example, is easy to discern and trust (except in airplanes). My personal mash-up of faith has some reliable components. I believe in synchronicity more than randomness. No white-guy-on-a-throne. But though I believe in prayer, I couldn’t explain it with prepositions like to or from. I think we’re collectively spirit, and that our actions matter. That karma happens, but don’t look for linear examples of it. Bad things happen to good people, and good things to people who don’t seem to deserve them.

Although we’re trying to do good and better, we often blow it. Individually and collectively. I’m not talking about failures to give up cigarettes, carbs, or cocaine. I’m talking about the ways we treat one another on a daily basis, both those we profess to care about, and the rest of humanity.

Judaism has a great annual ritual for acknowledging our lapses, and for asking for forgiveness. It truly doesn’t matter whether you’re asking for it from an external energy or from your own conscience. What’s important is to acknowledge how you’ve not lived at the highest level of personal integrity. To clear the slate and do better the next 364 days.

The process happens on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starting this year the eve of October 3rd. We say a very specific prayer accompanied by literal pounding of fist over heart. It’s chanted as and in the collective, in part to mask our individual lapses, and also because we act as witnesses to one another, and to the idea that as a community, a tribe, and a global family, we’re each part of a spiritual ecosystem that cannot heal until we all do.

Each phrase is prefaced with For the wrong we have done before you…. and interspersed with the request Please forgive us, pardon us, and help us atone. Read it slowly, thinking about your own hits and misses, and your ability to atone, forgive yourself , and to do better more often.

For the wrong we have done before you….

  • In the closing of the heart,
  • Without knowing what we do,
  • Whether open or concealed,
  • Knowingly and by deceit,
  • Through the prompting of the heart,
  • Through the influence of others,
  • Whether by intention or mistake,
  • By the hand of violence,
  • Through our foolishness of speech,
  • Through an evil inclination,
  • In the palming of a bribe,
  • By expressions of contempt,
  • Through misuse of food and drink,
  • By our avarice and greed,
  • Through offensive gaze,
  • Through a condescending glance,
  • By our quickness to oppose,
  • By deception of a friend,
  • By unwillingness to change,
  • By running to embrace an evil act,
  • By our groundless hatred,
  • In the giving of false pledges.

The focus of the Jewish High Holidays is a process called t’shuvah, return. We’re aiming for a clarity of soul and purpose, a re-commitment to living with integrity, honor, goodness, and compassion. And to creating a world of peace. Amen.

The Way It Feels: TorahCycle Ha’azinu

hold for later

Somewhere along the way we make agreements with ourselves. Agreements on a soul level about what and how we’ve agreed to experience this time around. Sometimes they show up and I think, I get this lesson easily. Other times not so much. (Of course the “easy” time could really be the fiftieth and I wasn’t paying close enough attention the first forty-nine.) Either way, it helps to be doing your karmic homework.

We all have issues we seem to need to learn the hard way. They’re as unique as our DNA, but the process is pretty much the same: butt your head repeatedly getting it wrong; fall down, complain, cry, or all the above. Rinse and repeat

So how do we learn?

A handful of years ago I said a capital Y Yes to a process I hoped would culminate in emotional and spiritual development. I got a grace period, then a big kick in the butt, some serious choices over a period of time, with lots of healing, friends, head-butting and small bits of progress along the way. It meant moving past fear, sadness, wanting what I didn’t have, not getting what I wanted, or at least not in the way that I wanted it, or as much as I wanted, mourning what I’d lost, and feeling a little wiser. You know the drill.

Making progress took visioning the life I wanted to create and an equally clear knowing of what I was saying No to. Mostly it took shedding a load of heaviness and making lots more room inside for good things to grow.

In Lev Grossman’s brilliant conclusion to his Magicians trilogy [Note: the wise will follow great instructions from the jacket blurb: Throw your electonica down a well and duct tape the door when you begin], he uses the image of a flower to represent the combined emotions of awe and joy and hope and longing. That’s pretty much a summary of a divine spiritual experience. It’s hard to sustain, which is why those peak moments stay etched so clearly in our souls. The moment when….

…. you touch that place in your soul when you’re as close to an enlightenment experience as you’re likely to get this time around.

In the life that follows, your regular one, where you jump-start your day with coffee, put up with colleagues, bad drivers, and stubbing your toe on one thing or another, you sometimes remember that feeling. It can come through a scent or a sight or a thought. And you’re transported to that complex sense of awe and joy and hope and longing.

We are at the cusp of a brand new Jewish calendar year. Soon we’ll be re-rolling the whole Torah and starting again with Genesis. The air is pungent with that freshly-sharpened pencils smell of childhood. We’re anticipating the blessings just around the corner.

Sure, there’ll be butt kicks too. But what the hell. We signed on for this ride, so let’s see what it offers. With luck it’ll be awe and joy and hope and longing. Glimpsed, fulfilled, and more to come.