Fingers Crossed: TorahCycle Mattot

Mattot 2014Sometimes we cross our fingers for good luck. We’re wishing and hoping. Other times we cross them while rationalizing a “white” lie (to protect someone’s feelings, though as often it’s our own self-interest). And sometimes when we promise something we cross them because we want a great big loophole to vault through later.

This week’s reading deals with the rules for breaking vows: commitments made with sacred intention and obligation. A kind of spiritual promissory note. Often made in times of great stress, and abandoned later when what caused that stress abates. Think hospitals, wars, night terrors, and other forms of acute fear.

More optimistically, individuals make pledges to everything from diets to fund drives. Countries make promises too, as treaties and alliances. But when conditions change, we break our vows. It’s no more honorable in a country than a person, though there’s usually  spin-doctors to wrap the betrayal in flags and slogans.

Making a vow you’re not going to keep reinforces the idea that your word is worthless. Why would anyone else believe your promise to them if you don’t keep your promises to yourself? Why would you make a commitment if you didn’t really plan to keep it? Mostly, because we’re human. Fallible. Filled with good intentions and lousy habits.

Ironically, more often than not we do better at meeting commitments we make to others. That’s part of why behavior modification programs like diet plans, AA, and the like have public meetings. External accountability is often more effective than putting patches on your arm and hoping that you’ll be able to quit inhaling.

I believe in few absolute vows. Thou shalt not kill, is an example of a good one. But as I age I’m becoming more of a relativist. Not just to go easier on myself when I stray from my program du jour. But because I don’t think they work well for really effective change.

I’m finding vows more of a guilt trip than a benefit. Thou shalt not eat gluten, for example, in the absence of actual ciliac disease, is more a chance to screw up than to stare down temptation. The sense of failure that comes with a bagel is worse for me than the actual gluten.

Better to build up our sense of progress and pride by honoring intentions more gradually, more naturally, and more authentically. By making the right choices in each moment, time after time. Not saying something once and hoping I’m done. Because “done” is more often the path to backsliding and recrimination, looking for the loopholes, rather than taking the next step on the right road.

What vows do you make and which do you keep? What would happen if you allowed your deep intention to guide you rather than struggle with a one-time promise?

Too often vow-making and vow-breaking go hand in hand. Far better to choose good in the moment than out of fear or obligation. Regular reinforcement of your intention by making good choices more often is far more effective, llong lasting, and gentler on the soul.

Better to count the times you get it right, not the ones you blow it.

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.

Day By Day: TorahCycle Mishpatim

Mishpatim-

This is the Year of the Grand Experiment. Living simply, with more emphasis on what matters to health, heart, and soul than to doing and stuff. Buying less,  and more consciously. Going eyeball-to-eyeball with my values, not just about money but with time, food, relationships, energy. Trying to make conscious choices in every dimension of life. Trying to live by guidelines and “rules,” notes that I wrote down last autumn, when I was contemplating what would make my life better, healthier, more creative, productive, and joyous.

The gifts that are coming towards me as I live by these rules are abundant. Some new, others I’ve sought for a long time. Some are delightful. Others challenging. When I do this experiment well, I hear them and if I hear them….That’s the rub, can I keep doing them?

I think the answer is Yes, because somewhere along the way I’ve moved from that old karmic dance routine of “one step forward, two steps back,” to its more evolved sister, two steps forward for every one back, sideways, or standing still staring into space wondering if I really can keep this process going.

This week’s reading has the great line We will do and we will hear (in contrast to a later one, We will hear and we will do). It’s a synergistic form of self-improvement. One that, like a childhood game, doesn’t matter where you jump into the circle. Just that you commit to doing. And keeping doing. Day by day.

This is the first reading in which we get lots of rules. Instructions for daily life: 613 in all coming our way, with 50+ here out of the gate. About everything from cooking to praying. Rules for behavior. But more importantly, an expression of values.

Sinai gave us the biggies, the Ten Commandments. These rules are the how-to manual for daily life.

When I work with people, coaching or problem solving, I’m always trying to get them to understand their values, and how those values influence and relate to their goals. What they’re striving for as well as their ethics and moral elasticity.

How we live daily life should be an extension of our values.

There’s a concept in Jewish mysticism of the big face and the little face: the face of the divine and our own. The little a reflection of the big. In the image, so to speak. There’s also the value of treating others as we wish to be treated.

If you cannot see yourself clearly, it will be harder to see another. Ditto to respecting, accepting, loving, having compassion for, and caring for yourself and others.

Take some time to think about your own values. Relationships, money, time, food, your body, and your spiritual practice. You can call them rules if you need a prod or an organizational tool. But in a more elevated consciousness, it’s about committing to living with ritual and with intention. About making the choice to elevate your actions by consciousness and awareness. Each choice, each moment. You may not see the face of God, but you can very clearly see your own.

Long and Winding Road: TorahCycle Devarim

DevarimThere’s an old axiom that says you can’t know where you’re gong until you know where you’ve been. Looking at your past usually involves both lesson harvesting and revisionism. Hard to do one without the other, because the now you will have a different perspective on past choices than then you who made them.

The need for immediate gratification diminishes in the long view. But choices made in moments of acute need or desire may’ve been valuable shortcuts to learning that might have taken far longer if you’d always taken the road of reason.

Devarim literally means “words” and/or “things.” It introduces the last book of Torah, that includes a summary of everything that’s happened since the Jews left Egypt, “the narrow place. “

Most of us have many such leavings. We’re often in the process of creating and re-creating ourselves. Hopefully each iteration is an improvement. As we change, our vocabulary about ourselves (the words) changes as our situations and perspectives change.

In the very beginning of Genesis we’re told the world was spoken into being. That words have complete generative power. So this is a great time to do a re-cap. A spiritual resume-writing week. A time to look at the big events that made you who you are, and the littler private moments, that forged your soul and perspective. Most especially at the words you use to describe those moments and yourself on your journey. They’ve become your own creation stories. But when’s the last time you unpacked them and truly listened to them?

In Hebrew the letter vav (like a V) is a connector. It ties thing-words like this and that, or place-words like here and there, or time-words like now and when. Vav is the essence of this exercise. Looking at the self you were when you began search for higher consciousness and at the self you are now.

In physics’ Heisenberg principle we cannot see the same thing in the same moment as both observer and the object of scrutiny. Like the old adage You can’t step into the same river twice. But you can look upstream, to reflect on your journey, and to motivate yourself: to find the energy and perspective to go the last leg of the way. If you need a visual, watch a recent movie called The Way, about a walking pilgrimage.

It’s the time when the hummingbirds come for the bright blooming flowers. They seem always in motion, seeking the next burst of bright sweetness. So like us: busy, busy, busy. Doing, doing, doing. Seeking, seeking, seeking, But sometimes there’s blessed moments when hummingbirds hover. They seem to pause in flight, taking in the sweetness, before they dart off searching for more.

That’s what now’s the time to do. In the heat of summer, to pause. To reflect on how you got to here and now. Take moments to feel all your words, both your memories and your dreams. Taste the nectar of knowing that you’ve travelled well and long on your road, survived the bumps, and you’ve earned the right to simply be, and to taste life’s sweetness.

The Rebel: TorahCycle Korach

KorachGetting to goal takes longer than we want. There’s lots of muttering Are we there yet? Nope. This week’s about self-sabotage. The part that of you needs something to rebel against, even if it’s yourself.

There’s times, individually and collectively, historically and personally, where rebellion is appropriate, honorable, and necessary. Times to resist injustice, to stand up for what’s good and right. When your integrity’s in collision with what’s going on around you, stand up, even if you put yourself or what’s dear to you at risk. This ain’t that.

I walk in the early morning when wild turkeys also stroll about. As I get close, the big toms puff up their plumage and brush their wing feathers against the road. It makes a deep, rustling sound. It might threaten another turkey. But for me, that tom challenging for turf is a distraction, not scary. He’s all show, no power. And shouldn’t stop me from staying on my path.

The week’s story’s about why we cling to false displays of strength instead of embracing our better inclinations. It’s about why we heed what holds us back. The habits that keep us treading quicksand until we’re submerged and swallowed. Our inner enemies, cloaked in all their self-righteous finery. The voices that lead us down the wrong road, or keep us from the right one.

Why don’t we change? Why don’t we listen to our higher selves?

The reasons are pretty consistent. A messy stew of denial, resistance, inertia, stubbornness, laziness, fear, guilt, shame, doubt, and probably others my denial won’t let me recall.

Pay attention when your inner rebel speaks. Listen carefully. Then look carefully at what it’s asking you to say Yes or No to.

Several years ago I made a deep commitment about how I wanted to use my time here, and what it would take to get ready. I knew my Yes would become an axis for my life. Would require leaving narrow places of my own making.

My inner Korach has rebelled often. Yikes. Enough. I don’t have the discipline this journey requires. But time and again I’ve been guided back, sometimes kicking and yelling, and others through gifts of joy and leaps of faith. I believe each of us, no matter how habituated our resistance, deeply wants to live our best self, not our worst one.

It requires making and keeping to your deepest intentions. To persistently shining light into every dark corner. To believing that becoming the people we aspire to be is possible. But to emerge into wholeness, we first need to confront and channel our inner rebel. Need to let the old pains and hurts we’ve shoved down deep come fully to the surface. Need to experience all the sorrow, anger, shame, and tears that accompany that release. Not fast or easy. But necessary.

Only then can we find the courage to say Hineini: I am here. I am ready.

This week: Look at an aspect of your life where you’ve consistently fallen short of your goals. See what patterns keep you from moving forward. Set an intention to change at least one of them.