The Other Side: TorahCycle Beshellach

Beshellach

Sometimes you feel like you’re leaping towards liberation and other times the pace is glacial. But all roads lead to the sea, a metaphor of the last barrier which must be crossed, though the path ahead has vanished.

The story goes that everyone was standing on the edge, unsure and afraid, an angry army getting closer, until one guy jumps in. Only when the water hit his nostrils did the sea part.

That’s how ready and committed you need to be.

They emerge into a place called the Sea of Reeds. Still a sea, but with some purchase underfoot. Things returning to scale instead of a colossal tsunami on either side. And the reality of entering a new world. A new land, where everything’s unknown, both the gifts and the challenges. How nicely prophetic for the turn of the year.

Perhaps you too have made a shift in your life. Maybe not as big as getting out of slavery, but in your world just as important. Hooray if it was conscious. Even if not, think about where you were last year this time. And when you’d like to be next January. Find the vision you’ll need.

Mystical Judaism has the image/idea of klipot. Layers with which our holy spark gets covered and obscured. Think coats of pain that accrue from all your actions of denial and confusion, hesitancy or mistakes. They keep you just disconnected enough from your holiness that it can feel a little out of reach.

Now’s different. The turn of the year seems to peel away a few layers. Like you just had a loofa scrub. A little red and tender. But definitely refreshed and invigorated.

On the other side we’re like newborns. Full of potential, with our freedom, our spark, and our hope.

Take a minute to let the idea of “the other side” sink in. Big or small, you’ve made changes and committed to more. Your holy spark’s a bright ember. How’re you going to keep it glowing brightly?

What do the Israelites do on the other side? They dance and sing.

I’ve been listening to playlists put together by wise and knowing friends. One spins a beautiful refrain: What shall we do, what shall we do, with all this fragile beauty?

That’s the song of now. To decide what to do with your hard-won and fragile beauty. You can sign songs of triumph or songs of new desire. But also sing songs of hope and of commitment. Blow on your holy spark with a sure and encouraging breath. A breath of appreciation for past courage and of trust in your future.

There are moments in life when time slows. When we can get the perspective we need to move forward. That this reading comes at the time of light’s return is no accident. It encourages continuing work on our process. Asks us to look into the eye of God and then back at ourselves. To see and use our inner spark to light the way.

Whether you got here fast or slow, take a good look around. Remember this place of joy and possibility. Carry it with you as you embrace your next challenges.

What’s It Gonna Take? : TorahCycle Va’eira

Va'eirah-2013After fruitcake and holiday sales is the New Year and everything that beginning represents. We start new cycles at other times, but the annual ritual of making resolutions is hard to ignore. Planning to get kinder, lighter, more focused or frugal…. Fill in the blanks with your own special challenges of this incarnation.

This week’s reading is about seven of the ten plagues. Various forms of discomfort and warning to deliver one message: Time and past time for change. P.S. The more you resist, the crappier it’s gonna get.

Moses and Pharaoh duking it out. Let my people go! Yes…No! Our own inner pharaoh knows this dance. We specialize in resistance, and are creative self-saboteurs, committed to keeping things as they are (no matter what or how much we say we want them to be different). We’re complicit with our oppression; with all the unhappiness that insight packs with it.

Why the push-pull? The list is tediously familiar: resistance from fear, guilt, laziness, shame, inertia. Stubbornness in every shape and style.

We each carry our own karma. Health challenges in one person manifest as emotional trauma in someone else. Family dysfunction, relationship problems, body shape and image, self-esteem. Pick a card, any card. All yours to wrestle with.

You know what works and what doesn’t. Know when you’re stuck, aimed in the wrong direction, faking it without real commitment, or otherwise avoiding what you say you want to do more or less of. Many of us spend huge amounts of time, effort, money, and enthusiasm making things worse instead of better.

A favorite line from the internet: I wish I weighed what I weighed when I decided I needed to lose weight. That kind of non-progress. Because knowing alone isn’t enough to make change happen.

This story, leaving slavery, is a very big deal. The first and biggest step towards freedom is overcoming resistance. Real change. Yikes!

So what’s it gonna take?

If we need to terrify ourselves with literal or metaphorical blood, darkness, frogs, or boils, then so be it. Hopefully you won’t do too much damage along the way. But it will likely be as annoying and persistent as buzzing flies.

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could don a biohazard suit for the duration, to prevent our emotional toxicity from leaking out? Maybe we’d change faster if we didn’t have others on whom to project our crap.

There’s a great John Gorka refrain: We’re all flashes in a great big pan and they’re turning up the heat. Our holy spark cooking in the heat of our collective, flawed humanity.

But throughout these goings on, this testing, we are slowly waking up. We’re learning something strong and powerful about who we are, what we require, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for what we most truly need.

So take some time during this year-end for reflection. Between the festivities and toasting, find a little quiet time to look at your thrashing, at all the ways you make life harder and more anxious for yourselves and those you love. Think about how to ease the process, and how to prepare for the changes that are coming. Keep that resolution and good will follow.

All Those Gifts!! : TorahCycle Vayechi

Her Twelve TribesOur inner selves reflect different aspects of who we are, or like to think we are. Our lover. Our banker. Our artist. Our bargainer. Our internalized parent. The proverbial inner child. The manifestor and the needy one.

This week Jacob blesses his sons with what range from character assessments to hopes for their future. Individually the blessings are interesting; as a group they encompass a useful and hopeful set to build a future upon.

What’s the point of blessings? It’s great to be smart, attractive, or athletic. But beyond making life easier or happier, what good do blessings do?

Blessings are somewhere between the best hits of elementary school (understanding things like how weather works), and the best of adulthood (falling in love, appreciating music, poetry, or wine). The discerning and savoring selves: your brain and sense of wonder dancing happily together. They’re also teachers and guides.

Blessings help you become clearer about who you are and what you’re here to do. Blessings help you get on with life with less fuss and grumbling.

Note: Blessings aren’t like shopping. You can get better or worse about using and appreciating your blessings. But you can’t trade them in for new or different ones, like you might a car. They’re gifts, not assets. They should inform your ability to do your karmic homework.

What you need to do more/less of, and when to start or stop doing so, isn’t a secret. Probably not to you. Certainly not to your guides, or even your friends and family (many of whom would be happy to tell you). Instead of waiting for an instruction manual, say Thanks and use your gifts. You’ll figure it out.

We don’t always use our blessings wisely. We get too ambitious, overshoot the mark. Or are too cautious, don’t try as hard as we should.

We have small triumphs, like mastering a new techno toy. And larger ones, like a better job or happier relationship. And we screw up. We learn from our failures, and sometimes get luckier than we ever though we could or even deserve. Favorite lines from Joan Baez, Life’s a thump ripe melon. So sweet and such a mess.

Blessings are what get us from one melon to the next. They’re somewhere between home base and everywhere you’ve always wanted to go.

I’m calling 2014 The Year of the Grand Experiment. Manifesting my lists of how I’d want to live if all my blessings were happily working synergistically, and I were truly honoring what I tell myself is important. Baseline reality: choices around time, money, food, and stuff. Deeper: spiritual practice, creativity, and emotional growth. Winnowing the cupboards and expanding the soul.

What a great week to meditate on your blessings. Don’t focus on things that come with worldly acclaim. Think about aspects of self that make you happiest to be you, and that offer clues and challenges about how to live your evolving life.

The next parts of Torah are about how to free yourself from what constrains you. Take some time now to think about how your blessings can illuminate the journey to your personal promised land.

Points of Light: Where Kabbalah Glass Comes From

RG2Some chest-thumping below, though in fact I feel very humbled at being so well witnessed by someone. All a writer or artist can ever hope for is that other folks “get” what we’re trying to say, whether it’s with words or art. Feels good.

http://registerguard.com/rg/life/dash/30110442-64/rosenau-glass-says-art-eugene.html.csp

RG 1

In the Beginning (Again): TorahCycle Bereishit

Bereishit 2013Someone asked me recently what this blog is about.  My answer: to help you answer the question Who are you in the process of becoming?

Torah readings offer a vehicle for self-transformation. They help us to look through the window of the aspirational self. To listen to what the words are saying about how to live. Me. You. Now.

Almost all of us wrestle with something, for that long night we call life, the way we’ll soon remember Jacob wrestling with the angel.

We each have our own issues and process. Some are unhappy in a relationship or a job, while others long for one. There’s body stuff, and money stuff, and friend/family stuff. All the aspects of our daily reality that our minds chatter and fret about so much and often. There’s soul stuff too, whether that translates into becoming a meditator or simply kinder, deepening a spiritual practice or searching for a resonant path.

We’ve cycled back to Genesis. Creation. The edge of another new beginning.

You may believe in the Big Bang, The Voice/Hand of God, or a different creation story. But anyone who’s ever had a brainstorm knows how quickly something can appear out of apparent nothing. An idea bursts through, alive with energy. The synergy and synchronicity of all of you. Your history and your becoming. Your holy spark glittering to show you the next next. Suddenly a vision, where a moment before there was not. A new world of possibilities, multiplying quickly.

That’s the way to start this year.

Shed last year’s battles and disappointments. Bring with you what you’ve learned, what you earned, and what you aspire to. Leave behind the old struggles, fears, and sorrows. Start over cleansed and optimistic.

Poof! What an idea!

Here’s my invitation: To celebrate creation, give yourself time this week to invite new ideas about how you want to feel this time next year. With hopes you’ll feel like you’d just won the lottery of your life and soul. Like you can create the world you want to live in.

It’s another chance to reinvent you. To edit and to refine. To take everything you’ve learned and have it become your ally. A mini-reincarnation without having to start over again with diapers.

A lot of the “in the beginning” story is about separation and discernment between opposites: heaven and earth, day and night, land and sea, and so on. It’s also about free will: following instructions or risking the consequences of your actions. We all face those kinds of choices every day.

As you make them — consistent, impulsive, risky, wise, or not — some of the glittering possibilities of your great new ideas will fade. And some will grow brighter. The array of bright lights will narrow and cluster. As they do, your life options will become clearer. If you’re lucky or blessed, and can hear the hints and instructions coming from your inner voice, they’ll even show you the paths for your evolving journey.

I’m suggesting folks journal this time around. Whatever strikes you as worth remembering along the way.  If you’re so moved, write yourself or the rest of us a note below.

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.

No Straight Lines: TorahCycle Behaalotecha

BehalotechaIf personal progress were linear and long-lasting we’d all be the people we wish to be and sometimes imagine we are. We wouldn’t battle recidivism or doubt, wouldn’t have to haggle with ourselves every time we’re confronted with choices or temptations, and would know how to get from here to there and from now to then in a manner that’s far easier and more effective than how most of us seem to journey .

Instead, many of us live much of our lives in the conditional subjunctive. The tense that says If only, Only after, the kind of If/when, If/then states of being that help explain why we, like the Israelites, need many years to get to where we think we want to go. We alternate huge sprints of positive and powerful momentum with periods in which we lurch along in bumpy spasms, or, worse, feel painfully stuck.

While we’re travelling, our goals may change. The journey will certainly change us. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may later seem shallow or hollow. Actions or events we never valued may inspire us. Gifts that appeared like manna from heaven lose their luster, or conceal big challenges. And when we’re in pain we sometimes become whiny, greedy children.

Despite the pejoratives, what we complain about also sheds light on what’s missing from our lives. Helps inspire us to get our butts in gear again. Though sadly too often we complain about what’s missing, rather than appreciating what’s good, and how far we’ve come.

Aspirations are great. Are you prepared to have every wish satisfied now? Are you ready to be at goal, whatever that is? Or do you recognize how you grow from the struggles of the journey?

I’m not talking gigantic crises. But rather the benefits from  weeks, months, and seasons spent examining the spots on your soul, whether they’re injuries you caused yourself or wounds imposed by others. These come from unconscious actions and careless speech more often than intentional desire to do harm. But they still cause pain, and keep us tethered.

Every time we’ve been hurt or wounded, every time we’ve suffered sadness, disappointment, regret, fear, jealousy, envy, or any of a host of painful experiences we hobble ourselves. The reason progress takes so long is that we’ve become practiced at embedding these into our hearts and souls, and at projecting those negative feelings onto others. Every time we do, we add another layer of pain that needs to be removed, sooner or later, to get to goal.

The active present tense is a great way to clean those spots. And now’s great time to look yourself in a clear bright mirror, and take an inventory, chakra by chakra, of your emotional traits, habits, and history.

Use your now to get to goal. Focus on one goal at a time and look both backward and forward. See what your journey has taught you, and also what old baggage you’re carting around that’s making you heavy, slow, or stalled. Take some time this week to compost it by the side of the road, so you can move forward with new inspiration and enthusiasm.

The Path of Blessing: TorahCycle Naso

Naso

This week’s reading contains one of my favorite prayers: the Priestly Blessing. I think this prayer is at the core of our relationship with the divine.

It’s said at very special times in the Jewish calendar, though my memory is that it was said whenever I went to services. I think so because I reveled in hearing the deep-voiced rabbi bless us all, with both hands outstretched (in a way that mirrors the Vulcan salute that Spock gives on Star Trek when he says, “Live long and prosper.”)

The three lines are profound and powerful. The prayer creates a womb of love and protection for each and all. If you surrender to it, you’re filled with the feeling that nothing can harm you and that you are an extension of holy light.

Here’s what I remember from my childhood, with apologies to those who don’t like the G word: May God bless you and keep you. May the light of God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God’s face be lifted unto you and may all your paths be paths of peace.

Hard to have a bad day when you’re held in that.

The Priestly Blessing is about being illuminated from without, and of taking that holy light into your beingness, so you are also illuminated from within. Of having your holy spark rekindled. Of bringing that spark into every aspect of how you breathe and live.

That’s a whole lot of prayer rolled into three lines. And a direct key to the heart of why we pray: We want to be and feel loved. We want a divinity that will help us make and enjoy a life of protection and peace.

But the world’s not at peace. Even we aren’t always at peace, within ourselves or towards others. This blessing asks us to create peace so that we and everyone can enjoy it.

Shalom is one anchor of the prayer. The other is “graciousness,” an expansive, inviting quality untroubled by fear or desire. Most of us aren’t in that state often enough. Our prayers are too often about wanting something or avoid something. An ailment healed, or maybe help at work. A shiny red bike or its adult variations. Give me generally outweighs me giving you.

When our personal stories take up all our time and attention it’s easy to miss the bigger picture, what we’re here to do not only for ourselves but for others. If we’re reminded regularly to be, to truly let in HaShem’s light, something changes. We’re prompted to elevate our wishes for a more gracious world for everyone.

The Priestly Blessing offers us a safe place for the most tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves. The ones we think no one ever sees, or that no one would love if they did. The ones we most fear might be wounded or misunderstood. The Priestly Blessing gives us the knowing that we will be loved and blessed regardless. It gives us hope for both inner and outer peace.

Does this blessing give you what you need? If you were writing the priestly blessing, what would it say?

Why We Pray: TorahCycle Emor

EmorEvery spiritual practice has rituals and observances. Why? To know ourselves. To honor creation. To create community.  What’s at the core? Creating communion with however you think about the creator, the eternal life of all the worlds. My shortcut word for this connection is prayer.

One of my favorite poets is Rumi, who talks to and about G-d the way one does to a lover. With adoration, passion, and longing. With a deep and wondrous sense of the ecstatic. Holiness filled with joy.

When you meet a person who’s going to become important in your life there’s an almost electric moment of wow. Energetically it’s like how Legos feel when you press them together. That satisfying little pop into place. Held.

I think that’s why we have prayers and song. Why the words get into our bloodstream like cosmic earworms dialed to the right channel. Pulling us towards the holy like one Lego calling to another, reinforcing itself on a cellular level. Like the Sanskrit greeting Namaste, I greet the holy within you.

I assure you, I’m not that gracious if you cut me off in traffic. But I get it in theory. And think we all need to practice the grace that’s embedded in the idea of graciousness.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, just wrote a lovely little book called Help Thanks Wow, three essential prayers. It’s a great distillation of when folks pray, even those who don’t often walk into a temple, mosque, or church. Those prayers said with a sincerity that ritual obedience does not always engender.

But still we gather for services, festivals, and holidays. My Lego and yours, together. Rubbing our stuck places against one another. Hearing in the off-key singing and occasional cough the complex friction of family. Learning how close we can come, and where our boundaries are. Where we love and where we don’t.

I’m always amazed when I’m reminded the heart’s a muscle. Like others it can get flaccid if you’re lazy, or dirty with plaque if you don’t feed it well. Soaring with boundless joy or aching with pain, it’s an amazing barometer of how our soul is feeling. All part of why we pray.

We talk to HaShem when we love, when we’re afraid, and when we hurt. We come as seekers. As petitioners. To receive. To bargain. To wrestle. And ultimately to accept.

A few months ago I was thinking about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief. They shed light on how and when we pray. Not always in this order, but she’s pretty perceptive: Anger. Denial. Bargaining. Depression. And finally, acceptance.

Good times are easy. Hooray for blessings with bread and wine, apples and honey. Other times we’re asked go without. To fast. To learn life’s about boundaries and limits as much as access to the infinite and unconditional. Through all these times we pray. If we’re lucky, we find solace, insights, and hope.

Exercise: This week’s a great time to listen for when you pray spontaneously. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and what you’re asking for.