Step By Step: TorahCycle Lekh Lekha

LekhLekha 2013

Judaism is only part of my spirituality. But I genuinely believe that embedded in Torah is great insight and guidance for self-transformation and development. Most of us have embedded in our brains Bible stories and imagery from childhood. But deeper Torah raises lots of questions and challenges that can help you shape your now, and your becoming.

There’s an arc to the evolution of souls: your getting from creation to whatever’s your version of a promised land. Last week, the first thing Noah did after escaping annihilation was to get drunk and have sex. Ooops. Like eating a brownie an hour after starting a diet.

This week, the first thing we’re told is that Abraham is to leave the house of his parents and the land of his birth. He’s to set out for somewhere new and unknown. It’s a metaphor for walking away from what in your past defines you too closely. Whatever constrains your ability to grow and evolve. An instruction to leave behind your old habits. To prepare for the possibility of the new. To change without knowing what will come. But because you are ready to embrace the possibility and importance of making that shift.

Most of us have screwed up. Usually not just once. For our core issues – – love, food, money, or deeper — screwing up is probably familiar territory. Now’s a great time to begin to make a shift. Maybe not packing and calling u-Haul, but by doing something that feels potentially as important. Deciding to make a fundamental shift in the shape of your reality, your daily life, and your beliefs.

The first big step is self-scrutiny. The next, deciding what to change. Everything after is follow through. Aiming yourself in a different direction. Then continuing, step by step. Making your life about who you want to become, not who you have been.

In the beginning, the changes don’t have to be huge, or even consistent. Even doing one thing differently every other day will begin to increase your awareness. Consider every act a choice.

If you’re like most of us, you won’t walk in a straight line. You might go sideways, in circles, even backwards, for days, weeks, or longer. But each step is a step away from the old, a new step on your journey. Self-reinforcing and invigorating when you succeed.

It’s much easer to see other people’s paths. Your friends’, partner’s, or family’s. You have the perspective and vision to see quicksand two steps or two months ahead of them much sooner than they seem able to. You can see them looping around, not knowing they just veered way off course. (They can do the same for you.) It’s harder to see that clearly for yourself.

Life is such a fascinating and tenuous mix of insight and knowing, intention and awareness. We make greater progress when we add in faith. Believing in yourself is a great starting point.

That’s how change should begin. An energized mix of vision and focus. Sep by step it leads to manifesting. Anticipation and determination. Acknowledging the difficulty of change, but committed to trying. All your doing counterbalanced by the receptivity of an open heart.

Step by step.

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

Second Chances: TorahCycle Noach

Noach 2013There’s a great health prayer that gives gratitude for body parts appropriately open and flowing or closed and contained. It’s really about sufficiency and balance, the harmony of a smoothly functioning system. Excess or blockage can create chaos, as we’re told happened after creation, with generalized self-serving corruption.

Some excesses, large or small, are a source of joy. Falling in love. A beautiful day. Sublime music. A clean house and a good book. Heading out for an adventure.

But highs are often countered by lows. Being dumped. Traffic jams or flat tires. Leaky roofs. Not enough of whatever you think you need to be happy.

This week’s reading’s about what happens after excess. A total reset. Wiping the creation slate clean and starting over. When it happens to you, it’s easy to feel like the folks in the post-Katrina or –Sandy pictures. The forlorn survivors, standing in matchsticks of rubble, as far as the eye can see. Few volunteers to be that poster child.

Our lives are rarely one smooth arc.  We go through many cycles of joy, excess, loss, hope, and renewal. Over love, jobs, homes, births, deaths. Often much more trivial endeavors. Our lows aren’t as brutal as global devastation, but when you’re hurting and weeping, no matter the cause, it can feel that hard.

When we careen too far in one direction, we tip the balance, inviting in lessons that, if we were paying better attention, we might learn without having loss and pain come as teachers.

Chances are you’ve bumped into those lessons before. That they’re the ones, no matter how well you do with your other karmic homework, that you just can’t quite seem to get out from under.

You might see the storm clouds coming. External circumstances pushing you towards some edge. Or your own emotional patterns steering you onto the rocks. The universe is filled with hints and foreshadowing. But, if you’re not paying attention, you can get pretty wet before you find dry land again.

Most of us have good instincts about what’s important to our happiness, whether that’s body, mind, heart, or spirit. Think about the yin and the yang of what matters to you. What you’d really need to create your next world. Bring that on board. Then release what’s ready to be washed away as you enter the ark of your future.

Most of us won’t see doves bearing divine messages. But hopefully you’ll learn the markers of better decision-making and know what to do next.

At the end of the Noah story, the rainbow symbolizes the divine promise that devastation will never again be so total. Translation: once you’ve tanked, there’s nowhere to go but up. You’ve earned another chance to get it right. Another chance to get clearer about how you want to live.

Take time this week to think about the next cycle of your adventure. What do you want your life to be about? What parts do you need to shed, to say Thanks but good-bye? Which to heal and improve? To invest in, give voice, learn from? If you can contemplate the answers with more curiosity than fear, hooray for the promise of this next round.

Learning to Listen: TorahCycle Balak

BalakA guy’s hired to curse the Israelites. On the way his donkey refuses to go forward. He beats her; she says, Can’t you see the angel in the road trying to stop us ?!?

Confession: I’m a sucker for holy messengers. Usually I get advice from well-meaning friends. My typical response I’m trying!!!, even though I believe on any given day that I could be your holy messenger, and you could be mine.

How do we typically respond? After getting nasty test results, for example, we swear healthy vows. Vows we mean deeply and sincerely. In that moment. Note: we also develop robust vow-breaking muscles. So when that next plate of brownies beckons, it’s easy to go unconscious again and munch happily down the road.

Talking critters are harder to ignore. Or to sell a snow job on the path back to comfy ignorance. How can you tell if you’re listening to an angel or a charming seducer? Hint: your inner evil twin more often pushes cake than salad.

One good stalling tactic is to make do/don’t lists. Note: lists imply skepticism about the urgency of what your higher self is shouting. And then such a small step to denial. Or maybe a big one, but repeated often.

Intentions without action are easily ignored, with predictably useless results. With no sharp stick in your butt it’s easy to jog in place, swearing and breaking your vows. For a perfect recipe of stasis, add regular doses of self-judgment.

But that nagging donkey keeps braying: The angel’s still there! Apparently you’re going to have to change.  EEEEEK !!!!

If you’re lucky, your fear of change is brief. If you’re not, get a nosh, because you can dance between fear and self-judgment for a very long time. From my heart of hearts, I offer you a prayer: May each of your fears transmute into hope.

I hope I’m living in a conversation with the divine. That my prayers and pleas are received. That I am both being heard and being instructed. That someone’s listening: God/spirit/angels/however you call what’s at the other end of prayer.

It’d be pretty bleak without that hope.

I try to save angel prayers for life-changing moments. But it’s so tempting to use them on the small stuff. A friend searching for a lost tool, in a moment of supreme annoyance shook her fist at the sky and shouted. Don’t teach me patience! Teach me gratitude!!!

And that’s how it is. If we’re lucky we’re heard and we get told. By an overheard comment in the barista line; a track on your ipod; a rock in the road that catches your eye, all chanting: Change your ways. Stop cursing; start blessing. Clean up your act and you clean up your soul. It’s a two-fer.

Keep listening. Your talking donkeys are all around you. You’ll still need to walk the path and do your karmic homework. Task by task. Test by test. Painful growing lesson to the next. With occasional bursts of joy to punctuate the journey. But if you open your soul and heart, you can turn any curse into a blessing.

Soon blessing becomes easier, even a habit. Instead of self-sabotage, self-judgment, and denial, you’ll have more curiosity, more hope, more commitment, and more mindfulness. You’ll choose the road of blessings.

This week: Listen up!

Oh So Very Very Close: TorahCycle Chukat

ChukatDo you remember from Psych 101 that rats on a treadmill run faster when they get closer to goal? What about you?

This week’s reading’s after a big ellipse in time. Forty years, gone with the turn of the page. The Promised Land so very very close. But the troops are cranky, whiny, and thirsty. HaShem tells Moses water will spring from a rock if he asks, but when it doesn’t flow and gush, Moses gets angry and strikes the rock with his staff. For which act he’s told he will not cross into the Promised Land.

He takes it surprisingly well. Better than I would’ve. By me, after 40+ years of tough slogging and cajoling, he’s earned his gold watch and pension. Milk and honey and a cozy place by the fire.

Perhaps he knows himself so well he understands the consequences of his actions. His angry self is mirrored in the folks tugging on his robe. No one’s worse to be with than yourself when you’re in a bad mood. Wherever you go and whatever you do, there you are, crabby, too-sensitive, and annoying.

Some of us are like the treadmill rats. We find that extra sprint you see in racehorses and runners. The last burst of energy and endorphins amped towards goal because you are so very, very close.

Others of us inexplicably punch on our brakes. Do something rash,  or stupid, or both. Some form of screwing things up so we taint the prize and possibly even our ability to achieve it.

Why? Which of those people are you? Does it depend on the goal? Or your age? Or your health, wealth, love life, or general state of happiness?

Each of us has an Achilles heel. In the physical domain, I’ve been wrestling with mine for two years. And the metaphor’s not lost on me. I’m eyeball to eyeball with some of my most vulnerable parts. The ones that I need to make peace with if I’m gonna emerge fully into what I call Helen 3.0. My own promised land. Different for each of us, but a vision, if we’re lucky, that we’ve had, that we cultivate, and that we aspire to.

I’m trying to befriend my Achilles heel; trying to heal her. Do you know yours? Can you name the part of you that, like Moses’ anger, flashes at exactly the wrong moments. The part that’s like the dinner guest who says something rude and wrong too loudly in that exact and  awkward moment of silence that sometimes descends on groups.

Odds are this part of you is a consistent mechanism for your self-sabotage.  Whatever the trigger, this is how you act out.  Even if you can’t eradicate the underlying dynamics in your psyche, you can identify both this behavior and some interventions, a system of bells and whistles that’ll alert you that you’re about to hit the rock and hurt yourself. It’s gotta be worth a try.

Question for the week: When you’re triggered, how can you act in ways that won’t cause you remorse? What will inspire you with clarity, vision, courage, and stamina?

Give Yourself A Break: TorahCycle Behar-Bechukotai

BeharSomeone once observed that Judaism’s greatest gift to humanity was not monotheism but rather the idea of a Sabbath. A time to hit the pause button, taking the seventh day to be, not do. A time to live off the labors of the previous six and give gratitude for creation. Not just one day a week, but every seventh year. And amazingly, in the fiftieth year, to have what’s called a Jubilee year. In Biblical times Jubilees included freeing the slaves, a bold act of socio-economic re-engineering. There’s lots of planning and trust involved.

There’re suggestions (okay instructions) for how to be and yes also do’s/don’t’s about how to spend your time and energy. But they aren’t organized around running errands, getting your lawn mowed, or cheering for your favorite team. They’re about taking time to rest, to pray, to learn, and to make love. Not a bad day, and one many might yearn for Monday through Friday.

When you think weekend, do you also think to-do lists, even the ones that include fun line items like friends and playtime? What takes priority? Why does scheduling regular down time sound so unrealistically pie-in-the-sky? Why’s it so hard to give yourself a break?

One reason: we’re trained since childhood to value of our lives by what we accomplish, by what we can point to as products of our skills and talents. To be able to say proudly, I made that!, whether that’s a misshapen vase in a pottery class or a knockout PowerPoint presentation.

So what happens if you give yourself a break? If you trust, as we’re told to do, that the work you’ve done in days/years one through six should be enough to provide for you in the seventh? That it’s okay to vision and dream, not labor?

You’ll have to trust that the rest and regeneration you’ll get from not doing, from not being in motion or crossing something off your to-do list, is also a benefit. Ditto not fretting that you’ll be more harassed and stressed just by finding relaxation time, or fearing you’ll pay for it later. That there are benefits to what outsiders might write off as day dreaming.

These benefit are short-run and long-, tangible and immeasurable. Benefits that will pay off in ways your now you doesn’t yet have words or imagery for. But remind her to say thanks later, when she realizes that gifting yourself some chill and mellow has not just slowed you down and softened you, but given you a new sense of possibility.

Exercise: Take some daydreaming time each week. Organize your world to insulate yourself from your regular reality for at least a few hours on a regular basis. Get some colored pens. Write down how you wish your life looked and felt. Repeat every seven days. Write down whatever you’re dreaming of, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. You can make it pretty later, when you have more time and energy. Then we’ll work on making it real.