Entries from November 2009 ↓
November 29th, 2009 — Uncategorized
Prayers: I by Kadya Molodowsky, translated by Kathryn Hellerstein
Don’t let me fall
As a stone falls upon the hard ground.
And don’t let my hands become dry
As the twigs of a tree
When the wind beats down the last leaves.
And when the storm raises dust from the earth
With anger and howling,
Don’t let me become the last fly
Trembling terrified on a window pane.
Don’t let me fall.
I have asked for so much,
But as a blade of your grass in a distant wild field
Lets drop a seed in the lap of the earth
And dies away,
Sow in me your living breath,
As you sow a seed in the earth.
November 22nd, 2009 — poems
Thanksgiving by Rainer Maria Rilke
I thank you, deep power
that works me ever more lightly
in ways I can’t make out.
The day’s labor grows simple now,
and like a holy face
held in my dark hands.
(from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
November 20th, 2009 — musings, shabbat
This week’s Torah portion is Toldot, and Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg gave a really great drash on it during the retreat I was just on, and I wanted to try to repeat what she shared, because she spoke directly to why we practice Jewish meditation and not some other form of spiritual practice.
Judaism, thankfully, has some lasting and beautiful structures- Torah, prayers, holidays, mitzvot, etc. And our task seems to be to take these structures seriously, but lightly; we have so many precedents in our history of going deep inside ourselves (see: Zohar, Hasidut), and also to look outside of ourselves and our structures for insight, perspective, challenges (see: Maimonides, the entire Jewish meditation movement). So, we’re held by these structures, but for sustainability, survival, and in the spirit of learning and growing as individuals and as a people, we have to be open and find what works.
Now, this week, we read Toldot, Jacob and Esau are born after fighting each other inside their mother, Rebecca, and Isaac re-digs the ancestral wells in search of water. Sheila’s interpretation of the digging of wells is what I’d like to share:
Isaac is digging the wells of Abraham, finding along the way contention, conflict, and then rehovot, spaciousness. In digging the wells, all of which lead to water, Isaac goes through a lot, eventually getting to a place of non-adversarial flowing waters… The question comes up: “why not skip all of that contention and conflict and just dig new wells?” and Sheila’s answer was threefold: “1. there’s water there!, 2. we know where they are!, and 3. they are our wells!”
This is part of our spiritual path- we know there are deep insights within Jewish practice and study, we have the structures at our disposal, and maybe more importantly, it’s ours! After my whole schpiel about what is Jewish about meditation, I usually just say that if I bring my whole self and my whole heart to my practice, and I’m Jewish, then my practice is Jewish. It feels genetic to me, this ache of connection and the clear feeling that I feel at home in a Jewish context. Even when I considered myself Buddhist and wasn’t so interested in being Jewish, I said the shehechianu when I saw the Himalayas for the first time. Sometimes I’m in conflict and contention with my Jewish roots and contemporary interpretations and even the idea of God, but this feels like the right path, and this is my well, and I’m thirsty.
November 20th, 2009 — musings
We’ve blogged and talked a lot about why we meditate, but there’s one aspect of practice that hasn’t gotten a lot of air time. This past week I was on a 5-day silent retreat with Sylvia Boorstein and Sheila Peltz Weinberg- amazing teachers, deep insights, and a truly wonderful group of people to sit with (mostly rabbis).
Whenever I teach beginners I usually say that anxiety lives in the future, where we are worrying about what hasn’t happened yet, what could happen, our imagined stories; depression lives in the past, where we relive moments and memories, watch our patterns, and feel regret and hopelessness. One of the beauties of meditation is that it places us firmly in the present, where there is no space for depression or anxiety, where the past and future may be observed, but we don’t dwell in either, we stay in the present.
One of the teachings during the retreat was all about why we practice meditation and mindfulness. All of the science was glossed over- yes, it decreases stress, boosts the immune system, but the practice also changes the habits of the mind, puts us more in touch with ourselves, our bodies, and each other, our perspectives widen, and we gain different levels of insight. Practicing mindfulness deepens our sense of composure and relaxation and allows us to not get caught in distraction, indifference, and feeling overwhelmed. I was reminded during this retreat of the pure pleasure of sitting and being present.
Instead of distracting the mind or putting aside our emotions, sitting quietly and simply breathing, watching our mind and body, is like a brain vacation, or “staycation,” really. There is something so beautiful about not running to or from the next thought, not grabbing at the next breath, but just waiting for it to come to you on its own accord. Feeling breathed, by the world, sitting back, not doing anything, and knowing in your heart that you’re doing the best you can, and that things really couldn’t possibly be better (or they would).
November 15th, 2009 — musings
“I have loved you, but yet you keep asking how I have loved you!” Said God.
Thus opens the second line of Chapter 1 of Malachai, this week’s Haftorah portion. Upon first reading, the Haftorah is standard prophet-fare. The Jewish people – and the Jewish priests in the temple – are behaving badly, disconnected from God and from their better selves. God, through Malachai, is trying to bring them around.
While a lot of the text could be read as finger-wagging moralism, I was struck by how the first line God speaks through Malachai is a much more complicated, much more compassionate take on why the people are misbehaving.
“You are a loved creature, a creature composed of love” God is saying, “and yet you can’t see it!” Malachai and/or God is flabbergasted at this state of affairs – this fundamental blindness that seems to be at the root of all of Israel’s misdeeds.
Once on a meditation retreat, I started to realize how at my deepest core, I wasn’t sure I felt love. Instead I felt emptiness, or alienation. I wasn’t sure I loved myself at all, and I certainly wasn’t sure God (whatever that meant) loved me. I remember wishing I was Christian and had a Jesus – someone who explicitly said “I love you. God loves you. You are nothing but love.” I thought that if I had that more explicitly in my tradition, there is a chance I would believe it to be true.
But then I read this passage from the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a mystical Christian text written by a monk in the 14th Century:
“For although [Mary Magdalene] could never rid herself of the deep sorrow of her heart for her sins…yet it still can be said…that she had greater sorrow of heart for her lack of love than for any awareness of her sins. She had a more sorrowing desire, a deeper sighing; she languished almost to the point of death for her lack of love, though she had a very great love. And we are not to wonder at this, for it is the nature of a true lover that the more he loves, the more he longs to love.” (Chapter 16)
Even Mary Magdalene, front and center for Jesus’ love, kept asking, like the people Israel in the book of Malachai, “Why aren’t I loved?” It seems no matter how much Jesus or God or our parents or friends tell us they love us, there is a gap in the moment of truly getting it. Of believing it for ourselves.
I think the Christian monk’s assessment of Mary is really true- it is the nature of true lovers that they will always feel not adequately loved, even when they are. This theme is also echoed in this week’s Torah portion, when Jacob awakes in awe from a dream to say “the divine was in THIS place, and I didn’t know it!”
What if God’s love is in THIS place, our core, and we just didn’t know it? What if that which we perceive to be emptiness at our core is an emptiness filled with love? And while I’m asking questions, what actually is love? For me, it’s a sense of being seen, being understood, being held, and feeling the fibers of my self enclosed in warmth and meaning. There is a totality about love – a full, unconditional acceptance. What would it mean to feel that TOTAL love from the very air you breath, the steps you take, the sights that meet you eye? What would it mean to be feel it accompany each thought, each passing emotion?
What would it mean to look in the mirror and say with conviction, “I am loved by God. And it’s so obvious”?
November 15th, 2009 — poems
The Real Work by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
November 13th, 2009 — musings, shabbat, stories
I was looking up some mystical interpretations for Shabbat, and I started thinking about how you are supposed to get a new soul (or vayinafash, get re-souled), and found the phrase for that special extra shabbat soul- “neshama yesairah.” Apparently Rashi defined this phrase as a “widened heart for resting and happiness,” which for some reason made my mind leap to Chogyam Trungpa’s explanation of the spiritual warrior’s heart:
“When you awaken your heart, you find to your surprise that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible or solid… If you search for the awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there but tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of hte world, you feel tremendous sadness. This sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely open, exposed. It is the pure raw heart. Even if a mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched… It is this tender heart of a warrior that has the power to heal the world.”
It’s a sort of graphic description of the power and importance of softening your heart- that opening our hearts is sometimes painful, but through that pain and messiness is the only way to be touched by the world and, in that exchange, heal.
It bothers me that sometimes worship on Shabbat is so happy happy happy- that there’s no space in some circles for feeling the weight of the past week, the past lifetime, and holding that along with the lightness and bliss of Shabbat. What I mean is that I am really interested in transforming that “unconditioned sadness” into compassion and peace and joy through Shabbat, not try to set all of that aside for Shabbat.
Also, while I’m pondering this new soul business, I love the concept of getting re-ensouled for Shabbat, but it doesn’t make that much sense to me that the new Shabbat soul completely disappears after Havdalah- I’m wondering what remnants of that new soul, what residual joy and peace and lovingkindness gets mixed up with your regular soul and is incorporated more and more each week. My hope is that, like Trungpa’s idea of an empty heart, each time I am resouled through Shabbat, there is more tenderness and less tangibility, a waking up of my soul, an opening of my heart, and a chance to practice making everything holy, at least one day a week.
November 8th, 2009 — Uncategorized
Words by Shinkichi Takahashi
I don’t take your words
Merely as words
Far from it.
To what makes you talk -
Whatever that is -
And me listen.
November 1st, 2009 — poems
Dusting by Marilyn Nelson
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
for the infinite,
For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
from equator to pole.
My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.