March 15th, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week’s Torah portion, or parsha, is called Vayikrah, which in Hebrew means, “And he called,” alluding to G-d’s instructions to Moses, taken from the book of Leviticus, the third of five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Vayikrah begins by describing in graphic detail G-d’s instructions for the Jewish people in offering animal and food sacrifices. I am told that the one of the reasons animal sacrifice was so prevalent in the past was that it was this was how people related to a higher power across cultures, since there were no structured, organized prayer services back then. As a vegetarian, this aspect of the parsha resonated less with me than the actual layout of the scene: Only Moses was allowed to stand at the threshold of the temporary sanctuary where G-d resided, also known as the “tent of meeting,” in order to communicate with G-d. Why was Moses the chosen one allowed to enter this sacred space where no other man had ventured? Some scholars argue that Moses’s humility is what set him apart, and that this humility elevated him in the eyes of the Lord. To me, to be modest is to show that you are human, at times vulnerable, and be able to ask for help.
These days I find myself in a vulnerable place professionally. I just received state and national credentialing in my field of art therapy and am now navigating the job market with new letters behind my name but without a clear sense of where I want to go next, especially now that the state is not dictating what I can and cannot do. Applying for jobs and “networking” can be a very unnerving experience as one touts his/her qualifications on an immaculate resume but tries to remain as humble and authentic as possible throughout the process.
I am reminded of one of my favorite TED talks from 2010, about the power of vulnerability by Brene Brown. (I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it!) She says:
“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even with there is no guarantee…to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when asking ‘Can I love you this much?’ Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this? And instead of catastrophizing just to be able to stop and say ‘I feel so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive…”
My kavanah, or intention, for our meditation practice this week is this: I invite you to think about the areas of your life or relationships where you feel vulnerable right now, and to notice the feelings that arise when you go there. Notice the texture, color, and temperature of that space, what it is made of, and whether or not you feel comfortable venturing inside. I welcome you to then try to breathe into that space with the thought that being vulnerable means being alive, and being alive is a gift, and see if the space transforms or shifts in any way as you sit with this idea.
March 6th, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week’s Torah portion is a double dose of wisdom. We read both Vayakhel and Pekudei. With that, we complete the book of Exodus. In these two portions, Moses assembles the Jewish people and gives them G-d’s directions for making the mishkan, or tabernacle. At the outset, Moses reminds them of the commandment to observe Shabbat. For the task of building the mishkan is great, but it cannot be completed without taking time to rest. The people donate the necessary materials to build the mishkan. They bring gold, silver, and bronze metal and indigo, purple, and crimson linens. They bring ram skins to make into a covering for the tent and acacia wood to craft into panels for the mishkan. They bring oil for light and spices for anointing oil. In fact, the people bring so many riches to donate to the mishkan that Moses has to tell them to stop giving. Their generosity is overflowing. Moses tells the Israelites that the work of constructing the mishkan will be done by people filled with heart’s wisdom to do every task of carver and designer and embroiderer and weaver. G-d has given them wisdom and understanding to know how to do this holy work. Then we read in great detail how the mishkan is constructed. After it is complete, Moses erects it and places the Covenant within it. G-d’s presence in the form of the cloud covers the mishkan and it becomes G-d’s dwelling place in the midst of the people.
Within this week’s portion, I was struck that an entire chapter of Exodus was devoted to the clothing of the priests. We read all about the crafting of the garments Aaron and his sons will wear to serve in the sanctuary. All are made with interwoven strands of gold, indigo, purple, and crimson linen. Stones of ruby, topaz, turquoise, sapphire, and amethyst are set into their breastplates. The hem of their robes are embroidered with pomegranates and adorned with bells of pure gold. The craftsmen bring the same meticulousness that they brought to the construction of the mishkan itself to the fashioning of the garments to wear during divine service.
How important are the clothes we wear while doing important work? I was raised in a household that scorned vanity. My family guarded ourselves against what we saw as the excesses of beauty culture where we lived in Southern California. My decision at sixteen to stop shaving my legs was a conscious act of non-conformity with powerful beauty norms. So I am somewhat resistant to the focus on apparel I read in this week’s Torah portion.
My work is in campaigning for progressive policy change at the national level, and I must lobby elected officials, meet with powerful coalition partners, and interact with members of the media. Here too, I am sometimes frustrated by the amount of attention paid to dress, and I must admit I judge the women on the Hill who wear pearls. However, I do recognize that in order to be taken seriously, I must dress the part, and thus I own my fair share of suits. Just as appearance matters in today’s political realm, in the Rabbinic period, the criteria for selecting members of the Sanhedrin or city council, according to the Talmud, was stature, wisdom, good appearance, and mature age. This week’s Torah portion teaches that if we are to engage in holy work, we must pay attention to our appearance while doing the holy tasks. If I take my social justice mission seriously, I must dress impeccably.
Also contained in this week’s portion is the fact that the women brought their mirrors to donate to the construction of the mishkan. They brought an item that is often a tool of vanity or pride to create a container of divine presence. While this week’s portion teaches that taking care in our appearance honors the dignity of holy work, we mustn’t confuse our respect for the work with pride in our appearance. Attention to our physical presentation is appropriate, obsession is not.
Ultimately, I believe Judaism is far more concerned with how we behave in the world — with the condition of our souls — than with our clothing. Perkei Avot, the wisdom of our fathers, reminds us to look not just at the vessel, but rather what is inside.
My kavanah, or intention, for this week is for us to hold two contradictory intentions. First, the intention to take our holy work in the world seriously and, in so doing, take our bodies and the garments that clothe them seriously. And second, the intention to transform our mirrors from a tool of vanity or pride into an instrument that can prepare us for a divine encounter.
February 23rd, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week’s parsha, or weekly Torah portion, is Ki Tisa, which translates to “when you shall take.” In this parsha, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, where G-d inscribes two Tablets with the Ten Commandments. Moses is gone for forty days and nights, and the Israelites become impatient and fearful because of Moses’ long absence.
They demand that Aaron make a god to lead them. Aaron asks for gold jewelry, melts it down and casts a golden calf. He then builds an altar before the calf and declares a festival; the people offer sacrifices, eat, drink and dance around the calf.
G-d tells Moses to hurry down the mountain because the people have rebelled by making a golden calf and worshipping it. G-d wants to destroy the people, but Moses pleads on their behalf people and G-d relents. Moses descends the mountain and is so enraged when he sees the Israelites worshipping and dancing around the golden calf, that he smashes the Tablets.
Moses asks G-d to forgive the people for their sin. G-d sends a plague to punish those who sinned, but then instructs Moses to prepare two new stone Tablets. Moses goes back up Mount Sinai and G-d again inscribes the Ten Commandments on the Tablets.
And G-d said to Moshe: I have seen this people, and look, it is a stiff-necked people. (Exodus/Shemot 32:9)
The phrase, a stiff-necked people is repeated four times in this Torah portion, and I have always wondered about what it means.
What does it mean to be a stiff-necked person? When my children were quite young I took them to on a trip to Disney World. On the first day of our vacation I woke up with a terribly stiff neck and what I remember of the trip is constantly feeling panicked and afraid of losing sight of my children because I couldn’t turn my head to see them. They never wandered off, but my neck was so stiff that unless I turned my entire body I couldn’t see them, and so I was constantly turning in circles and I had to be holding on them to feel reassured that they wouldn’t get lost.
Perhaps the stiff-necked people in this parsha panicked because they lost sight of Moses and could not see G-d, and resorted to building a golden calf because their faith was not enough to sustain them. They choose to build a statue that they could see and touch but so much of what sustains us are the things that we cannot see, the air that we breathe, the knowledge we possess, the love we feel, the caring compassion of our communities. A golden calf has no value in comparison to these things yet when you are stiff-necked you may not be flexible enough to realize that.
My kavanah for this week is to remember all that sustains us even if we cannot see or feel it. The air that we breathe cannot be seen and yet it is what keeps us alive and what we always have to come back to in our meditations. I invite you to explore what else cannot be seen and yet is there all along and to remember to loosen your necks, and take time to look up at the sky, to look behind you and see how far you have come, to look from side to side to side and see those who stand beside you and to look down and be humbled that you are part of this earth.
February 14th, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week’s parsha, or Torah portion, comes from the book of Exodus and is called Terumah, which can be roughly translated as “an offering.” In this parsha, G-d instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to build a Mishkan, a sacred sanctuary in which G-d can dwell and that the Hebrew people can transport through the desert. The instructions laid out in this parsha are incredibly detailed, from the types of donations the Israelites must make to this Mishkan (gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; oil and spices) to the materials (used to build the ark that lives inside the sanctuary (acacia wood and golden rings) to the decorations that adorn the ark (cherubs and menorahs).
When I read this, I thought about how much planning we put into things that are of great import to us. I myself am a big planner, especially when it comes to major decisions in my life. I’m not one of those people who would ever quit my job on a whim and travel the world for a year. For me, something like a job change or a move across the country requires many months of planning, and even more months prior to the event of just letting these plans marinate in the back of my mind.
One of the reasons I have to think over these decisions for such a long time is because I find big life changes to be overwhelming. They make me highly anxious, and plague my mind with negative thinking and self-doubt.
And so I thought: Perhaps it will always be necessary for me to plan out these life changes before I act on them, but wouldn’t it be nice if, while I’m thinking them through, I could support myself rather than berate myself? If this path to my decision could be a journey of self-discovery rather than one on which I second-guess myself nearly every step of the way? During the past few years of developing my practice, I’ve found that meditation helps me turn down the volume on those negative thoughts, so that I can hear the more positive and supportive thoughts that ultimately guide me toward the decision I’m trying to make.
As I thought some more about this sanctuary G-d told Moses to have built, I realized one thing that I would like to build for myself: a sacred place that would shelter me from self-doubt. And so my kavanah, or intention, is that our meditation practice helps us build our own internal Mishkan, in which only our most positive and supportive thoughts dwell. That seems like something worth building with care.
February 7th, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week’s Torah portion is called Mishpatim, which can be translated as “laws.” The heart of the portion is often referred to as the Covenant Code. It appears in the Torah as a set of laws given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai. Some commandments contained in this week’s Torah portion may be easier for us to follow than others. The commandment to keep Shabbat as a day of resting is more difficult for me than, say, not sleeping with animals carnally. This year, I’ve chosen to keep this commandment more fully by turning off my iphone, not cooking, and not traveling on Shabbat. I have found it both incredibly challenging and deeply profound. Other commandments in this week’s portion are lifelong spiritual tasks. We are told not to follow the majority for evil, not to curse our parents, not to pervert justice, and not to oppress the stranger. These require continuous commitment.
When Jewish people receive all the laws in the Covenant Code, they say naaseh v’nishma, or “we will do and we will hear.” First they will act, and then they will understand. Judaism is often said to be a religion where the action comes first and the intention or meaning follows. In my mind, that stands in stark contrast to one of my favorite sayings from the Buddha: “The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.”
Rather than struggle with the question of what should come first—action then intention or intention then action—I’ve come to see how sometimes one comes first and sometimes the other. When I began meditating, I needed to take the action of sitting even if I would often spend sessions lost in thought. I couldn’t worry about whether I was fulfilling the intention of being present because then I would feel bad and not sit at all. Eventually my concentration skills improved and now I am able to come back to my intention. We call mindfulness practice practice because we take a set of actions before we can fully manifest our intentions.
At the same time, intention followed by action is at the core of mindfulness. Many have held that equipping ourselves with the skill to set an intention and take right action is the very reason we sit. It’s not about the time we spend on the cushion. Rather, the time we spend observing how the thought manifests prepares us to act with care in the world. And we want to act with care in the world because our actions become our habits which become our character. This concept isn’t foreign to Judaism. Rabbeinu Bachya — the author of the first Jewish system of ethics, written in Arabic in the 11th century — is known to have said, “Days are like scrolls. Write on them only what you want to be remembered.”
What would our days look like if we thought that G-d was watching every action we took? That’s exactly what we’re told during the High Holydays. Each Yom Kippur, I am deeply compelled by the idea of a G-d who is watching us in order to inscribe us in the book of life, even though on a rational level I can’t believe in a G-d like that. If G-d is not playing that kind of role, then perhaps we are all blessed with the holy task of setting the intention to be present and caring so that our actions may be in agreement with the vision of wholeness and connection that we received at Sinai in this week’s Torah portion.
My kavanah, or intention, for this week is for us to feel grateful to ourselves for taking the action of sitting even if we may get sleepy or lost in thought or fail to live up to our intention of presence in some other way. And may we feel gratitude for the ways in which our mindfulness practice allows us to set the deepest intention for our lives and for our very characters.
January 31st, 2013 — parsha reflection
In this week’s parsha, or torah portion, we find the Israelites in the desert near Mount Sinai with Yitro, or Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. He has heard all about G-d’s kindness to the Israelites up until this point and he gathers Moses’s wife and children to join the chosen nation.
Moses gathers a welcoming committee to meet Yitro and recounts all of the great things G-d has done for them thus far. As Yitro rejoices over all of these miracles, he sees that Moses is personally serving the celebratory meal. Yitro also notices that Moses is doing quite a bit of other work for the people, neglecting his own affairs. The conversation continues as follows:
“Moses, what are you doing? The people stand before you morning to night with their problems and you judge them morning to night. Why do you do this?”
“The people come to me with their problems, so I teach them the way of G-d.”
“This isn’t good, son. You’ll burn out. You can’t do this alone. Of course, G-d should agree to this, but you should bring the people’s problems to G-d. You should represent them, and you should teach them. But you should also appoint judges. Righteous judges. And you should divide them into courts. Only the major cases will come to you for judgment. Get G-d’s consent and you will not become worn out.”
At various points in my life I’ve found myself with more than I can handle both emotionally and logistically. Unable to swallow my pride and seek counsel from others, I’ve kept this all bottled inside. I can remember applying to jobs as a senior in college and not telling a single person where I was applying. If I keep this to myself, I thought, then I won’t have to tell anyone if I don’t get the job and I can just move on. It was a point of pride for me to see how long I could go without telling anyone. I didn’t trust myself enough to share my situation with others. But by keeping my job search to myself, I was also cutting myself off from hundreds of connections, perspectives, and bits of advice. I was, in essence, missing out on many new opportunities. I had to swallow my pride and trust others.
I see Moses’ predicament as similar to my own. He was bringing the Israelites food and acting as a judge while ignoring the potential of delegating these tasks. We’ve all likely been there before. Trying to juggle work, relationships, extracurriculars, and everything in between. We become so entrenched in our own lives that we forget how important and valuable the people around us can be in helping us through the rocky times.
I think it comes down to trust and comfort in the vulnerability of asking others for help. We often want to prove to ourselves that we can do it all alone. However, each of us also likely has the experience of offering our hand to others in generosity when it was needed. Finding comfort in seeking counsel from those around us lies in trust. We must trust others to point out what we can’t see, and trust ourselves to know when it’s best to ask for help.
So my kavanah, or intention, that I offer to you based on this week’s parsha is that we find ease in asking others for help. It may feel scary or uncomfortable at first, but in doing so, we may find that we are offering ourselves a unique form of trust.
January 17th, 2013 — parsha reflection
This week the Exodus story continues as G-d rains plagues down on Egypt to defeat Pharaoh and free the Israelites from slavery. This week’s parsha, Bo, meaning “Go,” begins with G-d’s telling Moses to go to Pharaoh and warn him of the eighth plague, locusts. The warning, of course, falls on deaf ears, and the plague of locusts is followed by the plague of darkness, and finally the most terrible, the death of the firstborn.
Between the ninth and tenth plagues, the Israelites are instructed to sacrifice a lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood, so that the angel of death will pass over their houses. They are also told that in the future, they are to remember and observe a week-long holiday every spring, when they eat unleavened bread, perform the passover sacrifice, and explain to their children the reason for the holiday. (This is Passover, which, these days, is the most-celebrated Jewish holiday.) After these instructions, the tenth plague strikes, and immediately afterward, the Israelites set out to leave Egypt.
“And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.” (Exodus 12:39)
Leavening is what makes bread rise, and it’s also a word we use to indicate that something has been changed for the better. Humor in serious situations is considered a leavening agent, for example. Unleavened bread, then, is generally considered inferior to leavened bread. During the seder, the Passover meal and ritual, we call the unleavened bread the “bread of affliction.” However, we also refer to it as the “bread of freedom.”
A number of years ago I served on a jury. I discovered that a large part of jury service is waiting, and it gets boring. However, it was so interesting to be part of the justice system that I was even interested in the boring parts. “Wow, this is really boring—that’s fascinating!” That’s rare, though. Waiting, doing routine tasks, just getting through the mundane parts of everyday life is usually not fascinating to me. It feels flat, flavorless, unleavened—maybe not the bread of affliction, exactly, but the bread of blah.
Could this same bread be the bread of freedom? How is our experience of waiting or performing mundane tasks changed as we cultivate mindfulness?
My kavannah for this parsha is to open ourselves to the parts of life that are less interesting, and consider how we might find value in them—how they make us more free, or, to turn it around, how our freedom is what allows us to have that particular boredom. May we increase the meaning in our moments by noticing and living in the flat ones as well as the leavened.
January 3rd, 2013 — parsha reflection
The continued relevance of G-d’s one-liners never cease to impress me, and this week’s parsha (torah portion), Shemot (“names”), is no exception. Shemot tells the story typically spoken of during Passover. The Egyptians have enslaved the people of Israel, and Pharaoh has commanded the midwives to put newborn baby boys to death in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter finds a baby boy in a reed basket floating down the river, who she cares for and names Moses. Fast forward to Moses pasturing flocks and approaching the mountain of G-d, where he sees a burning bush impermeable to being engulfed by flames. As Moses approaches the bush G-d graces us with this gem: “Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil.”
Inhale. There is so much to say about this statement! First, there are so many other places where you are asked to remove your shoes. The karate studio, yoga studio, in a bouncy castle, at the JMC, my mother’s house, when being admitted to the hospital, and so many more. There are the various meanings of shoes and their removal: grounding, vulnerability, discomfort, connection to the land, honoring the space you’re entering, breaking down a barrier, stripping away a guard, leveling the playing field. Shoes are considered ritually unclean in the Muslim faith and thus are removed prior to entering a Mosque. Shoes can also symbolize your material self and are removed or worn in a stripped down fashion during Yom Kippur. So much meaning and significance packed into one simple act! Exhale…so simple.
What I find so lovely about G-d’s statement is its simplicity. In our search for meaning and significance, and through our efforts to get closer to something special and holy, one very concrete step we can take is to remove our shoes (either literally or metaphorically). I find this action of removing one’s shoes has direct connections to meditation. To me it represents the simplicity of an act that can help bring us closer to our true selves, our grounded selves, or to something holy: our breath. This is not to deny or discount all of the various other more complicated, elaborate, and often beneficial modalities; however, it is to pay tribute to the simplicity of the breath itself and our practice of returning to it. Similar to the act of Moses removing his shoes at the presence of G-d, so should we remove the barrier between us and what is holy to us.
My kavanah (intention) for this week and going into the new year is to refresh the basics of our practice by reminding ourselves of the attention to the breath and the gentle return to the breath when we find our mind has taken another path. May we sit in the new year with a renewed appreciation of the magnitude of the breath.
Wishing the JMC community and family a happy and healthy new year!
December 20th, 2012 — parsha reflection
Vayigash, Hebrew for “and he drew near”, recounts the story of how Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Egypt. Many years after they sold him into slavery, Joseph has risen to be the second most powerful man in Egypt, behind only Pharaoh himself. His brothers have traveled from Canaan to Egypt to bring back bread for their father Jacob. As the parsha begins, Joseph’s older brother Judah is about to plea to the lord of Egypt—whom he still has not recognized—for the release of Benjamin, whom Joseph had framed for the theft of a goblet.
Throughout the parsha, the brothers grapple with the hurt they’ve caused each other and their beloved father. Time has had varied effects on the brothers and their father: Joseph’s position in the world has changed the most, but he still has some of the arrogance that provoked his brothers’ hatred. Jacob, meanwhile, is frozen in time, mourning the son he thought dead and proclaiming that should a similar fate befall Benjamin, he would die of grief. Judah, finally, has become more selfless and understanding. Previously, he spoke up to prevent his other brothers from killing Joseph, but still suggested selling him off as a “compromise”; this time, he volunteers himself as collateral for Benjamin.
His plea is a stirring one: “…our father, said to us, ‘You know that two did my wife bear me…And should you take this one, too, from my presence and harm befall him, you would bring down my gray head in evil to Sheol.” (44:27-30)
Clearly, Jacob is still playing favorites, speaking of Rachel as if she was his only wife, whereas Leah actually bore the majority of his children. He dismisses her existence, even as he speaks to her sons. This is the same blatant favoritism that once prompted his other sons’ fierce jealousy. However, Judah recounts his father’s forlorn statement without a hint of resentment, but rather empathy and compassion. Judah has come to accept his father’s slights of his mother, his brothers, and even himself as an inescapable part of who the patriarch is.
Judah’s acceptance of his father can be an example to us: I often think about how meditation has allowed me to handle my inner weaknesses and frustrations with more compassion. But sometimes our frustrations with other people perturb us just as much. When we get frustrated with others, we’re unable to avoid the effects of those emotions. If Judah hadn’t reacted to his father’s favoritism with compassion, his pride might have spiraled out of control, perhaps allowing Benjamin to be held captive in Egypt, and thus the reunification of the house of Israel might never have happened. Instead, his ability to let go of that resentment allowed his love for his father and brother to guide his actions and created the opportunity for a beautiful reconciliation.
We all have felt hurt or forgotten by the people closest to us, and often with good reason. I’ve spent plenty of time wondering what I might have said or done wrong when someone I love becomes distant; or, in the opposite position, why a friend can’t understand my need for space and instead puts me under pressure to give of myself when I don’t feel like I have much to give. We’re often not “wrong” to feel that way, and sometimes friends really do let us down or expect too much of us. A meditation practice won’t necessarily change the way we evaluate a situation, but it can help us perceive those around us in their wholeness, and acknowledge the things we feel frustrated about as part of a larger whole that we still love.
My kavannah for this week is to take the opportunity to let go of the some of the most persistent frustrations and resentments we hold for those who are closest to us. We don’t need to forget what aspects of their personalities we find problematic, or assume they can never be improved, but if we adopt a bit of equanimity towards those aspects, we can feel a greater, purer love for them and avoid feelings of hurt pride in ourselves.
December 13th, 2012 — parsha reflection
This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Mikeitz (“at the end”) opens by describing the inability of Pharaoh’s wise men to interpret their master’s dreams. Pharaoh details a scene of seven fat cows grazing by a river where another seven sickly-thin ones come to join them. After co-mingling for a bit, the seven lean cows eat up the fat cows, but do not gain a pound. The same happens with a dream of seven bountiful sheaves of grain swallowed up by seven thin sheaves. The Pharaoh awoke from these dreams, and behold, he had no clue what they meant! Confused, they decide to call upon the prisoner, Joseph, known for successful interpretations, to be given a chance to explain the dream.
Joseph quickly explains that the dreams mean that seven years of plenty, represented by the fat cows and fat ears of grain, will be “swallowed up” by the following seven years of hunger, symbolized by the lean cows and the shriveled ears. Pharaoh is so impressed by the Hebrew slave that he appoints Joseph to be Prime Minister of Egypt, second in power only to Pharaoh himself.
While I, too, would be impressed by the acuity of Joseph’s dream interpretation, many Biblical commentators are not. They question why all the necromancers and sages of Egypt were not able to interpret something that seems relatively simple: fat cows/sheaves = plenty & skinny cows/sheaves = famine.
So what were they missing that Joseph groked? According to some rabbis, Pharaoh’s staff did conceive of Joseph’s interpretation, but then dismissed this interpretation, because it did not account for a paradoxical aspect of the dream: the fat cows and grain stood side by side with the skinny cows and grain. You can’t have abundance at the same time as famine. Or can you?
This is where Joseph’s wisdom was put on display. Joseph was able to sit comfortably within this dream’s paradox and see clearly how to utilize the dream’s message for action: prepare for the famine during the time of plenty.
Meditation practice can be interpreted as working to become comfortable with our own paradoxes. Our minds are often uncomfortable with contradictions. Ever notice how it’s hard to remember your past successes when you’re worried you might fail at something? I have, many a time, witnessed my own mind contradict itself in a short span of time: one minute feeling a bubbling up of fear or panic over future responsibilities, the next minute having an experience of self-confidence and calm regarding the same situation. If I am feeling stressed over a future task, it is easy to only pay attention to and validate the thoughts that reinforce that stressed sense of myself, dismissing, or actually missing thoughts that don’t “fit in”.
With meditation, we work to pay attention to each moment and witness all the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that arise. The more we open up to whatever arises, even if it doesn’t make sense to us at the time we notice it, the more we open ourselves up to accept and incorporate our whole selves. Within us, there can be moments of famine during times of plenty, or feelings of abundance in times of want. We often, like the sages of Egypt, overlook pieces of ourselves that don’t “fit” to try to create a rational and solid sense of who we are. The more we can pay mindful attention to each passing moment, the more we can see these paradoxes arise within us and not be bothered by them. We may even find a good course of action, like Joseph did, once we can see all pieces with honesty and openness.
My kavanah (intention) for this parsha is to encourage the search for our own paradoxes. Can you find a moment during your sit when your thoughts contradict themselves? Can you catch a thought that doesn’t “sound like you”? By setting an intention to become aware of our own paradoxes, we practice inviting in all of our parts to develop a greater understanding and compassion of the incredible complexity held within ourselves, and each other.