Friday, April 11, 2014

Parshat Acharei - Change starts from the inside

Parshat Acharei Lev. 16:33 "And he shall effect atonement upon the Holy of Holies, and he shall effect atonement upon the Tent of Meeting and upon the altar, and he shall effect atonement upon the kohanim and upon all the people of the congregation.

 When we seek to atone, to change, to start again, we can follow the model of the high priest. First, we must look deeply into our innermost being (the Holy of Holies inside), then we must look at our relationship with the transcendent (the Tent of Meeting). Once these have been put right, we can change our relationships with those who lead us and who those who are our companions. The key is starting from within.

May we be blessed to experience profound liberation, starting at the core of our beings, and proceeding to emanate from the core outward so that all of our relationships become wholesome and free.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Parshat Terumah: Facing the emptiness, we hear the holy.

Parshat Terumah. Exodus 25:20-22. The cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another; [turned] toward the ark cover shall be the faces of the cherubim. And you shall place the ark cover on the ark from above, and into the ark you shall place the testimony, which I will give you. I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony, all that I will command you unto the children of Israel.

The instructions for building the ark and its cover elaborately describe creating forms. Yet the place from which God speaks is not from one of the created forms, but from the space between the forms, the two cherubim whose faces are turned toward each other. We can see in these instructions for building the ark the essential dance between form and flow, between creation and the emptiness from which it arises. We learn that to hear God's voice, we must turn toward each other in love, while creating space for new insight to arise.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mishpatim: The fullness of life

Parshat Mishpatim Ex. 23: 26. There will be no bereaved or barren woman in your land; I will fill the number of your days.

An unsatisfying and perplexing verse. Rashi adds "There will be no bereaved… woman: if you comply with My will" but this does not fully resolve the discomfort for it implies that whenever we see someone who is bereaved or empty, it is their fault for being out of sync with divine will. We know, however, that bereavement happens eventually for all of us who love someone, whether or not we comply with the divine. And barrenness also happens to most of us at some point in life - not the barrenness of not bearing a child, but the barrenness of not being able to nurture creativity, bring forth new projects, achieve our goals. These are universal experiences. So what could the verse be telling us? 

The promise of the verse, including Rashi's addition, is that careful attention to the reality of being, can allow us to live our lives more fully. We will experience moments of bereavement and barrenness, but in understanding that these are part of what fill our lives, we can transcend them. We can find, even in bereavement and loss, a fullness, an appreciation of life's richness. The bereavement, the barrenness, like the winter, will eventually yield to spring filled with new insights.

May we learn to see even the painful, empty experiences as moments that are part of living fully. May we skillfully allow those painful experiences to open us to receive new insights and to deepen our compassion for ourselves and for others.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Parshat Bo: Blessing practice to soften the heart and awaken to the signs in our midst

Parshat Bo: Ex. X:1 - "And The Lord said to Moses: 'Go into Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them;'"

With each successive plague Pharaoh's heart hardened until what was most dear to him was destroyed.  When the Pharaoh inside of us hardens, it often locks into place the repetition of destructive and self-defeating patterns. The result can be a mounting toll of broken relationships and wasted opportunities. How bad does it need to get before we see the signs in our midst? What can we do to soften our own hearts and open our own eyes to the truth?

There is a simple blessing practice** that can be helpful:

Find a quiet time and space.
Sit comfortably on a chair or a pillow.
Close your eyes.
Breathe in and out slowly, steadily and calmly.
After you have established a rhythm, staying with your breath, and with kavanah (intention), repeat each of these phrases:

May you be blessed with simcha (joy),
May you be blessed with chesed (loving-kindness),
May you be blessed with rachamim (compassion),
May you be blessed with shalom (peace).

Call to mind someone who you trust fully has your best interests at heart (a "benefactor"). Visualize this person - how they look, how they sound, how they feel. Now visualize this person awash in joy, then awash in loving-kindness, then filled with compassion, and finally, filled with peace. Continue to repeat the phrases as you visualize or sense these qualities washing over and radiating from the benefactor. Really investigate the nature of the qualities of joy, loving-kindness, compassion and peace. 

Next visualize these qualities washing over you.

Next, call to mind a "difficult" person. Now call on these qualities to wash over the difficult person. 

Finally, send these qualities out into the universe for the benefit of all beings and close your meditation. 

Use this practice to bless yourself, a benefactor, a friend, a family member, or a difficult person in your life.  Often it is easiest to start with a benefactor.  The difficult person is usually most difficult to bless, but can also be most rewarding. See for yourself if this practice softens your heart and leads to more awareness of the "signs in your midst."

**We learned this practice from Rabbi Jeff Roth. See Chapter 7 of his book Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life for a more extended set of instructions.