Kids get that line a lot, a cultivation of good manners: did you say thank you? Grown ups, it is presumed, oddly, remember to pause and thank - a compliment, a gesture, gift, favor from friend or stranger or host or lord of hosts. But grown ups too can benefit from such reminders. I know I can. On this second day of a new year - a focused pause to make a list of thank you's. to focus on what is.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/29/2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Enter in peace. Shana Tova.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/28/2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/27/2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
The Guest House This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/26/2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/26/2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Attention shoppers: ready for the holidays? It's customary to start the new year with new stuff: a new flavor, fruit or delicacy for the first feast of the year, something new to wear, fresh flowers, gifts to those you love. Doesn't have to be expensive or fancy - it's about the intention. Less is more.
But this type of holiday shopping doesn't have to be just about 'stuff'. It can also be an opportunity for healing our relationship with consuming material goods and how bad that relationship sometimes becomes - excess, greed, impulse purchases that accumulate in the back of our closets, more stuff, more guilt. Can I take this time to think about being a more conscious, responsible consumer? Is there a spiritual lesson here waiting to be learned? Can this be part of our prepenting process? prep for the holiday with sacred intention - and a dash of sensible style?
" I’ve always thought that the prospect of consumption brings a flash of hope to the grayness of the daily grind even more than actually buying something does, when the possibility of disappointment sets in even as you are handing over your credit card or cash to pay for your purchase. The idea of adding something new to your repertory of belongings — be it as tiny as a modish bottle opener or as large as a cashmere winter coat — seems to suggest by some process of osmosis a change bigger than itself: Life might open up with you in possession of this new item, or you yourself might be ever so slightly revised and adopt a whole new worldview."
So. shopping? I am going for a new white shirt, maybe a tie, new plants for the garden, treats for the kids, and lots of little organic honey jars as gifts for friends. Plan ahead. Less IS more. more or less. enjoy.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/25/2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Z. tells me of the cupcake he stopped to buy today, after a gruelling morning, took a bite, and smiled: Happy.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/24/2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
Uptown at the UN they are still debating, secret talks and public
statements and no compromise. hard lines in the sand, sacred sand
hardened by too many empty words and too much fear and too much blood.
Why is compromise so hard?
truths, and finally, at dawn, perhaps, a compromise. Trying to be together, people or nations, to live, and thrive and grow
together while retaining a strong self - requires that the 'together'
is defined and redefined, again and again. Without losing sight of our
inner most needs - can we learn to also compromise - towards the
greater good that is larger than the sum of our parts? It means to 'make a mutual promise', to 'promise together'. Why is it
do hard? What can help us negotiate our truths and needs better? Is there one area in your life where conflict happens and compromise
could help? I am entering this third Sabbath of this prepent period of
perfection-of-self with a promise, a com-promise, to try a together.
Outcome unknown, but intention solid. Uptown in the UN the conflict continues. Please insert your hopes and
prayers for more compassion, courage and compromise among our leaders
and people, and each of us, for the promise of a better future, peace,
dignity, freedom, for everybody already. amen. shabbat shalom.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/23/2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/22/2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
It takes balls, and enough despair, to ask for money in the middle of a very crowded early morning commute subway train - and this guy had both. 7am on the uptown R train seemed way too early for these sort of social interactions - but here he was in front of me, holding a hat, looking me in the eye: 'got change?'
I did. we smiled, he thanked and moved on, leaving me with a seemingly simple question that is anything but: got change?
Change is often a stressful factor in our life and we often face the other way, hoping it will just vanish. It rarely does. These days it's looking me in the face, like this guy did.
(I know - I'm once again guilty of taking an innocent phrase from a very specific context and taking it in a different direction. Call it Midrash.) On this twentieth day of a forty days journey towards greater focus, generosity of spirit, more clarity and positive energy- this beggar/angel shows up to remind me of the core value of this process, these high and holy days: the only constant is change. got it?
Am I ready to change anything at all in my behaviour so that my life is lived better and with more integrity and wholeness? And let's say that I do 'get' the scope of changes that are needed in order to improve my life and those of the people I love and care for - how do I go about manifesting the kind of change that is sustainable and solid?
The only way to make change happen and last, I think, is by being very specific, goal oriented, and disciplined. Also - baby steps, and peer support.
(My main goal for this PREPENT period, now exactly at half-mark, remains better care of my body - through nutrition, exercise and careful time management. Midterm report? I'm still pescaterian, cultivated a good breakfast routine, cooking often at home, and feeling much better about overall nutrition and wellness. Baby steps and peer support continue to be essential ingredients. I'm not doing so great on workouts and gym. damm. School hours have been too demanding. Soon I hope to balance better. The over all goal - change how I live so that I can be a better change agent in the world. Nothing less. thanks everyone for helping me do this by reading, responding and cheering on. Hope it's helpful)
One more specific note on the concept of change: In its most literal sense the 'change' that the guy asked about this morning was not a character trait. It was loose change, coins, money, currency, what's left over from big bills, the coins we use for parking meters and cups of coffee and street charity and piggy banks, or in this case - breakfast. The little things that amount to the big stuff.
What do I do with my loose change? How often do I ignore those in my life who need help? (and with what justifications?) how can the role of money in my minutia of every day life be treated with more dignity, utmost care, responsibility, kindness?
Tonight's task: Gather up the loose coins from all over the house and get them ready for daily handout to those for whom it's no small matter. (save some quartes for laundry) Or maybe it IS time for a new and improved piggy bank that will gather up resources towards bigger goals of worth? Your call.
Count your blessings, keep the change.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/21/2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
what's in my wallet? I found myself sitting this morning for a full
five minutes with an emptied out wallet, carefully inspecting the heap
and figuring out what of the contents need to go or require attention
and whether the wallet itself is perhaps on its way to the heap of
history.Just a tiny, private housekeeping moment, prompted by a
practical need, but, as I reflected on it later, quickly becoming part
of my PREPENT journey, an active meditation on the effectiveness of
the central finaincial tool that I use, and through that process - the
beginning of some attention and intention on the ways with which money
happens in my life and between us all and how this exchange, like my
wallet, could do a better job. This focused wallet thinking happened, btw because of really
negligible practical problem, that nevertheless needs to be solved for
maximum elegance and efficiency in my life: This is it: as I now enter
my school building each morning at 7:45am I have to swiftly and almost
simultaneously 1. show the contents of my bag to the security officer
2. scan the id card over the scanner 3. hold on to my hot cup of tea.
and sometimes umbrella. It's a bit of a cumbersome dance, and since I
don't have another hand it requires creative adjustment. The
bottleneck is, I think, my wallet - where the ID card is stored and
takes the longest to get out, wave, return. possible solution: better
wallet. One with those flaps that just pull out with id badges. of course cleaning out your wallet is a spiritual exercise in
cleansing: in god we trust. there's work to be done here with regard
to our financial dealings - and our fiscal containers. This too is
part of the clean-up crew for kippur. o the spiritual/existential exercise which is basic personal banking! what's in your wallet?
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/20/2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
I got a lovely email this morning from Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. It started with: "Dear Amichai, I messed up. I owe you an explanation."
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/19/2011
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/17/2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/16/2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Democratic Congressional seat. It's just one sad example of a new set
of sins, crimes and social transgressions - the digital do not's.
Guilty? who's not? Last night at dinner in some diner S. pulls out the iphone half way
through the veggie burger (still pescatarian two weeks later!) and
check out some email or txt or whatever and a full 90 seconds or
whatever later I tap, ungraciously, on the table: 'hello? do you
OK - admit it - have you ever gone to the bathroom in the middle of a
meal with someone just to check your emails?
It's like there's this whole new human category of social sins and
transgressions. When the sages of blessed memory debated the mechanics
of repentance in Talmudic tomes they paid a lot of attention to social
sins. One cannot stand before God on Yom Kippur having not done the
hard work first with the people in your life: make emends, ask for
forgiveness, reach out to those you love, embrace the other and
commit to being a better friend, a better person. People first, then
God. Peace begins within and at home. Wise words. But could they have
imagined the number of people in one's modern digital life and the
magnitude of the modern repentance project? How many people did any of
my grandparents communicate with on a regular basis when they were my
age, back in Poland and England, London in the mid 1930's? How many
people am I contact with now, daily, in one form, tweet, txt or
another? Just the thought of a 'contacts' inventory check is
This multi channeled multi social media lifestyle rocks - and this
very blog is happy proof - but it's also rocking the boat of our
already pretty fragile co-existence. Don't you think? A very partial
list of digital do-not's that have become part of our collective bad
behaviour: email addiction, tagging without asking, multi-tasking
while on a conference call, hitting 'reply all' with a really personal
note, cyber bullying, sending around youtube clips of kittens, messing
with privacy, piracy, just basic crass behaviour - please add more: I'm taking on a 10 min. focus-thought on digital damage in my life and
if there's any intention or action required to improve. and then I'm probably going to write it up on my iphone and blog it
out and check, too often, to read reactions, or:
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/15/2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
"want to be alone?" I am sitting by myself at an empty table in the
quiet JTS cafeteria, early morning pre class, cup of tea, eyes closed.
I open them - R. one of my classmates smiles, indicating an empty seat
across from me. 'actually , yes, I do - do you mind? I need some quiet
time' - I surprise myself and maybe R., with the honesty. "no
problem". He sits elsewhere, I close my eyes for another two minutes
and smile thinking about my newest resolution - more intentional alone
are so afraid of loneliness we hardly remember how to approach the art
of being alone.
Part of this PREPENT process for me is figuring out what I need to
improve in my life, what's gotta go, and if so - how. Day 13 is midway
on the quality of relationships in my life. And with all the balls of
obligation juggling in the air - family, home, school, work, friends -
and so little time to 'myself' - I want to focus on a healthy way of
cultivating my aloneness. I know that it is in these precious moments,
even a few, that I find my recharge and nourishment. Quality alone
time. Not easy in a wireless reality. But I have to try. I know I need
it. Even if it can sets up as an occasional sociopath.
On the subway this morning on the way to school I try: don't take out
the assigned reading, don't check emails or work on to do lists or
journal and take the time to just sit and watch and 'space out' (space
in?) I cheat half way through the R train uptown and check my inbox.
Then I repent, close my eyes for a bit, breath. When I get to school I
take those few more minutes in the cafeteria, and when I walk to class
I think - is this is the core of the experience called prayer?
Regardless of God/Faith - is the root of focus the finding/making of
alone time? And then, surprise: The first class of the day, Bible in Context, is
about the original alone-time. Genesis 2, one of the Biblical
creation stories, sets Adam, a male, alone in the Garden of Eden,
apparently miserable. The Creator notices that something is wrong and,
for the first time in history, identifies something in creation as
'not-good'. 'It's not good that man is alone,' says God, and tries to
pair Adam with various animals. No go. Then comes the first woman.
Success. Aloneness, or perhaps loneliness - the Hebrew word Levado
could mean either, is prevented perhaps, but it remains at the core of
this primal story -and at the core of our human experience.
Loneliness will come and go, more or less, for all of us. But can we
work on the art of being alone to deal with it - and other life
lessons - better?
How do I do this? How much alone time a week, a day is good to combat
the 'not good'? how much is enough?
One good tip comes from the popular 'Artist's Way' manual for creative
living where Julia Cameron suggests the weekly 'artist date' - going
alone on some inspiring solo time for the soul.
It's been a while.. (Does gym count??)
Want/need to be alone?
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/14/2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I've been biting my lips for the last two days: Gotta say something
important to someone special and don't know if and how. It can rock
the boat. It's my truth about what is difficult for me in our
relationship but the words are hesitant. What to say? how? when? is it
wise to get it out and try and resolve or let it go and let time
deliver the solutions? Can we talk? It's sometimes a terrifying question. when I get asked
this I know it will lead to a 'serious' conversation that my be
painful or difficult. When I ask it of others I try to sound as
disarming as possible, and smile, but sometimes it's hard and big
issues that have to rise to the surface over-rule smiling and unwisely
over-ride taking a deep breath and trusting in the outcome and the
honesty of heart. But there are times when the question must be asked. This period of
PREPENT is one of those times, prompting us to ask of ourselves and of
the ones in our lives and deal with the difficult places that are mute
and stuck. Regardless of this PREPENT process or perhaps encouraged by it and
with more attention to the need to process I am determined to launch
one such conversation today - stop biting my lips. As part of this
week's focus on my 'black lists' and the people in my life I want to
make amends with and improve our relationships - it's gotta be done. Gulp. Breath. Ask: Can we talk? It could be an email (maybe a txt msg? maybe FB? not sure) and it's
definitely better as a conversation. you know, TALK. eye to eye. 95%
of our communication is non verbal. This is esp. important at these
serious moments of conflict resolution.
And look - humor is ESSENTIAL here. Take Joan Rivers - the queen of
'Can we talk' - here she explains how she came up with the expression. http://tinyurl.com/joanriverscanwetalk
Can we talk?
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/13/2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/12/2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
September 11, 2011
all the old questions came back today, no new answers. Over breakfast at a cafe on the tip of Long Island early this morning, we share stories of 'where were you that day'. On the flat screens live scenes of the ceremony downtown reveal the hypnotic immense pools of memory, and the ticker-tape roll-call of all the fallen that seems to never end. (one of us asks: how many died that day and since that day and still today, aftershocks and ripples of the terror?)
We talk, then argue about god and what it means to look or not for 'higher power' in times of crisis; we drive away in silence and I am sad and keep hearing in my head Leonard Cohen's Who by fire
and I remember how, on Yom Kippur 2001, just days after, we sang this as the sun was setting and kept on singing and it seemed to never end.
but it did end. everything does. and that's what we are so are afraid of I think - the ends. and why these rituals are so helpful to help us deal with death.
Is that what memorials are there for? tools for helping us cope with the concept of endings? Yom Kippur - a memorial in time, just as the World Trade Center is a memorial in space. Each of them like other sacred times and places invite us 'in' for a temporary meditation on the grand themes and usually avoided theme of life and death, a glimpse into our relative place on the map of history, complete with the meaning and the meaninglessness that is part of the total package.
Why visit the dead? enter a grave yard, fast, remember? Can these visits to the yards of graves help us better live a fuller life? I think that is the intention. All the liturgies and rituals of atonement, of these days or repenting are there to help us be more here while we are, and better at it.
Today felt like a visit to the grave-yard. a check in on the big questions, life and death stuff. what is it all about.
No big ideas, just sad and silent. a still small voice. listen to what is, think of what and who is not any more.
Who by fire? As I drove I started my mental list of this past year's beloved and departed - a list that was not as easy to compile as I would have thought and not yet completed. I didn't leave any stones on the grave yards, but I did leave a single wooden block, an ode to that day. (scroll down to read 'still small voice' my 9/11 tribute as part of Toby Kahn's exhibit at the Educational Alliance:
embodied light 9/11 in 2011
9/11 /MY MAP
Still Small Voice
Amichai Lau-Lavie(Presented as part of Embodied Light 9/11 in 2011)
There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of God; but God was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake—fire; but God was not in the fire. And after the fire—a still, small voice.
(Kings I Chapter 19)1. I watch the 1st tower go down from my office window on the 11th floor. I think of a mastectomy. Confusion. Orders on the PA system to evacuate the building. I run down the stairs. Location: 14th street and 8th avenue 2. I try calling P. but the cell phone doesn’t work and neither do the payphones. People are running in all directions in the middle of 14th Street. I run home, worried. Where is P.? Did he go downtown today? We parted ways only an hour or so earlier and the sky was so blue. Panic. Tears. Location: 14th street and 6th avenue 3. A crowd gathered on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue – all heads turned south. I stand there with them, looking, silent, when the 2nd Tower topples. Shrieks. But louder: Still Small Voice. People start running up the avenue, covered with ashes. I know that this is Kali’s work. The Hindu Goddess of Destruction, dear to me, whose worshippers smear the ashes of pyres on their entire bodies in awe of the power of demise. This, I know, and am terribly calmed, is a creation of Divine proportions. God is here. Still Small Voice. Location: 10th Street and 5th Avenue 4. It’s 5pm, P. and I, and B. who ran to our house in her socks from her Tribeca apartment and a few other friends head out to Ground Zero to try and help. It starts to rain. They tell us to leave, they can’t search for survivors. Rage and helplessness. I scream at the heavens – why the rain? But I remember Kali and know that the rain is as right as ravage and the voice, still, small, is silent within. In Union Square the first ‘missing’ posters go up. Location: Union Square 5. One year later, I sit in the back of a cab and we drive downtown and I notice the new Taxi map and the grey twins are gone and the map is different. The map is the city. But the city is not the map. Location: here, now.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/11/2011
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September 10, 2011
There was a wedding tonight, on the beach, under a full moon, and I remember meeting the couple the day after A. proposed to L. and how happy they were then and how happy now. We danced all night.
Now I think about the big question – ‘the proposal’ - and the courage it takes to really ask it and the courage it takes to honestly reply – either yes or no or later or maybe.
And I’m thinking that to propose is not just about love or marriage. Asking someone to share a life, knowing full well that 50% or so of such unions fail is a vote of confidence in the possibility of hope and happiness and simple stuff like holding hands. It’s a YES to the human project, no matter how messy. It’s a YES to life, the will to risk, the courage to commit: To anything really– a partner, a project, a dream, a 40 day journey towards self. On your knees in front of a piece of the puzzle that will make more sense of your life: aiming for a reality that is bigger than self –private and public, and rare and precious, and totally terrifying.
What if L. would have said no?
The thing about this big question is that it isn’t just about love and our hope to not be alone – it’s also about our deepest fear of being left all alone. The more I think about human unions and experience and witness the successes and failures of all sorts of relationships the more I realize how at the core of it is the fear of loneliness and the desire to overcome this fear.
How many proposals are rejected? Do most people propose when they’re really sure the other will say yes? Or is it often a crazy risky leap of faith?
I’ve not yet asked and I haven’t asked either. Yet? I haven’t really thought about it much, which is funny considering how many weddings I’ve officiated and the number of serious relationships I’ve been in. Maybe soon..
Maybe I’m getting less afraid of being alone, and of being alone together.
In the context of this PREPENT journey to focus, clarity, a cleaner slate with which to start the new year and be happier and more helpful and kind and successful – I think today about the simple ways of courage, the faith that comes with trust, and the last rays of the sun hitting the ocean as two lucky people look each other in the eye and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the journey continues.
What am I ready to propose tonight? What commitment do I take on with the same fervor and delicious excitement? Or- what proposal am I saying YES to today?
Propose something. Say Yes.
I'm glad L. did.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/11/2011
Friday, September 09, 2011
Day 8/40 September 9, 2011 Unplug? I’m probably about 40 emails behind at the end of this ‘summer’s over week’, the important ones anyway, and now there’s homework, and deadlines, and friends in from out of town, and the week’s up, and lots of weekend plans, and crazy though this is I really am going to unplug and de-digitize for the full Sabbath. Everything will wait. Unplug. Really? Living without an Iphone, even for just 24 hours, is a huge pain in the ass and Totally interrupts my flow of daily living, heavily digital. It involves a lot of planning ahead and firm arrangements. And, besides, I’m addicted. Then there’s the payoff, true and tried: slow down, focus, recharge. Why is it so hard to unplug? Why do so many of us find it so difficult to turn off phones or computers, even when we get the concept and love the idea, and tried it and love it? Myself, of course, included. I was recently told that there’s even a ‘texting on shabbes’ crisis in some very Orthodox communities – mostly among the teens. There’s a lot posted all the time somewhere online about what really is happening to our hyper digital minds in this virtual age– and what this is doing to our souls. I think the Sabbath - custom made to suit our needs - can help the soul survive the digital divide. Seriously. There are tons of ways to figure out what unplugging means to each of us, and how we recreate, and plug-in to what this unplugging day is all about. My comrades in the Reboot factory came up with the super useful ten tip guide - the sabbath manifesto and with YELP! the rousing hymn to unplugging with a loving nod to Allen Ginsburg’s Howl: “Unplug! I’m with you to cut the umbilical cord of data. To disconnect from the info sphere. Unplug!” unplug? Shabbat Shalom.
September 9, 2011
I’m probably about 40 emails behind at the end of this ‘summer’s over week’, the important ones anyway, and now there’s homework, and deadlines, and friends in from out of town, and the week’s up, and lots of weekend plans, and crazy though this is I really am going to unplug and de-digitize for the full Sabbath. Everything will wait. Unplug. Really?
Living without an Iphone, even for just 24 hours, is a huge pain in the ass and
Totally interrupts my flow of daily living, heavily digital. It involves a lot of planning ahead and firm arrangements. And, besides, I’m addicted. Then there’s the payoff, true and tried: slow down, focus, recharge.
Why is it so hard to unplug? Why do so many of us find it so difficult to turn off phones or computers, even when we get the concept and love the idea, and tried it and love it? Myself, of course, included.
I was recently told that there’s even a ‘texting on shabbes’ crisis in some very Orthodox communities – mostly among the teens.
There’s a lot posted all the time somewhere online about what really is happening to our hyper digital minds in this virtual age– and what this is doing to our souls.
I think the Sabbath - custom made to suit our needs - can help the soul survive the digital divide.
Seriously. There are tons of ways to figure out what unplugging means to each of us, and how we recreate, and plug-in to what this unplugging day is all about. My comrades in the Reboot factory came up with the super useful ten tip guide - the
sabbath manifesto and with YELP! the rousing hymn to unplugging with a loving nod to Allen Ginsburg’s Howl: “Unplug! I’m with you to cut the umbilical cord of data. To disconnect from the info sphere. Unplug!”
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/09/2011
Thursday, September 08, 2011
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Day 7 Normal.dotm 0 0 1 219 1251 Storahtelling, Inc. 10 2 1536 12.256 0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false Sep 8 2011 Whats up Early morning walk to the subway and a stranger smiles at me and says good morning and I greet her back, and then without thinking pass it on to the next person coming up the subway to stairs: good morning, what’s up? Random, casual, lovely communication. There’s this Semitic demon called ‘Belial’, referenced in the Bible and usually translated as ‘worthless’ or ‘breaker of yoke’. The Dead Sea Scrolls names Belial: “An angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.” Another way to translate Beli-Al is as ‘none-above’, or ‘the anti-up’. Yesterday’s demons are today’s disorders and moods. The rabbis associated, and frowned upon, belial-like behavior that included the urge to worship idols, but maybe what Belial is about for us today is the situation in which we forget to look up – attempt to see the bigger picture of reality, the complex paradox, gain perspective, trust? What’s up is one of them cool greetings, and I don’t know where its from but today I think about it - as I use it - and I think about the art of looking up, the vast sky, the size of the universe, and humble and bigger than me. On the subway, take off the headphones, look up and about. Catch people’s eyes. What’s up? Everything. What’s up? Pause to ask the question and see what comes Up.
Sep 8 2011
Early morning walk to the subway and a stranger smiles at me and says good morning and I greet her back, and then without thinking pass it on to the next person coming up the subway to stairs: good morning, what’s up?
Random, casual, lovely communication.
There’s this Semitic demon called ‘Belial’, referenced in the Bible and usually translated as ‘worthless’ or ‘breaker of yoke’. The Dead Sea Scrolls names Belial: “An angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.”
Another way to translate Beli-Al is as ‘none-above’, or ‘the anti-up’. Yesterday’s demons are today’s disorders and moods.
The rabbis associated, and frowned upon, belial-like behavior that included the urge to worship idols, but maybe what Belial is about for us today is the situation in which we forget to look up – attempt to see the bigger picture of reality, the complex paradox, gain perspective, trust?
What’s up is one of them cool greetings, and I don’t know where its from but today I think about it - as I use it - and I think about the art of looking up, the vast sky, the size of the universe, and humble and bigger than me.
On the subway, take off the headphones, look up and about. Catch people’s eyes. What’s up? Everything.
What’s up? Pause to ask the question and see what comes
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/08/2011
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
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Sep 7 2011
Fight or Flight?
G. is now 5 days smoking free. Change happens. How?
Changing a habit or owning up to some behavior pattern that actually isn’t good for you anymore, no matter how big or small, takes a fight. G. writes me this morning about his quit smoking project and how this intense 40 day period helps ground it in real terms. He writes, aware of the complexity:” It’s a war against myself and I intend to win.”
There are gentler (and perhaps more effective?) methods and metaphors for coaxing ourselves into healthier living modalities and not beating ourselves up for the stupid stuff, no matter how awful. But the vocabulary of combat and warfare as spiritual steps to recovery is a familiar and ancient one, resonating in Jewish sources as well as in many other religious, mystical and psychological traditions.
Spiritual work as a holy war.
The rabbis of the ancient east portray a similar outline to that of the modern cowboys of the wild west: there’s a good guy and a bad guy and they’re going to fight it out and eventually the good guys win. In the rabbinic mapping of the human soul, the good guy is the Yetzer Hara our “Good behavior button, while the bad guy (in the black shirt, and sexier) is the Yetzer Hara – “bad behavior button.” The name of the game: How do we keep our fingers off whatever it is that pushes our ‘bad’ button? How do we let our better behavior prevail?
The rabbis suggest a fight. G., not smoking, agrees.
One of these rabbis, Ben Lakish, knows what he is talking about: He was a gladiator in a Roman arena, or perhaps a mercenary solider, before changing his ways and becoming a renowned Jewish scholar. He is advocating for war on self and provides a four step repentance strategy that was recorded in the Talmud, “: ‘One should always agitate the good inclination against the bad inclination’ and if one wins, good, and if not – one should then engage in study, then pray, and then think about the day of death.” (BT, B’rachot 5)
For the record, it is possible that he is discussing the specific bad behavior that may happen when one is in bed at night – thus the recipe for avoidance. But context aside – he does suggest taking on a desirable change with the full gusto of confrontation: ‘agitate’ the source of your displeasure.
“Your evil inclination is your biggest enemy”, said the Keeper of the Good Name – the Beshet, 1,500 years later the gladiator rabbi. “And if you fight this enemy you will not only triumph but also take captives – subjugate the forces of the yetzer hara towards the service of the Divine.” (Can you tell I’ve had two days in Rabbinical School and am privy to great texts already?)
I’m sure there are many modern and ancient wise ways of dealing with this fragile topic of personal change, central to this conversation, this public time.
For me, this year, the fight beckons. What is the enemy and how to go about it is becoming clearer each day.
I was a solider. I can do this. Focus on careful nutrition, plan ahead, avoid distractions. I hope G. can.
But to succeed I got to be super focused on what it is I am fighting and why. What’s my fight about? Watch that bad behavior button closely and learn its ways.
Fight of flight?
What’s your fight about? IS it a fight?
(And: do you have thoughts about this ‘fight’ metaphor? And any suggestions for questions that may arise during this process? I’d love some ideas. Thank you.)
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/07/2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
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Sep 6 2011
It’s been raining all day and the picnic was cancelled. The kids were disappointed but that’s life. Instead we made a mural: a big sheet of paper glued to the wall on which we drew and scribbled the best things we did this summer. There were ice cream cones, and sea waves, and a sea turtle and an airplane and lots of grapes, and kites.
“What about the time I fell off the scooter?” A., almost five, asks.
“Is it something you want to remember?”
She crinkles her nose and shakes her head. The scooter doesn’t make the mural.
This PREPENT season is a mural of sorts, taking stock of what a year has brought and what’s hot, and what’s not, and what’s there to work on and improve and perfect or forgive and forget.
It’s so easy and compelling to start with the list of the nays. What’s wrong – what’s ailing me, preventing me from that feeling-good sense of being powerful in the world? This process is based on the premise that there is wrong that may be turned right.
But even before that – what’s good? What is worthy of the mural of memories we want to honor, celebrate, keep, delight in?
No Pollyanna here, I take today to focus on the glass half full, or even more than that. I know what I want to work on and improve – nutrition and wellbeing and better care of self. But I’ll start with the list of top ten things I do RIGHT when it comes to this department in my life.
Top ten things I’m proud of and take responsibility for in my life. Ten replies to the question – what’s working?
There will be time for the list of what’s wrong next. Today, even while it’s raining on the remains of the picnic, we focus on the fun facts.
What’s working for you? Top ten.
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/06/2011
Monday, September 05, 2011
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Sep 5 2011
What’s the Plan?
Labor Day: a last stretch of leisure before the tans fade and the sleeves lengthen and the year begins for real. Over brunch I explain this to S., an Israeli who just moved to NY and is getting accustomed to the American way of life, the calendar, the small details that make up reality. And then we discuss the Jewish calendar, how aligned they are this year, and how today, on both calendars, is a combo kicker to get our ambitious self improvement plans ready and set into motion. Yesterday was the response to ‘are you ready’ and the leap into the ‘yes’. Today is about practical swimming, move by move towards the other side, the destiny, the desired outcome. So, what’s the plan?
Plainly speaking: To take the Elul/Prepent challenge seriously one’s got to have a concrete and doable change in mind. Nothing too ambiguous or vague. Imagine those ‘before and after’ advertisements on late night TV or the back pages of newspapers. What’s the ‘before’ – as in ‘right now’ – and what would ‘after’ as in– ‘I did it!’ look like?
Several have written to me today with ‘I’m in for the ride’ notes and ‘the water is great!’. I. wrote with a long note about how this process is not about God anymore and that kind of piety but simply our ability to be powerful in our convictions:
“The key struggles we face are distraction and loss of focus, laziness and over-comfortable apathy, and being self-centered to the point of solipsism. In Elul we need to genuinely find the other, invite him in, and rediscover ourselves in the other.”
Yes to finding the ‘other’. But before we do so – in a few days – I want to still focus on the ‘I’, even at the risk of too much self-centered attention.
The plan for change as I see it has four steps, none of them easy though all quite simple:
1. Identity ONE area in your life that you want to improve on so that your life has more meaning, happiness, balance (private or public form of behavior, a habit, an addiction, a thought pattern, a default routine)
2. Describe to yourself the ‘Before’ snapshot of what this ‘thing’ is and why you want to change it. What’s wrong?
3. Imagine what success looks like 36 days from now. Even in small doses of baby steps towards a grander goal.
4. Make a plan: Write down THREE achievable goals that will get the change to start manifesting in your life within this period. And commit.
My project this PREPENT period, as I already wrote in day one, is nutrition. I need to commit to serious changes in what and how I eat so that I am healthier, happier, in better shape AND in accordance with the new ways of life I have taken on, AKA rabbinical school.
The “Before” snapshot is a pluralistic and vaguely disciplined diet, composed of loosely liberal Jewish norms, low carbs and organic preference. The “after” is a disciplined and responsible dietary system that what is becoming more commonly known as ‘eco-kosher’.
My three (hope so) achievable goals are:
1. I’m going Pescatrian – mostly veg. and fish only at home from now on. (Def. no meat – but I’m leaving myself the option of eating poultry out at some events/homes and will reconsider again. I’m not quite ready for 100% cold turkey. Ha ha)
2. Pay attention to breakfast – my nutritional weak link. Come up with 3-4 sustainable options for super early wake up days – which will be most of them this year. Sigh.
3. Go local: continue supporting the local green markets and cooking more at home. At least two dinners weekly.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have other Elul/Prepent tasks ahead. As I. wrote – there is the attention to the other. There are lists coming up of people I’ve hurt this past year and amends that have to be made. There are things to consider regarding my ethical behavior and spiritual, intellectual and emotional wellbeing. Not just what I take into my mouth but what comes out of it, etc. etc.
But for now, today, there is the PLAN. Simple steps to success.
What’s your plan?
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/05/2011
Sunday, September 04, 2011
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Sep 4 2011
Ready, Steady, Go!
And off they go splashing into the cold lake in the late afternoon sun on the last official Sunday of summer. Some dive, some plop into the water, one stands on the deck, hesitant: ‘but it’s cold…’
He’s finally lured in –‘take a deep breath, just count to three – and when you’re ready – jump!’
Count three and things happen. Change manifests or occurs. Somewhere between magic and math.
I don’t know where the ‘doing stuff on the count of three’ comes from, but it does seem to be a fairly universal formula for getting things started. It soothes and transitions us into commitment to a task.
The third count gets you grounded, I guess, some rhythmic, mythic, human code that activates us and I’m sure many can google and explore. For me, today, on the third day of this 40 days journey to more focus, the third beat is the call to commitment. Dive in. Am I really committed to this process, this private-public conversation about change? Am I ready to walk this talk? Take time each day to really focus on what change I want and how I will go about it? Really do this?
And meanwhile, J. writes me today in response to the first two days of this blog and her love of it but also fatigue from dealing with life and not wanting to jump into this mikven – immersion pool of process. Aware of the potential power of this process, how cold the water can be at first, she hesitates on the deck.
Come on in at any time, or sit and splash with your feet; there are many ways to dive into this conversation. The first day was the launch, this third the leap of commitment. I trust in the process. I extend my hand to your invitation to dance, say yes to the challenge, and answer today’ are you ready to do it’ with a count of three and:
Posted by Storahtelling at 9/04/2011