Day of Awe Musings – September 22, 2015

Putting Our Name on The List

Day Nine

If these Days of Awe have revealed anything to me this year so far, it is — above all — that the work has to start with us. Doing the work of forgiveness is far from easy, far from comfortable; yet if we commit ourselves to healing, to living our lives with a more open heart — and manifest this commitment in such tangible ways — then I believe that we will inspire others who — by witnessing our actions — will be moved to do the same. This is where true Tikkun Olam awakens, where the Healing of our World is allowed to truly take place. When enough of us are able to shift the energies in our lives to be more loving, more inclusive, and more forgiving, we can’t help but watch these energies begin to ripple in the life of our communities and in our world. Our individual work is the most important work. It is, therefore, critical that we put our name on our list as well, and begin our journey by forgiving ourselves. This is your final assignment on this Day 9; to take the list from Day 4 and simply add your name there.

Tonight we are meeting again as a community to celebrate the holiest day in the Jewish year. And even though we have been hard at work preparing ourselves to meet this day through these “Days of Awe” musings, in the moment we step into the sanctuary we unavoidably realize how unprepared we truly are. I hope you do. I hope you come to this moment with some level of trepidations, knowing you are not ready, and with the Avinu Malkeinu prayer in your heart. The Avinu Malkeinu prayer is what we declare on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kipur, standing in the Presence of the One: “Avinu Malkeinu… Ein Banu Ma-asim,” “Holy One of Being…we have too few good deeds,” or, as I like to translate it: “Holy One of Being… we’ve got nothing!” We come to this day with nothing. We come to this day with the precious emptiness of who we are. We are not ready. And because we are not ready, we can step into the day open to receiving whatever it is we came to hear. We surrender into our not-readiness, we let go of our expectations, and make ourselves available to discover what is yearning to be revealed this Yom Kippur.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah, may your name be sealed for Good in the Book of Life.

Day of Awe Musings – September 21, 2015

Making Amends

Day Eight

Making amends is truly when the rubber meets the road. We have done all this work forgiving others, and now we have to go out there and repair the damage we have done. If we worked on our letter yesterday, and rehearsed our conversation, we might feel ready. Yet pride, fear and procrastination can stand in the way of healing. How will we be received? Is the person going to retaliate? Perhaps we are still pining for a certain outcome, or secretly hoping we can be absolved of our responsibilities? But like Nachman ben Aminadav of the famous midrash, we have to walk through our fears, let go of our expectations, and trust that the seas will part for us.

When it comes to making amends, like with many other things, timing is everything. We should not make amends if our doing so will cause more harm, and, when we do, we need to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. There are cases when making amends is impossible; we are unable to locate the person we have harmed, or that person is now deceased. In these cases, it is possible to have the conversation as a visualization; or, if we know where the person is buried, to go to the grave and read our letter to them. There is also a level of hurt, a level of damage that can never be repaired. If we have caused deep emotional, physical or psychological pain to another being, there might be nothing we can do or say that can heal the pain. But this doesn’t preclude us from taking responsibility and making amends by doing related community service for example. In contradistinction, there are cases where correcting the wrongs we have done can be accomplished immediately. If we stole, can we return what we have stolen or make financial reparations? If we broke a promise can we fulfill it now? If we slandered or affected someone’s reputation, can we publically make a declaration to set the record straight? If there is anything for which immediate repair can be made, we must not delay in taking action.

In the same way, we must seize the right opportunity to make amends when it presents itself. The context of the High Holy Days is such an opportunity. Amends need to be made in person, or, at least in a phone conversation, nothing else will do. Prepared to make amends to the person in your letter, you might want to send them an e-mail or let them know in person (if you meet them at synagogue for example,) that you would like to set up a meeting with them. Tell them why.
As you meet with that person, ask for their listening ear and–if you feel well rehearsed–share with them the words you have prepared. It is also perfectly acceptable to read them your letter instead. Whatever happens next, we are to remain an attentive, humble and authentic listener. The person might share with us their story, the pain they suffered that remained beyond our awareness, and all we are asked to do is bear witness to the suffering we have caused. Now they also might refuse to meet with us in the first place, and, they might reject our amends altogether. That’s OK. Remember that we need not harbor any expectations as to how our apologies may be received; our job is to offer them regardless. Our rabbis teach us that we are to make three humble and genuine attempts. If all three are rejected we are to consider ourselves clear of our duty.

Ultimately, we are to make amends to all the people on our list. Some conversations will be less difficult to have than others, and could take place within the next few months. Others might take us many years to even consider having. There may even be one that will remain beyond our reach in this lifetime. As the famous quote from Pirkei Avot–the Ethics of The Fathers–reminds us: “You are not required to complete all the work, but neither are you free to desist from it altogether.” [Avot 2:21]

Tomorrow, as we all ready ourselves to meet in Synagogue for Kol Nidrei in the evening, I will share some concluding thoughts for these “Days of Awemusings. And then we’ll have all day Wednesday to be together as a community, and support each other through the transformative experience that Yom Kippur can be.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah, may the Divine seal be for good

Day of Awe Musings – September 19, 2015

I Now Forgive

Day Six

On this Day 6 of our personal retreat, we come to a place where we might be ready to forgive. On Day 4 we brought to mind and wrote about a person who has mildly hurt or offended us. I invite you to have what you wrote in front of you for this exercise. As we begin, I would like to remind you that forgiving is not of the mind but of the heart. We cannot think our way to forgiveness, we can only open our heart to being forgiving.

Steps 2 and 3 of our Day 4 writings, were there to help us see for ourselves the difference between what happened (step 2) and the story we have about what happened (step 3). Just like we cannot change what happened, our aim is not to change the story we have constructed about what happened either. Some of us have created that story such a long time ago that it has become part of who we are; and those of us who have written two “then & now” stories under step 3, might have also realized that our story changes and evolves as we do anyways. Forgiving is about releasing the grip that this story has over us, the stranglehold it has over our heart; realizing that, though we have this story, we don’t have to remain bound to it forever. And why we keep ourselves bound to that story, stuck in our anger and our resentment, is because of step 4. The pain and suffering our own lack of forgiveness causes us, stems from our inability to let go of our need for the past to have been any different than it was; whether we look at the facts or at our own story about them. What you wrote in step 4 is what keeps you stuck and what needs to be released. How do we do that?

We let go of our need for the past–factual or storied–to have been any different than it was by becoming a little more humble. Step 5 of our Day 4 writings was there to help us begin this process by supporting our taking responsibility for our part in what happened. As long as we place 100% of the blame on the other, nothing will shift. But if we can see our part in the drama being just 1% even, then we have a chance; because this 1% represents our heart slightly opening. In time we might realize that the percentage is even greater, that it even is often 50/50. Whatever the case, we are to acknowledge that we, too, contributed to what happened.

The other part of our humbling ourselves is connected to yesterday’s exercise, when we wrote about those we have hurt. Because that’s what we all do, isn’t it? Sometimes we hurt, sometimes we get hurt. It is part of our human condition. You might not remember but it was part of the deal you signed before deciding to be born into this dualistic world. Dualism means conflict. We hurt each other not because anyone of us is inherently evil, but, paradoxically, because most of us want to be happy. We all run towards pleasant experiences, and we all run away from unpleasant ones. And because of all this (mostly unconscious) running we are bound to bump into each other and hurt each other.
Acknowledging our part in the drama, recognizing the universality of our human condition, we are humbled. Our past couldn’t have been any different than it was.

And so, perhaps, we are now ready to let our heart open, to let go, and forgive the person we wrote about. If we are, as in the Ribono Shel Olam prayer we simply say to ourselves: “I now forgive.” That’s it. Now you will know if you truly did forgive because the next time you tell the story about what happened, you won’t get activated, there will be no energy there. Your heart won’t race, your body won’t tense, you will remain calm and equanimous. And when that happens, you will know that you are ready to bring up the next name on your list fromDay 4.
As we practice forgiving, one name at a time, we might sense a shift in us where our heart remains open and we realize that forgiving is not–and never was–something we do, but something we are. And so when the next person comes around and hurts us, as we know it will unavoidably happen, we can step into that place with an already humble and forgiving heart.

Tomorrow we will turn back to working with the story about the person we have hurt, and begin a two step process around making amends. More fun than anyone should be allowed to have!
I am extremely grateful for your willingness to engage in this process and for continuing, dayafter day, to read and do the practices. Your presence is deeply inspiring!

Day of Awe Musings – September 18, 2015

Searching The Heart (II): A Practical Exercise

Day Five

Like I promised yesterday, we are trading places for this exercise and will now be looking at the people we have hurt. The first few steps of the process are similar to what we already did:

  1. Begin by making a short list of people you know you have hurt. Some in big ways some in more benign ways. Here too, there could be 3, 5 or up to 10 names on this list. See if you can rank them, putting at the top of the list the person you know you have hurt the most and the others in declining order.
  2. Take the person at the bottom of the list (whom you have hurt the least).
    Write out what happened as factually as possible (without layering your own story or your emotions over it). Remember to write this part like an “incident report” or like a reporter would.
  3. What was the reason(s) for your hurting that person? What emotion(s) did they bring up in you (i.e. anger, resentment, jealousy, guilt, etc)? Did you act from a place of fear? If you felt threatened, what felt threatened? Here, too, let yourself be as peevish and self-righteous as you need to be. No one else will ever read this but you.
    What aspect of what they did, or their way of being, brought up such hurtful reaction from you? What was your opinion of them at the time (i.e. arrogant, loud, obnoxious, dishonest, evil…etc)? Please consider that, perhaps, these qualifiers may be parts of yourself that you dislike or have disown, but that you, sometimes, act out as well.
  4. How did you benefit from acting in such hurtful ways? What did you gain by reacting this way? What was it about for you: feeling more powerful, asserting your authority, maintaining control?

Remember that this is not about beating yourself up. What happened happened. This is about being aware of, and taking responsibility for our behavior as a first step. Later we will work together on taking appropriate action for healing, and to make things whole again in our life.
Tomorrow we will talk about “Deciding to Forgive.” I invite you to read again what you wrote yesterday about one of the persons who hurt you. Are you ready to forgive him/her.

Day of Awe Musings – September 17, 2015

Searching The Heart: A Practical Exercise

Day Four

This is the time in our retreat when we get to practice. We can hear about forgiving, we can read about forgiving, but all the books and the talks in the world won’t help if, at some point, we don’t roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Now, your mind might come up with a million excuses to delay, postpone or refuse to do this work altogether. It might try to lure you into doing more “fun stuff” instead, or bring up that “to-do” list of all the things you “should” be doing rather than “wasting your time” with forgiveness. That’s normal. That’s what the mind does. Remember that the mind is afraid of change and will bring up a thousand thoughts to maintain the status quo. But here is the thing; you don’t have to believe in these thoughts. They are just thoughts. They come and go. And if you don’t get attached to them, they’ll soon be gone, replaced by other thoughts.

Here is a common meditation practice that might be useful: 1) acknowledge the thoughts as they arise, 2) thank them for their presence and for looking out for you, 3) tell them that you will do the work anyways, and 4) bid them farewell and let them go. All that in a calm and compassionate voice. Ultimately the mind will let go once you are busy doing the work.

So…

  1. Begin by making a short list of people you hold anger, upset, grudges, resentments against, because they have hurt you. There could be 3, 5 or 10 names on this list, but no more. See if you can rank them, putting at the top of the list the person who has most hurt you and the rest in declining order.
  2. Take the person at the bottom of the list (who has hurt you the least). Write out what happened as factually as possible (without layering your own story or your emotions over it).
    Companies often ask you to fill an “incident report” when someone gets injured. Think about this part of the practice as filling an “incident report.” If it is not just one incident, you might think of yourself as a journalist reporting the facts of a story.
  3. Write why you were hurt, why you are angry/resentful/upset at that person. Describe your feelings and emotions freely and honestly. Let yourself be as whiny and peevish as you need to be for this part. No one else will ever read this anyways.
    If the event is far in the past, you might have to write about your hurt, feelings and emotions twice. First, imagining/reliving what happened in your mind at the time it happened, and writing about it in the voice of the person you were then. Then, doing it again from the perspective of the person you are today. Note the difference.
  4. What would you have wanted to be different? How would you have wanted the other to act differently? What should they have done/said instead? Describe your opinion of who/what that person is (i.e. arrogant, dishonest, selfish, evil…etc…)
  5. Assess honestly and with integrity what your part is in all this. What could you have said/done differently?

The point is not to fix what was. It was what it was. The point is to be aware; to be aware of the whole picture, of all sides at play; to see the facts from our fiction; for awareness itself heals.
Tomorrow we will repeat this exercise but switch roles and look at the people we, ourselves, have hurt.

Days of Awe Musings – September 16, 2015

What Does it Mean to Forgive? Why do we Resist it?

Day Three

Forgiving does not come easy to us. Let’s be honest, the ego is not one to easily give up the past hurts, affronts, painful incidents, and grudges it holds onto in its memory bank. All of these past experiences have impacted us greatly, taught us a great deal, and helped mold us into the person we are today. And so the ego is afraid, because it equates forgiving with erasing parts of the past that has made it who it is. But we can’t erase what was. Forgiving is not about forgetting or denying; making the past “go away.” Forgiving isn’t either about revising or putting a positive spin on the past. What happened happened. End of story.

But that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? The story doesn’t end there. It is the stories we have created about our past hurts, the unexamined “truths” we have made up about the people in these stories, the anger, the resentment, and the upset, that we continue to carry around with us today; sometimes years later. Forgiving is about releasing these stories, letting go of our need for the past to have been any different than it was, the people in our past to have been any different than they were then or are now.

The other aspect of forgiveness is that the ego resists what it perceives as lack of justice. We see forgiving as whitewashing, as surrendering our rightful claim. By holding on to our anger, our resentment, our grudges we are still punishing the other for what they did. As the self-righteous “punisher” we seemingly have power. Relinquishing that power is scary to the ego who needs to feel protected and in control. But forgiving is not about letting the other off the hook. They did what they did. Forgiving is about letting ourselves off the hook. By holding on to that “punisher” stance, we keep ourselves hooked to that story. We are the ones still upset, who get activated, stressed, and sick to our stomach each time the memory comes around. They did something that hurt us then, but we have tortured ourselves so much more since. Now forgiving–letting go of our desire or power to punish the other–doesn’t necessarily mean that we will wish to be in relationship with that person again. Sometimes a complete separation is the healthiest and most appropriate response; but no particular outcome is dictated by forgiving.

So, this is my definition of forgiving; it is about getting to a place where we can say: “What happened happened. They did what they did. End of story.” And move on. We won’t get there overnight, but the journey itself, and coming all the way through to the other side of a forgiveness blockage is nothing short of liberating.

Tomorrow we will enter into the personal and more practical work of searching our heart. In preparation, I would encourage you to think about one or two people you may be ready to forgive this year. Start with the easy ones in your life, and build on your success.

Days of Awe Musings – September 15, 2015

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Day Two

The Ten Days of Awe between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are an opportunity to enter into a time of personal retreat, the theme of which is “forgiveness.” The path of forgiveness is one of the most powerful spiritual paths available to us. Forgiving ourselves and others, and even–for some of us–forgiving God, can be a compelling pathway to moving beyond the narrow confines of our ego and finding greater peace within. Forgiving helps us move from our obsessive concerns with our small self and its compelling, mesmerizing stories; and toward our Higher Self, free from stories and obsessions.

But we already know all of that! We’ve been to S’lichot services, to Rosh HaShanah services, we even have gone on and participated in the annual Tashlich ritual that calls us to cast off the old stories and old resentments that keep us stuck. Each time we’ve heard yet a different version, a different take on that same message we’ve heard a thousand times before. Forgiving is not about forgetting, erasing, denying or whitewashing the past. Nor is it about revising it or making anything better or different than it was. Forgiving is a good thing. It’s good for us; it is a healthier way of being, it frees up the energies bound up in our stories, our grudges about the past. We know all of that. We don’t need any more convincing. Yet we don’t do it. And now it’s the day after Rosh HaShanah and we are busy with life, kids, jobs, traffic.

And that’s OK. That’s what is. This process is not about beating ourselves up or making ourselves feel guilty. This process is about starting where we are right now, just as we are, with all our limitations. Our ego is not going to surrender that easily! Of course it is going to rationalize its way out of forgiving! And with every thought at its disposal! Especially the ones that convince us of how busy we are. The ego–who fears change–likes these thoughts because they have helped it successfully postpone so many other life-changing practices before, that it knows them to be reliable. So, OK, just be present to that. Watch how easily we all slide back into unconsciousness. Simply be aware. On this Day Two of our Ten-Day Journey we gently and compassionately acknowledge the truth of our conditioning. Today, we look at ourselves just as we are. That’s it. Tomorrow, we will take our next step together, and address our ego’s fears.

I look forward to sharing in this journey with you.

Meditations for the Days of Awe – Today! – Day 9

Those of us who gathered on Rosh HaShanah morning were privileged to listen to a a song that has become a staple of our Holy Days. It is called HaYom, which means either “this day” or “today.” And so here it is, this day – that in a lot of ways we have been waiting for all year long – is now upon us, and we are definitely not ready for it. We’re not even sure what “ready” would look like anyways.

I remember growing up, walking into the synagogue on Yom Kippur, being impressed by those who prayed with so much fervor, singing all the songs, knowing all the tunes; their eyes glued to the pages of the prayer book, and always standing up for the next prayer long before the rabbi would ask the rest of us to rise. I was sure that they embodied what “ready” should look like.

I no longer think so. In fact, I have learned to appreciate that the ego loves to hide behind the familiarity of the service order, of the songs and the prayers. It is so easy to get caught in practicing what we already know, rehearsing the expected, that we get lost into what we think is supposed to be and fail to be present to what is. Knowing the prayers and the songs so well that you are reading one page ahead of the rabbi, doesn’t leave room for the unexpected, the surprising, or the novel. Being so attached to the form, we miss the essence; being so focused on “doing it right,” we miss being available for the deeper teaching that the moment itself offers.

And so perhaps being ready means something altogether different. Being “ready” for a day like Yom Kippur, might mean being able to step into the sanctuary, open to receiving whatever it is we need to hear this year; and being absolutely okay not knowing what that might be. Being “ready” might mean letting go of our expectations, being curious to discover new possibilities, looking forward to being surprised. Being ready, HaYom, might actually mean being excited about not being ready at all. Which actually leads me to my favorite line in the HaYom prayer:

HaYom T’gadlaynu – Today, evolve us

To me, these simple words express the inextricable intimacy between the self and the Divine; the perfect union that our mind mistakenly defines as that of two separate entities, when the phrase itself speaks of the evolving energies of the Divine permeating our entire being. But for the Divine to evolve us, today, we have to get out of the way, we have to be as unprepared, as not ready, as possible.

Throughout these Ten Day of Awe I have ended my meditations with space for you to write your own; to write further whatever awakened within you. Each time I started with “Today I…” But this time, on the eve of Yom Kippur, I invite you to omit the “I” and to write the first few lines of your own HaYom prayer. It begins simply with “Today, …”

Meditations for the Days of Awe – I Got Nothing! – Day 8

Friday evening we will meet again to enter, together, into the holiest of days in Jewish tradition; the day called Yom Kippur or Yom HaKippurim. Kapparah, the noun form – issue from the same Hebrew root as the word Kippur – is often translated as Atonement.  The process itself, which takes place on Yom Kippur, is that of spiritual catharsis.

It is interesting to notice that the Hebrew name, Yom HaKippurim, could also easily be understood as Yom Ha-Ki-Purim: The day like Purim. However, the holiday of Purim is the Jewish carnival; we dress up and wear masks, drink and eat a lot, and engage in raucous partying.  How could that be analogous to Yom Kippur? At first sight it might seem, indeed, that Purim is the exact opposite of Yom Kippur where, traditionally, we fast (abstaining from both eating and drinking,) dress modestly, wear no make-up and altogether let go of any physical concerns. So, how is it that Yom Kippur is a day like Purim?

This is one of these cases where the two extremes meet. Both days, in fact, call for the disruption of our ego’s barriers, for breaking through its resistances. Both days call for letting go of pretense and aim at our facing the empty truth of who we are. Both days call for a deep surrender of the mask we wear the rest of the time. Yom Kippur is that spiritual catharsis; a day to let go of that mask, to let go of the clutter of stories, resentments, guilt, anger and upset that the ego – the small self – has piled up around our heart, and which obscures the pure light of Being yearning to express through us, as us. To me, this spiritual catharsis, this deep letting go, is best expressed in the Avinu Malkainu prayer we sing together as a community:

Avinu Malkainy… ain banu ma-asim – Holy One of all Being… I got nothing!

But from that emptiness, from that emptying, from that deep releasing of all our clutter, then transformation becomes possible. Then we are able to connect with our Greater Self and affirm:

Asay imanu tzedakah va-chesed – Let justice and lovingkindness manifest through my life.

This year, Yom Kippur, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, also falls on Shabbat. Though we will spend it together attending to the inner spiritual dimensions of the day, I would like to invite you to pay attention to the form as well, to the outer garment which helps create the container for such a deep process to unfold. Our sages say that on Yom Kippur, the day itself atones; the container itself holds the energies. This year more than any other year, the container is that of Shabbat. And so I would like to encourage all of us, for 25 hours, to create that Shabbat container by turning off our cell phones and our computers; by letting our TVs and radios remain silent for a day. I would like to offer that you might consider fasting (if your health allows it,) not shaving, or otherwise keeping to a minimum anything that, we know, is part of this outer mask we wear on all other days. The experience is of body, mind and spirit, unfolding with the support of community. All four are needed to create a Yom Kippur, a day of At-One-Ment.

Today I…

… become aware of the different masks I wear.

… take time to look back at the experiences and people in my life which influenced the personality that I have.

Meditations for the Days of Awe – The Path of Blessing – Day 7

Y’varech’cha Adonay V’Yish’m’recha
May the Holy One bless you and keep you always.

The Torah portion called “Re’eh” (Deut. 11:26) begins: “See, I place before you a blessing and a curse.” The relevance of this verse to our everyday reality is most striking. We turn on our TV, we open our newspaper and, it seems, we are continuously presented with opportunities to curse. Day after day, we are barraged with everything that is wrong with our world, divisive politics, and doomsday predictions. Fear reigns supreme.

Yet our spiritual masters teach that part of our personal work is to engage in a path of blessing rather than that of cursing; when blessing is a way to say “amen” to what is, exactly as it is. They offer us a practice of finding 100 opportunities to bless our reality each day; and in doing so offer us a choice as to the kind of energies we would want to surround ourselves with. As we practice uttering words of blessing instead of cursing, time and again, the cumulative effect helps us to be increasingly able to respond rather than react to whatever is being presented to us. We become response-able for the energies in which we live, and the energies we, consequently, contribute to our world.


Today I…

… find the words which resonate most within me to bless my reality and engage in the practice of doing so as often as I am able.

… look for opportunities to say “amen” – “it is so” to the blessings I witness.