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Greetings friends! This week's teaching is on the first line of the mystical prayer, Ana B'kho'akh. The melody is original, followed by guided meditation and silence. Enjoy!
The tefilah (prayer) known as Ana B’kho’akh is a deeply mystical text, containing 42 words, the initials of which form the secret 42 letter Divine Name. It is ascribed to the Talmudic sage, Rabi Nekhunia Ben Hakanah.
The first line says, "Ana b’kho’akh gedulat yeminkha tatir tzerura."
Ana or na means “please”- so this prayer begins by imploring- Please! "B’kho’akh Gedulat yeminkha- With the strength of the greatness of Your right hand- Tatir Tzerura."
Tatir is to untie, and tzerura is a bundled mass- something narrow and contracted, like the word tzar which means narrow, and Mitzrayim, Egypt, because Egypt is a narrow land along the Nile. Mitzrayim is also the place of slavery in the Torah, so this first line is begging: “Please Hashem, untie us from the constricted narrow state of spiritual bondage.”
A straightforward way to understand a “narrow” state is what happens during physical or emotional pain. Hurtful things happen, we feel pain, and we naturally resist and contract from the pain, which produces an experience of narrowness. But this is only the obvious form of spiritual bondage. A more subtle form of resistance happens when we contract away from any experience, not necessarily a painful experience, into our minds, distracting ourselves with excess thinking. You might do this as a strategy to avoid suppressed pain, or it might just be a mental habit. Either way, it creates a sense of “me in here in my head” vs. “the world out there.”
Which brings us to the most subtle level- the sense of separation itself- the sense that when I look at a tree or a computer screen, or feel my breathing, or an emotion, there’s a sense of “me” on one hand, and the tree or screen or breathing or feeling, on the other. But that’s actually an illusion, because the tree or the screen or anything we notice are actually all part of our experience, which means they’re all literally made out of consciousness, and consciousness is actually what you are. Your thoughts come and go, your emotions come and go, everything comes and goes, except consciousness, because when consciousness goes, there’s no more you.
And since everything you perceive is made out of consciousness (meaning the perception is consciousness- not necessarily the thing itself but your perception of the thing) then everything you perceive is really you, and the sense of you and the thing you perceive as separate is really an illusion that keeps you in the experience of being confined by your body and your personality. In reality, you are awareness- you are openness- and you have no border, no limit at all.
So this prayer is crying out- “Ana! Ana! Please! With the strength of your lovingkindness, untie me from this contracted self-sense!” Which is funny, because on one hand, you’re asking to be set free from the separate “me,” but the asking itself is presuming that you’re separate- that there’s a “you” and there’s the Divine Being that you’re praying too, right?
But that’s the genius of prayer. It begins with heart- with the emotional sense of “me” that wants and needs things, that feels incomplete. But unlike the ordinary type of wanting, prayer is a surrendering into your wanting, so that you no longer resist the feeling of your wanting. And in that surrender, in that crying out- “Ana! Please!”- you merge fully with your experience transcend the separate “me” that wants.
This is really the way out of the first type of resistance- the resistance to emotional pain. Don’t push away the pain and don’t try to transcend it; pray the pain. Cry out. Let the pain, or the desire, crack your heart open.
The second level is embedded in the words- b’kho’akh gedulat yeminkha- the strength of your right hand’s greatness. This is body imagery, and if you want to overcome the distracting and avoidance driven habits of your mind, then come into your body. Be present with your breathing, your muscles, your senses.
The third level is hidden in the words, “Tatir Tzerura- untie the bundle.” Now that you’ve opened your heart to the truth of your experience and become present with your body, turn your attention to the Presence Itself. Notice that your feelings and your body are not separate from you, but all are arising within your awareness, within your Presence. Then you can re-merge with yourself almost effortlessly. You can re-merge with the fullness of your experience in this moment...
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks