Shalom and Hodesh Tov friends!
This week's teaching is about the Ashrei, which is a special prayer formed from three different psalms. The main body is Psalm 145, but this teaching is on the opening verses from Psalms 84 and 144. The Ashrei is traditionally chanted three times per day- twice in the morning and once in the afternoon, and is seen as a particularly powerful tefilah by the early rabbis. The sages in the Talmud (Berakhot 4b) said that anyone who recited it three times per day will have a share in Olam Haba- the "World to Come." If you understand Olam Haba to mean the "Becoming World," then the Ashrei becomes a powerfully transformative practice that connects you to the Truth of this moment- the unique unfolding of Being that is happening always right now. The opening verses have a particularly powerful hint at at this power of Presence...
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Ashrei Yoshvei veitekha, od y’halelukha selah-
Ashrei ha'am shekakha lo
Ashrei ha'am sheHashem Elohav!
Joyful are those who dwell in Your house; they will continuously praise you, selah!
Joyful is the people for whom this is so-
Joyful is the people for whom Reality is God!
- Psalms 84:5, 144:15
In its plain meaning, it is talking about how wonderful it is to be in the ancient temple. On a deeper level, the Temple is a metaphor for the house within which your awareness constantly dwells- your own body.
Ordinarily, we tend to see the body as a tool, as a mere extension of our mental and emotional intentions. And, if our bodies aren’t working the way we want them to work, they can be a source of pain and frustration. But take a moment to imagine some wonderful place that you’d love to visit. When you get there, you’re so struck by the awesomeness and beauty of the place, that it’s enough for you just to be there. In other words, just being there is the goal.
Now what happens when you take that same attitude toward your own body?
Try it for a moment- take the attitude that just being in your body is the goal. And if being in your body is the goal, than who is the “you” that’s being in your body? The “you,” of course, is this mysterious thing called consciousness. And, when you dwell in your body on purpose, not taking it for granted but connecting with your breathing and your senses, then your body becomes your temple.
The next part of the verse says, "Ashrei ha’am shekakha lo- joyful is the people for whom this is so."
There’s a story of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, that once he was invited to a brit (ritual circumcision of a baby boy). He traveled in the pouring rain to a nearby village for the ceremony. But when he got there, they were lacking one person to make a minyan (quorum of ten people traditionally needed to perform the ceremony). The Rabbi was annoyed that he had to wait around and waste his time. And on top of that, because of the rain, they couldn’t find a passerby for some time. At last, a beggar came along, and they ran out to ask him to please come and make the minyan. “So be it!” said the beggar.
When the beggar came in, they offered him some warm tea. “So be it!” he said again. After the ceremony, they invited him to the meal. “So be it!” he repeated. The host asked the beggar, “Why do you keep saying ‘So be it’? don’t you have anything else to say?'”
The beggar replied, “It is written- Ashrei Ha’am Shekakha lo- Happy is the people for whom it is so.” And with that, he vanished before their eyes.
When the Rabbi went to bed that night, he couldn’t sleep. He kept hearing the beggar’s words- 'so be it, so be it, so be it'- and he realized that the beggar must have been Eliyahu Hanavi- Elijah the Prophet, who had come to correct him from his tendency to be impatient and annoyed. Then he whispered to himself, “Happy is the people who accept that which is so” and fell asleep.
The tendency of the mind and the emotions is often to resist that which is so, to pull away from the truth of this moment either in judgment (as in the story) or even just in distractedness. But this tenancy can be gently soothed through the practice of making your body into your temple, of intentionally coming into connection with your breathing and your senses. That’s because when you’re present with your body, you can come to feel yourself as Presence, rather than as resistance. And when you feel yourself as Presence, it can dawn on you- everything is coming and going within this One Reality, within this One experience. Ashrei Ha’am ShaHashem Elohav- Happy is the people for whom Reality is God.
Hi friends! This week's chant is based on the Shlomo Carlbach melody for the Havdallah prayer chanted traditionally on Saturday nights to come out of Shabbat. This version focuses on the second line of this prayer, followed by meditation. A teaching on the first line can be found two posts earlier- 1/8/17.
NOTE- I accidentally mentioned in the video that you can find the first line in last week's post, but it's actually two weeks ago.
Listen or Download Audio Podcast Below (For Mac, download with control-click):
"Ushavtem mayim b’salon mimaynei hayeshua-
You can draw water with joy from the springs of salvation..."
These words, that are chanted in the Havdallah prayer, are words of encouragement and hope at a time when you might feel discouraged that the holiness of Shabbat is departing on Saturday night. The main metaphor here is mayim- water.
There are two main ways that water shows up as a metaphor in the tradition. One is in this verse- mayim b’sason- waters with joy- mimainei hayeshua- from the springs of salvation. So this water represents the joy that comes from being saved from something; like when someone has a life threatening illness, G-d forbid, and then becomes healed, Barukh Hashem. When a person returns to the state of health that they had before the illness, there’s this potential to be elevated spiritually far beyond one’s state before the illness, because now there's this incredible gratitude and joy just to be alive. That's the "mayim bsason mimaynei hayeshua"- the “waters of joy that come from the springs of salvation.”
The other metaphor is when water represents Torah, or spiritual teaching. As Moses says to the Israelites, Devarim or Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 2, “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants."
So why is spiritual teaching like rain?
Rain water comes down and nourishes life that already exists the earth. It doesn’t create something new, the life is already there, but it needs the nourishment of the rain to grow and thrive. Similarly, unlike other kinds of learning, spiritual teaching doesn’t create something new either, but rather it nourishes what’s already there. For example, if you don’t know how to fix a car or play an instrument or cook a meal, and then you learn how, you’ve acquired something new- first you didn’t know, then you know. But the purpose of spiritual teaching is not to teach you something new that you didn’t know before, but rather to reawaken a knowledge that’s already there. That’s why when you hear a spiritual teaching, you can get that experience of deep recognition- because on a certain level, you know it already.
That’s water as rain, representing Torah.
In the other metaphor of water as joy, the water wells up from a spring below. That’s because unlike spiritual teaching which often comes to us from the outside- from a book or a teacher or a video- joy is a quality inherent within the depths of your own being. As in the example I gave about a person who recovers from an illness- nothing external has changed, it’s just that now there’s an increased appreciation for being healthy- and that appreciation is always already within your potential. You don’t have to wait to get an illness. You can simply sensitize yourself by bringing to mind all the salvation you’re already experiencing right now and tap into that gratitude and joy.
On the deepest level, the two metaphors of rain from above and spring water from below are connected. That’s because the power of spiritual teaching is to awaken the knowledge of your own inherent freedom, and that itself is a kind of salvation. Not a physical salvation, but salvation from living in the dream of bondage. Ordinarily we go around our lives feeling like a character in our own mental story. But this sense of me as an individual bundle of memories, opinions, wants, accomplishments and failures is just a tiny ripple in a vast ocean of consciousness, and you are that consciousness.
So how do you find that vast ocean of consciousness?
Simply notice that everything within your experience right now is all happening within consciousness- every sensation, every thought, every feeling, every sight, every sound- everything. That consciousness is aware of that limited sense of me, yet totally beyond it, without form or boundary. The truth is, you are that.
Meaning, you are the openness within which this experience is happening, right now, in this moment- vast, spacious and totally free from anything in particular that’s part of your experience, because everything within your experience comes and goes, but the vastness is eternal- it’s the eternal present.
And knowing that, really knowing that in your heart and in your gut, is salvation.
Hinei El Yeshuati, Eftakh V'lo Efkhad
Ki Ozi V'zimrat Yah Adonai Vay'hi Li Lishua
Ushavtem Mayim B'sason Mimaynei Hayeshua
Ladonai Hayeshua Al Amkha Virkatekha, Selah!
Behold- God is my salvation- I shall trust and not fear!
For Yah is my helper and song- My Lord is salvation for me.
Draw water with joy from the springs of salvation,
Salvation belongs to the Divine- Upon Your people is Your blessing, Selah!
Click Here to see posts before January 9, 2017
Click Here to see posts before January 9, 2017
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...
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Hi friends! This week's chant is based on a Shlomo Carlbach melody for the Havdallah prayer chanted traditionally on Saturday nights to come out of Shabbat. This version focuses on the first line of this prayer, followed by meditation. Enjoy!
Hinei El Yeshuati, Eftakh V'lo Efkhad
Ki Azi V'Zimrat Yah, Hashem Vay'hi Li Lishua-
Behold, the Divine is my salvation, I will trust and not fear!
For my strength and my song is Yah- The Divine is a salvation for me!
Video Teaching Transcription:
You probably know that you can’t trust just anyone. Trust in a person is a very special thing that usually has to be earned. And when you’re with someone you trust, you know that you can relax that part of your mind and heart that’s often on guard in day-to-day life. You can drop that inner tension that accumulates from concern, from worry, from weighing options and navigating life, at least in relation to your companion, because you trust them.
What you may not know, or may have forgotten, is that the openness and connectedness you get from being with someone you trust is already there on the deepest level of your own being. That’s because behind your thoughts and your feelings, your awareness is always already open, always radiant and alive. So the trustworthy person doesn’t create something new within you, but simply helps you connect with what’s already there.
But if you don’t know that, it will seem like your well-being is totally dependent on your external environment. If your situation produces trust, then you feel trust. If your situation is threatening or hostile, then you feel closed and stressed and so on.
But if you learn to live from the deepest level of your being as awareness rather than as your mind and emotions, then you can live more and more in a state of continuous openness and trust. That doesn’t mean that you trust things on the external level that are untrustworthy or that you start making stupid decisions, it just means that you have no resistance to whatever arises in the moment. There’s a basic trust that Reality is unfolding as it should. Again, you still may feel anger or fear or whatever when life triggers those emotions, and believe me it will, but from the point of view of Presence, those emotions are simply arising in the moment along with everything else, and so they come and then they go. You may care deeply about something and take action, but then you let go of outcome, and behind it all is this simple trust and openness for how everything is unfolding.
And that’s what it means to trust in God. It means that regardless of what happens, you trust the unfolding of this moment, because on the level of Presence, you’re not something separate from this moment. Things aren’t happening to you, they’re simply the unfolding of Reality, the unfolding of God, and you’re not separate from that.
When you can really feel that you’re not separate from anything, then you also get free from fear. Again, fear arises from trying to protect or preserve something, which are valid and necessary functions of your mind, and your emotions give you the feeling of fear as a signal to alert you to some danger. But on the level of Presence, Reality is all there is, God is all there is, so there’s nothing to protect or preserve. Meaning, you still may feel fear as an alert to some physical danger, but psychologically, your not carrying fear around with you, because there’s not that sense of separate “me” that has to be protected.
This truth is expressed in a verse from Isaiah chapter 12 verse 2- Hinei El Yeshuati eftakh v’lo efkhad- Behold the Divine is my salvation, I shall trust and not fear. Meaning, you’re saved from by your own mind and emotions, from being dependent on external situations, because your deepest identity is Divine- which means that you’re not separate from anything that arises in the moment.
Then it says, Ki ozi v’zimrat Yah- For my strength and my song is the Divine. In other words, if you want to connect with your Divine nature, if you want to open to your inherent trust and be free from fear, then remember to sing, because being with these prayers as they vibrate within your body connects you to this deepest level of your own being. So let’s chant these words together and then we’ll go into meditation.
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks