Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Unifying with this moment through Chanting ..."
This episode explores the mystery of music and its power to transform negativity without negating it, seen through the portals of the mystical prayer, Ana B'khoakh and Parshat Hukat. This is the second episode that focusses on Ana B'khoakh. You can access the first onehere. Enjoy!
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Greetings and blessings beloved friends-
The mystical prayer, Ana B’kho’akh, which is traditionally ascribed to the Talmudic sage, Rabi Nekhunia Ben Hakanah, begins with the words:
Ana b’kho’akh gedulat yeminkha tatir tzerura.
Ana- “please”- B’kho’akh Gedulat yeminkha- “With the strength of the greatness of Your right hand- Tatir Tzerura- “untie the tzar- that which is narrow and contracted.”
What does that mean?
Right now, in this moment, see if you can open to the fullness of your experience: physical sensations, sounds, the sense of where your body is in space, the feeling of your weight as gravity pulls your body toward the earth, the feeling of any concerns you feel in your heart or thoughts recurring in your mind- whatever is present for you right now- don’t leave anything out- let everything be as it is.
Now, as you notice the fullness of your experience in this moment, is there anything in your experience that’s not part of your consciousness?
So you can notice that while you might naturally have a sense that these words right now are separate from you while your thoughts and feelings are part of you, actually these words are just as much part of your consciousness as your feelings, just as is the ground and the sky and anything else within your experience- because experience is itself nothing but consciousness- right?
And yet, we tend to not notice that, and instead identify only with certain things within our consciousness. We tend to feel that this body is me, these feelings are me, these thoughts are me, even though the body and feelings and thoughts are all experienced within consciousness, just as is the wind and the rain. So if we look closely at our actual experience, we see that we are not limited to this body/heart/mind at all, even though we tend to unconsciously assume that we are.
That’s the tzerura- the narrow, limited self-sense that we automatically imagine ourselves into. And so the prayer cries out for gedulat yeminkha- the “greatness of Your right hand.” Now in Kabbalah, Gedulah or “Greatness” is a code word for Hesed- Lovingkindness. Yeminkha- Your Right Hand- is also code for Hesed. So on the surface, it’s imploring God to be compassionate and free us from the constricted self. But on a deeper level, it’s also giving us the path for how to become free. How do you become free? Offer your awareness in a loving, openhearted way to the fullness of whatever arises in your experience. Just doing that alone can almost instantly awaken the sense that in fact you’re actually not separate from anything within your experience.
However, powerful as Hesed is, it’s not enough to sustain this realization. As soon as our mind moves from this Hesedic attitude, we slip right back into the automatic assumption of separateness. If we want to sustain it and make it really part of us, we have to use the separateness, rather than simply trying to overcome it or transcend it. Luckily, there’s an incredibly powerful tool for doing just that: music.
Music is a great mystery. Despite all the science, philosophy and spiritual writings attempting to explore the mystery of music, no one really knows what it is. Just like Existence Itself, it’s a great enigma. But what we do know is our experience of music and its incredible power to do the seemingly impossible: Music makes it feel good to feel bad. Think about that: Music makes it feel good to feel bad.
That’s why music is so important to teens, as they go through all kinds of emotional suffering. That’s why music has been so important to the survival of the Jewish people. It’s a stereotype that Jewish music is always sad sounding, in a minor key, which isn’t true of course, but that perception comes from the fact that the Jewish experience has been one of tremendous suffering and that Jewish suffering has been expressed to a great degree through Jewish music, often in minor-type modes.
But why? If you’re suffering, wouldn’t you want to get your mind off the suffering and onto something more pleasant? Why would you want to reinforce your suffering with sad music?
Because, music transforms negativity into positivity, even while still remaining negative- that’s the miracle and paradox of music. And of course that’s not just Jewish; the popular music of the entire world stems mostly from African American music, which grew out of tremendous suffering- expressed through gospel and blues, which in turn gave rise to rock, hip-hop and so on. And this is all because, music makes it feel good to feel bad. Music heals- not necessarily by getting rid of sadness and evoking joy, though it certainly can do that, but by celebrating the sadness. Music doesn’t turn away from the reality of our experience, but turns into it, transforming the tzar- the constricted-ness of life- into a musical.
And speaking of gospel, that’s why music is so closely allied with prayer. Prayer that implores, that cries out for salvation, also has the power to bring us deeply into our suffering in a way that breaks us free from conflict, negativity, judgment, complaining and so on, by connecting us with the eternal present, with that underlying openness within which the suffering is experienced.
And so the next line of Ana B’khoakh says, “Kabel rinat amkha, sagveinu tahareinu, Nora!”
“Kabel rinat amkha- Receive the song of your people! Sagveinu Tahareinu, Nora- Strengthen us, Purify us, oh Awesomeness”
So what does it mean to ask God to receive our song? To receive something implies an openness. When we experience suffering, there’s the natural tendency to shut down, to turn away from our experience. And while it’s natural to try to lessen our feeling of pain, the effect is that we go more deeply into the tzar- into mitzrayim- into separateness. We’re sent into exile, so to speak, from the fullness of Being in this moment. So when we ask God, Kabel rinat amkha- Receive the song of your people- we’re crying out to be returned from the exile of separateness into the wholeness that we actually are. And in fact, if we cry out with sincerity, if our prayer is truly a rina, a song, then the power of music itself answers the prayer. In fact, the song, the prayer, and the Divine are all one. That’s why it says, in the Havdallah prayer, this verse from Isaiah- Ozi v’zimrat Yah- Yah- God- is my strength and my “z’mira”- my song. Since God is simply Reality Itself, the prayer that we sing is a form of God, and as the song releases us from the bondage of tzerura, of separation, the singing of the prayer its own answer.
There’s a hint of this in the Torah’s description of the Para Adumah- the red cow used to make a special potion that ritually purifies members of the community who had become ritually contaminated by death.
In Parshat Hukat, it says, "Zot hukat haTorah- This is the hok- the decree of the Torah- v’yik’khu eilekha fara aduma t’mimah- and they should take to you a cow that is red, completely."
The red cow is then burned up, and the ashes are mixed with water to make a special potion for purifying anyone who touches a corpse. The premise behind this is that if you touch a corpse, you become tamei, which means ritually unfit or impure, so that you wouldn’t be able to engage in certain rituals without first doing a purification process. So what’s this all about?
The Hassidic master, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef, known as The Ishbitzer, taught that “death” represents the past, because the past is over already; it’s dead. The tuma, teaches the Ishbitzer, is really anger or resentment about something from the past. That’s because feelings of negativity and judgment about something that’s already happened keep you stuck- you’re holding on to something that you really need to let go of- and that’s the tuma- the spiritual “contamination” so to speak.
Now the red cow is itself the very embodiment of death. Why? Because it’s a living creature that’s completely burned up. It’s also completely red, the color of the blood that bleeds out of a slaughtered animal, as well as the fire that destroys the form of the animal.
So why does this symbol of death cure someone from the contamination of death? Because the contamination, the tuma, comes from resisting death- from being angry at something in the past- from not letting go. To be cured from your resistance, you have to accept whatever you’re resisting; you have to embrace it. So paradoxically, it’s in embracing the past that you let go of the past, because being stuck means that you were holding on to an idea of how it should have been. Now that you accept what has been, you get soaked with the ashes of the red cow, so to speak, and you can let go of it. Then you’re tahor- purified from that clinging, that holding on, so that you can fully come into the present, into the sacred dimension of simply Being.
So how do you do that? How do you accept whatever you’re resisting, and let go of it? In other words, what are the “red cow ashes” we can use today?
There’s a Hebrew cipher known as Atbash in which you connect every Hebrew letter with another Hebrew letter, so that the first letter, alef, gets connected with the last letter, tav. The second letter, bet, gets connected with the second to last letter, shin, and so on. In this way, you can substitute letters in words to come up with new words. According to kabbalah, words that are connected through Atbash have a connection in meaning as well.
Now the word for being spiritually whole and pure is tahor. Through atbash we can substitute a nun for the tet, making nahor. Rearrange the letters, and you have rinah- song. And that’s exactly the power of song and music in general- to transform negativity and resistance not necessarily by turning away from it, but by turning into it.
Why? Because music makes it feel good to feel bad- hence the blues, as well as a lot of mournful Jewish liturgy, the krekh of the clarinet in Klezmer music, and a thousand other examples.
That’s the miracle of music- it makes it feel good to feel bad- it transforms negativity without negating it, allowing you to accept and even embrace whatever it is you’re resisting. And out of that letting go grows the realization that there’s only One Reality- there’s not me, on one hand, and that thing I’m judging, on the other, there’s just What Is- there’s just Hashem- Reality, Being, God. As Rebbe Nachman said, “The most direct means for attaching yourself to God is through music and song. Even if you can't sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home, but sing.”
But why? How does music work anyway? That’s the great hok, the great mystery of music itself, and its power to bring us deeply into the depths of our present experience and open us to the wholeness that we are.
So let’s chant these words, Kabel Rinat Amkha- Receive the song of your people. As you sing kabel, Receive, be aware of the vast space around you, without border or limit. You can open your hands palms us to help you do that.
When you sing Rinat, Song, bring your hands palms together and bring awareness into your heart. Have the kavanah that your voice is an offering; your singing is a gift. Now if you think you don’t have a good voice, that kavanah might challenge you. So let yourself be like a baby, without judgment or expectation, just singing out- that’s your offering.
When you sing Amkha- Your People- bring your hands still palms together close in to your body, drawing awareness down into your belly, legs and feet, up into your chest, shoulders, arms and hands, up into your face, your skull, your brain. That’s the full sequence.
So Kabel- Receive- is hands open, aware of space, Rinat- Song- is bringing palms together, awareness drawn into the heart, and Amkha- Your People- is bringing hands close to your body and expanding awareness from your heart into your whole body...
Kabel Rinat Amkha
Receive the Song of Your People
Zekher: Remembrance Phrases
Weekly Inquiry Phrase:
"What Desire is Arising Now?"
Weekly Chant Phrase:
"Dishanta Vashemen Roshi, Kosi Rivaya
You anoint my head with oil; my cup is full!" (Psalm 23)
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Ta’arokh l’fanai shulkhan- You prepare a table before me- neged Tzor’rai- in front of my tormentors. Dishanta vashemen roshi- You anoint my head with oil.
These words are from Psalm 23 that begins with the famous words, Hashem ro’i v’lo ekhsar- God is my shepherd, I shall not want. Let’s more closely at this verse- Ta’arokh l’fanai shulkhan- You prepare a table before me- neged Tzor’rai- in front of or against my tormentors.
The word for “my tormentors” is tzorerai, which comes from the root tzar, meaning narrow, or constricted. It’s the same root as Mitzrayim, Egypt, the place of slavery. So these “tormentors” are forces of narrowness, of constriction. A shulkhan, a table, on the other hand, has the feel of openness, of spaciousness- a wide palette upon which nourishment is placed.
Now if you think of the image these words are invoking: The table is l’fanai- before me- literally before my face. The tormentors are neged- against or opposite. So you might imagine a table with a feast on it, with your enemies facing you on the other side of the table.
But another way to read it is that l’fanai and neged are just two ways of saying the same thing. Read in this way, it’s the delicacies themselves that are your tormentors! Some of us may be able to relate to that, since it’s a common experience to desire some food or treat that may not be good for you, and it’s in those moments that you can really feel the constrictive power of desire. Meaning, a desire arises, and instantly you’re all caught up in wanting something. A moment ago you may have been fine, you may have been at peace, but now you’re needing that thing on the table.
Unless, that is, you’re able to become present with your object of desire.
So what does that mean? Let’s look at what happens normally when a desire arises. First there’s the perception- you see a piece of cake, for example. Next, a feeling of wanting arises, triggered by the perception. Then, that feeling instantly gets associated with the cake, which takes you out of the present, and into a fantasy of the immediate future, when you will fulfill the desire by consuming the cake.
On the other hand, when you consciously be present with the desire instead, you cut that whole process down by simply staying with the initial feeling and not getting carried away by it. You can do this by simply saying, “Oh, there’s a desire. Let me just feel that desire.” And if you can stay with that, and really sink into it, you’ll begin to sense the underlying energy of the feeling, and rather than get seduced by the feeling and give it more power, your presence becomes intensified and your thoughts and feelings can cool down.
This is hinted at by the next three words- Dishanta vashemen roshi- You anoint my head with oil. That oil is your own awareness, caressing and cooling down your thoughts and feelings. There’s also a hint of this in the Torah, in the story of Korakh and his rebellion against Moses.
Parshat Korakh begins, “Vayikakh Korakh- Korakh separated himself…”
This is referring to how Korakh “separates himself” by rebelling against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of unfairly wielding their power. Korakh’s argument is pretty convincing. He says:
“This entire assembly is holy and the Divine is among them- why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the Divine?”
Now, the word for “he separated” is vayikakh, which literally means “he took”- hinting at the selfish motive behind his challenge to Moses. Just like when you feel desire for something, like a sugary treat for example, and there’s the urge to reach for it and take it, so too Korakh was grabbing at what he wanted. Only his desire object wasn’t food, but status and control. And just as the body can have physical cravings, so the ego has identity cravings: I want control, I want recognition, and so on, and that ego craving can be much more powerful than bodily cravings in some cases.
Next, it says:
Vayishma Moshe, vayipol al panav- Moses heard, and fell on his face.
Why did he fall on his face?
There’s a story that once an opponent of the Hassidic movement came to the Alter Rebbe- Reb Sheur Zalman of Liadi- to attack him with accusations of arrogance:
“You claim to be a holy man- a leader of Hassidim- but look how you sit alone in your study, separate from the people… and with an attendant at your door, only admitting people according to your command- how fancy of you! Isn’t that arrogance? Who do you think you are anyway?”
The tzaddik put down his head, resting it in his arms, as one does during the penitential Takhanun prayer.
After a few minutes, he lifted his head and spoke-
“The expression the Torah uses for ‘leaders of the people’ is ‘roshei alfei Yisrael- heads of the thousands of Israel,’ from which we learn that our leaders are known as ‘heads.’
“Now it is true, the head and the body are joined together, and neither can exist without the other. Nevertheless, they’re clothed separately and differently. Why is this?
“Because the head must be distinct from the body, just as the ‘heads’ of any generation must be distinct from the people.”
The questioner was impressed with the answer and went on his way.
But the Rebbe’s little son (who would eventually be known as Reb Dov Bear of Lubavich), had a different question for his father:
“Abba, in order to give that answer, there was no need to rest your head in your arms. Why didn’t you give him the answer immediately?”
The Alter Rebbe replied-
“In Parshat Korakh, when Korakh and his followers accused Moses and Aaron of abusing their power as leaders, we read that Korakh accused them with these words-
“‘Umadua titnasu- And why do you exalt yourselves?’
“Then we read, ‘Vayishma Moshe, vayipol al panav- Moses heard, and fell on his face.’
“Only after he fell on his face, did Moses answer Korakh. So we might ask the same question there- why did Moses have to fall on his face first, before giving his answer?
“Because Moses suspected that perhaps there was some truth to the accusation- perhaps there was a bit of ego involved in his leadership, so he had to go inside himself and search inwardly to see if there was some truth there.
“Then, after searching within and purifying himself from any ego (as the Torah says, ‘V’ha’ish Moshe anav me’od- Moses was exceedingly humble’), he was able to respond with clarity.
“A similar thing happened with me here today.”
The Alter Rebbe’s description of the head in relation to the body- intimately connected, yet separate, transcendent- is not just a metaphor for a leader in relation to the people, but also for consciousness in relation to your thoughts and feelings.
So just as the attendant shields the rebbe from his clamoring hassidim, so you too can be the “attendant” of your own mind, keeping yourself free from thoughts and feelings generated by ego.
But, to do this, you don’t really have to “keep out” any of your thoughts or feelings. All you need to do is be conscious of them. By simply acknowledging the presence of selfish or aggressive thoughts and feelings, they’re no longer controling “you.” Then, as you continue to stay present, your thoughts and feelings naturally cool down, revealing themselves as nothing more than fleeting moments of experience.
As it says in Psalm 23, Dishanta vashemen roshi- My head is anointed with oil. When you stay present, your awareness is like aromatic anointing oil poured over your head, cooling and relaxing your mind and heart. And when that happens, you can experience yourself more and more as consciousness, totally beyond and yet inclusive of your mind and heart. And that consciousness is the opposite of ego. Because while ego is needy and is forever restless, trying to fulfill itself, consciousness is full and complete- Kosi r’vaya- my cup is full.
So let’s sing these words- Dishanta vashemen roshi- You anoint my head is with oil, and also the next two words, Kosi r’vaya- my cup is full. Dishanta vashemen roshi- You anoint my head with oil, refers to the anointing oil of awareness, conscious of and present with your thoughts and feelings. Kosi r’vaya- my cup is full, means that when you don’t buy into the ego’s narrative of neediness, you can experience the fullness and completeness that you are on the level of Presence...
Dishanta Vashemen Roshi, Kosi Rivaya
You anoint my head with oil; my cup is full!
Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Being the Space Within Which All Experience Comes and Goes ..."
This episode explores a common misconception through the lens of Psalm 23 and Parshat Sh'lakh L'kha, and points the way toward greater empowerment and confidence in your practice through the trials of life. Enjoy!
Teaching, Chant and Meditation All-In-One
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Hashem ro’i v’lo ekhsar- the Divine is my shepherd, I shall not lack. Binot deshe yarbitzeini- in lush meadows the Divine lays me down- al mei menukhot y’nahaleini- beside tranquil waters the Divine leads me. Nafshi yeshovev- my soul is revived.
These words from Psalm 23 reflect a common attitude about spirituality, that realization of the Divine leads to pure bliss and freedom from all suffering- from anger, fear, judgment, and so on. But if we go a little further down, it says:
Ta’arokh l’fanai shulkhan neged tzorerai- You prepare before me a table in front of my tormentors…
In front of my tormentors? I thought we were just lounging in the grass beside the tranquil waters- how did my tormentors get into the picture?
These images hint at an important distinction that will help you navigate your practice and avoid a very common pitfall. This is the distinction between the idea of getting rid of negativity all together, which is misleading, versus shifting the context within which the negativity arises, which is actually what the practice is all about.
One reason this can be confusing is because the practice of Presence will of course decrease negativity and suffering. It decreases stress, it decreases repetitive and unhelpful thinking, and definitely opens you to more joy and bliss. Al mei menukhot y’nahaleini- beside tranquil waters the Divine leads me. And at some point, you’re likely to experience all negativity dropping away completely.
However, this does not mean that the possibility of negativity has been eliminated, and that’s where you can get into trouble. Because once you’ve had some deep success with your practice, once you’re “lying down by the tranquil waters” so to speak and the Eternal dimension of Being has become a direct and palpable experience for you, there can be a tendency to think that negativity shouldn’t bother you at all anymore; that your feelings should never get hurt, that you should never feel insulted, that nothing should make you angry and so on.
Then, when some negativity does arise, you can mistakenly conclude that you’ve somehow lost it, that the power of Presence isn’t working for you anymore, when really you’ve just been given a tremendous gift, and you just need to shift the way you’re looking at it to see the gift. Why?
Gam ki elekh b’gei tzalmavet- even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death- lo ira ra ki atah imadi- I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
The real power of Presence is not that it destroys the possibility of negativity arising. After all, we’re all in the gei tzalmavet- the valley of the shadow of death. But rather the power of Presence is that it changes the context in which everything arises, including negativity. But, you can’t know this and prove it to yourself unless you have a chance to practice it, which is why the arising of negativity is a gift.
So when negativity arises, use it as an opportunity to realize that you are not trapped by the negativity- ki atah imadi- know that the Divine is with you, because the Divine is the eternal dimension of Being, and this eternal dimension is not separate from the space of your own awareness, within which the negativity as well as everything else comes and goes. And, you can use the Three Portals of IJM to realize this in any moment. First is the Portal of the Heart. A feeling has arisen that needs to be felt, so be generous. Offer your awareness to it- l’kha.
Second is the Portal of the Body. Now that you’ve offered your Presence, sustain it by anchoring it in your body and your breathing. This keeps you with your present moment experience and calms the tendency to spin off into unhelpful thinking. Na’aseh- returning again and again to sustaining presence in your body.
Third is the Portal of Awareness itself. This is where the shift in context happens most fully. Bring to mind that whatever you’re feeling is happening within awareness, is made out of awareness, and that the awareness itself is a vast field without border or limit, while whatever particular experience you’re having is something that comes and goes- v’nishma- you are the space of perception. There’s a hint of this in the Torah story of the spies who are sent to investigate the promised land.
In Parshat Shelakh Lekha, God speaks to Moses and says, “Shelakh lekha anashim v’yaturu et eretz Cana’an- send for yourself men to spy out the land of Cana’an…”
The spies go out and climb a mountain to check out the land, and they return with giant grapes, pomegranates and figs. They report back, “Yes! This land flows with milk and honey and here are some of the amazing fruits growing there. But, the inhabitants of the land are giants; they would destroy us. Van’hi v’eineinu kakhagavim- we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes- v’khein hayinu b’eineihem- and so we were in their eyes.”
When a person ascends the mountain of transcendence and eats the fruit of joy and bliss that comes from such an awakening, there can sometimes be a tremendous frustration and resignation when you come down from the mountain into the gei tzalmavet- the valley of the shadow of death- the place of ordinary, sometimes negative emotions such anger, fear, sadness, and so on. That’s when we need the words of Yehoshua- the words of encouragement that Joshua speaks to them: Hashem itanu- al tira’um- the Divine is with us- don’t be afraid of them!
Meaning that just because you came down from a high experience of joy and bliss into the valley of negativity, in fact nothing has changed. The spacious freedom you experienced on the mountain, so to speak, is still the open space of your own awareness within which the experience of negativity arises. You can conquer any negativity not by fighting against it directly, but by simply seeing that it comes and goes within the space of this moment, and you are that space. Hashem itanu- your very nature is Divine, meaning that you are space of this moment.
But of course, that’s not what happens in the story. Instead, the Israelites are afraid. They say, “Forget it! Let’s go back to Egypt.” Meaning, let’s go back to the ordinary and familiar way of being, before we experienced the radical freedom of awakening. Then, they change their minds out of fear of punishment, and try to go fight the enemy after all. But Moses says to them, “Lo yiyeh Hashem imakhem- God will not be with you!” They go anyway, and get pounded.
So how can this be? If your nature is the Eternal space of this moment, how can that change? Of course, it doesn’t change, it’s our awareness of this fact that changes. We get seduced by our feelings and believe them into giants. Rather than know our own vastness, “van’hi v’eineinu kakhagavim- we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes” and grasshoppers don’t want to get smooshed, so we try and fight our feelings, try to push them away, or deny them, and that just creates inner conflict so that- v’khein hayinu b’eineihem- so we were grasshoppers in their eyes- meaning, the very thing that we’re fighting gets bigger and bigger because negativity is empowered by more negativity.
On the other hand, if you know Hashem itanu- the Divine is literally your own nature- then al tira’um- there’s never anything to be afraid of in your experience. You’re on top of the world? No big deal it’s a passing experience. You’re in the depths of hell? No problem, it will pass. Rather than get caught up in your experience which is always changing, realize the space within which your experience is arising. You can do that through the practice of Presence in general, and through daily meditation in particular.
Then you’ll know the truth of the words of Yehoshua- “Al tir’u et ha’am ha’aretz- don’t be afraid of the people of the land,” meaning, don’t be afraid of any particular experiences that arise, “Ki lakhmeinu hem- for they are our bread,” meaning, when you stand courageously in the midst of difficult experiences, they become food for your awakening, deepening your grounded-ness in the reality of Presence. Then you’ll know directly, Hashem itanu- the Divine is with us- al tira’um”- there’s nothing to be afraid of.
So see if you can really take this in, that you need not be afraid of any particular experience. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should go and do things that are unsafe or that create negative experiences, there’s no reason for that either, but once a negative experience has already arisen, you can use it to deepen your awaken-ness- to know, as the psalm says, “Shavti b’veit Hashem- I dwell in the house of the Divine” meaning, you are constantly dwelling in and as the space of this moment- “l’orekh yamim- for long days”- meaning, for the borderless and timeless Present...
Shavti B'Veit Hashem L'orekh Yamim
I dwell in the House of the Divine for Long Days...
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Chant Only: Shavti
Shavti B'Veit Hashem L'orekh Yamim
I dwell in the House of the Divine for Long Days...
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Meditation Only: IJM
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Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Shining the Light of Awareness ."
This episode focusses on a single line from Psalm 91, and applies it to new practice of the Seven Sefirot as seven affirmations, or kavanot. This episode and the next several episodes will return to a more simple format as "stand-alone" lessons, combining the teaching, chant, and guided meditation into a single video.
A note if you're new to these weekly lessons: The last seven posts (episodes 34 – 40) formed a complete course on what I call the "Ten Portals Practice." In the next few days I'll be adding these seven posts as a course on your membership page, so you'll be able to access it from there. You can also click here to access all Membership Teachings and scroll down to check those lessons and all the lessons before them.
Audio and video for Teaching, Chant, and Meditation below. Scroll down to listen, watch, or read them separately. Enjoy!
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Psalm 91 talks about a person yosheiv b’seiter Elyon- who sits in the refuge of the Most High. Such a person, it says, is protected from all danger. Rak b’einekha tabit- all they have to do is peer with their eyes- v’shilumat r’shayim tir’eh- and the retribution of the wicked they will see.
So it sounds like it’s saying that when you take refuge in the Divine, then you’ll see anyone who does you harm be punished. But the words for retribution of the wicked, v’shilumat r’shayim, imply something much deeper. The root of retribution is shin-lamed-mem- the same as shalom- peace, as well as shalem- wholeness. In other words, it’s not talking about punishing your tormentors, but coming into harmony with them.
And how do you do that? Rak b’einekha tabit- only peer with your eyes. In other words, when you only “see,” meaning when you stick to just being aware of the r’shayim- meaning the things that disturb you- rather than reacting, rather than judging, rather than trying to push or pull anything in any direction, then shilumat r’shayim tir’eh- the “seeing” meaning the perceiving itself creates a sense of shalem- a sense of wholeness and peace. This is because the more you simply perceive, the more you can sense yourself as the perceiving, rather than the reacting and the judging. And that perceiving, that deeper awareness, is always already at peace, always already whole, because perception is nothing but an open space, simply knowing and connecting with the experience of this moment.
So how to you cultivate this kind of simple awareness? There’s a wonderful hint in this week’s Torah reading.
In Parshat Beha’alotkha, it says, beha’alotkha et haneirot- when you kindle the flames- el mul p’nei hamenorah ya’iru shiv’at haneirot- toward the face of the menorah the seven fires shall cast their light.
Now when the Kohanim would kindle the flames of the menorah, most likely they didn’t create the fire by rubbing sticks together. Rather, they had some fire already from which they would light the lamps, so that the act of lighting would be almost effortless. Once you have some flame, it’s not difficult to ignite another flame.
Similarly, if you want to become present, it’s almost effortless because your awareness that connects with the simple reality of this moment is already here. All you need is the intention of becoming present, and miraculously it happens almost by itself. Beha’alotkha et haneirot- to light the fire of awareness- just ask yourself, what is present? And then you can notice- are there sounds that you’re perceiving? Are there sensations? Are there feelings? Emotions? Thoughts? It’s very simple because with Presence, you’re not doing anything about anything, you’re just staying in the noticing.
And when you do that, there’s this wonderful paradox. On one hand, this temple of your own body comes into the foreground. Your own breathing, ordinarily taken for granted, becomes the central event. Your body is like the menorah- just as the menorah supports the fire, so your body is the basis for your consciousness, and when you become present, the lamps of awareness are all facing into your body.
On the other hand, just as the light that shines on the menorah isn’t confined to the menorah but shines without limit or border, so too your awareness isn’t confined to your body at all, but rather is an open field, vast, spacious and without border or limit. So as you notice what is present right now, see if you can also notice the vastness that notices, the light of awareness el mul p’nei hamenorah ya’iru- shining on the menorah of your body, and also beyond.
And yet simple as Presence is, the forces that pull us away from Presence can be very powerful. Thankfully, we have not one but seven lamps- shiv’at haneirot- to help us. These are, of course, the seven sefirot of the Kabbalah, which correspond to the seven weeks of the Omer period that just ended with Shavuot- Hesed- Loving-kindness, Gevurah- Strength, Tiferet- Beauty or Harmony, Netzakh- Persistence, Hod- Gratitude and Humility, Yesod- Foundation and Malkhut- Kingdom.
CHANT AND MEDITATION
We can use each of these sefirot as kavanot, or affirmations of Presence, and when you do all of them together in sequence, their effect together is very very deep. Let’s try it now:
Bringing your right hand to your heart for Hesed- Loving-Kindness, and please repeat after me:
“I offer my awareness”
Now left hand on your belly for Gevurah- Strength- and say,
“to the temple of this body”
Now touch your right hand to your forehead for Tiferet, Harmony, and say,
“arising in the open space of awareness”
And bringing right hand palm up to your right thigh for Netzakh, Persistence, and say,
“Returning again and again to Presence”
Now bring your left hand, palm up, to your left thigh for Hod, Gratitude, and say,
“Giving thanks for this constant opportunity to Return”
And bring your palms together over your heart for Yesod, the Foundation of living Presence, and say,
“Expressing this Presence in loving words and actions”
And finally opening your hands, palms up, for Malkhut- the Kingdom of Reality, and say,
“Trusting the way everything is unfolding.”
Amein. And chanting from the parshah, ya’iru- which means, they shine, referring to the seven sefirot. So as we chant ya’iru, perceptualizing the seven lights shining in your body.
And coming to silence, chanting Ya’iru___ silently in your mind for about seven minutes. When your mind wanders, you simply return to the chant- "Ya’iru" letting it vibrate in your mind...
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks