Lessons in Presence:
teachings, chants and meditations
Weekly Chant Phrase:
"Shivati Eilekha Vatirpa'eini – I cried out to You and You healed me"
This week’s chant phrase is Shivati eilekha vatirpa’eini – I cried out to You and You healed me. Throughout the week, as you experience different feelings and states, use this phrase to remind you to bring your attention fully to whatever you are feeling, and know that in order for inner healing to happen, you must be willing to feel whatever arises, without avoiding or suppressing anything.
This week’s Lesson in Presence explores this more deeply through the Torah reading, Parshat Hayey Sarah. Although not absolutely necessary, I recommend reading through Hayey Sarah to fully appreciate these teachings (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18). Here are two resources for reading the parsha on line:
Note: Many more teachings, chants and meditations available in the Index (in process)
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
Audio for Streaming or Download:
This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Hayei Sarah, which means, “The Life of Sarah,” and it begins by declaring that Sarah’s life was one hundred and twenty-seven years. Then it says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Vatamat Sarah – Sarah died – Vayavo Avraham – Avraham came – lispod l’Sarah v’livkotah – to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her.”
So, first Sarah dies, then Avraham comes and eulogizes her, then he weeps. It’s a strange verse. Why does it say that Avraham “comes?” Where is he coming to? And if he’s coming to Sarah after she dies, wouldn’t he weep first, and then eulogize her? And to whom is he eulogizing? Isn’t a eulogy something you deliver to others? But this verse doesn’t mention any other people. It just says that he comes – doesn’t say where he’s coming to – then he eulogizes, then he weeps.
To answer, let’s reflect first on the question, what is death? Death means the end of a continuity; the end of something or someone that came into being, that was born, that had some span of life, and then expires. And when a loved one that plays a major role in your life dies, it’s not just the person that dies, it’s a continuity in your life that dies as well. Our lives contain all kinds of continuities – the place we live, the bed we sleep in, and so on. And part of that tapestry of continuity is composed of our relationships. If one of those relationships comes to an end because the person comes to an end, then something of ourselves as died as well; the tapestry, or the form of our lives gets torn. And of course, the experience of being torn is pain.
So, at this deeper level, we’re talking about pain. And what’s the normal response to pain? AAHH! Crying out. But that’s not what Avraham does. – Vayavo Avraham lispod l’Sarah v’livkotah. First Avraham comes, then he eulogizes, then he cries out. Why?
Normally, we cry out in pain because we don’t like the pain. In fact, that’s the whole reason for pain to exist. Pain is there as a signal for danger, so it has to be unpleasant; you’re supposed to not like it. You feel your hand burning, you’ve got to get it out of the fire fast. If you only noticed intellectually, “oh, my hand is in the fire, that’s dangerous,” you’d already be burned. You need something to force you to get out of the fire immediately, and that’s pain. So, crying out is a venting of that impulse to get away from the thing causing you pain, and get yourself to safety. It’s also a signal for others to help you, just as when a baby cries out, and the parent immediately tries to see what’s wrong and help. That’s the ordinary way we operate.
But there’s another way to relate to pain, and that is instead of trying to get away, to deliberately bring yourself into connection with the pain, to come to the pain. Vayavo Avraham – come to the pain that is arising and be with it on purpose; that’s the practice of Presence, of being conscious with your experience, rather than be taken over by your impulse to escape. Again, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that impulse. If your hand is burning, you should certainly escape by moving your hand out of the fire. But when we feel emotional pain, the impulse is the same; you want to get away from it, vent, blame and so on. But if instead you become present with your pain, then you use the pain to strengthen your Presence, to dis-identify from your impulses, and to ultimately know yourself ever more deeply as the space of consciousness within which your experience in this moment is arising.
And, to help you do that, try putting your pain into words. Ordinarily, the mind tends to take us away from our immediate experience with words and thoughts. But you can use the narrative-making mind to instead narrate what’s actually happening in the present: “I feel a contracted sensation in my belly. I feel a hot sensation in my neck,” and so on. Vayavo Avraham lispod l’Sarah – Avraham came, meaning, come to your actual experience, feel your pain on purpose; lispod l’Sarah – put your pain into words that describe your actual experience; this is the “eulogy” in a sense. Because a eulogy is reflecting on the person you’ve lost in a calm and positive way. Similarly, when you feel pain, you can reflect on your experience as the witness to whatever you’re feeling.
Only then does it say, v’livkotah – to weep for her – because once you’re really connected to your emotions, not trying to avoid them, then crying takes on a very different quality. It’s the weeping of letting go, of humility and healing. It’s the kind of crying that frees you. This is hinted at by the next verse that says, Vayakam Avraham me’al p’nei meito – Avraham rose up from before his dead. It’s meito – his dead, because as we said, the death of a loved one is really also a death of something within yourself. But, when you stay present with your feelings and allow your crying out to emerge from Presence, rather than the natural impulse to escape the pain, then, vayakam, you will rise up out of the pain and know yourself as openness, as fluidity, and in that fluidity, healing can take its course naturally.
There’s a beautiful expression of this in Psalm 30, which is part of the morning prayers. In Psalm 30, King David prays, I will exalt You, for You have not let my enemies rejoice over me. This is like, Avraham rose up from before his dead. When you become conscious of your pain, accepting it and not avoiding it, you rise up and transcend the pain, and then you can give thanks and praise to the Divine, which is the Reality of transcendence. Then the psalm says, Shivati eilekha vatirpa’eini – I cried out to You and You healed me. This is the healing power of crying, once you’ve become conscious and surrendered. So, let’s sing these words, Shivati eilekha – I cried out to You, vatirpa’eini – and You healed me. As we sing Shivati eilekha – I cried out to You, let the singing itself be like crying. You have to really be crying, but just have the kavanah, the intention, that any sadness in your heart should get poured into the words. Open yourself to your feelings, and pour your feelings into the words. If you like you can bring your palms together in prayer pose, or put your hands on your heart. Then, when you sing, vatirpa’eini – and You healed me, just open yourself to the power of healing and let it flow. You can open your hands for this part; vatirpa’eini – and You healed me.
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Shivati eilekha vatirpa’eini –
I cried out to You and You healed me.