Lessons in Presence:
teachings, chants and meditations
Weekly Chant Phrase:
"Ma'aseh Vereistet – Works of Creation"
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Sunday, December 17
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Traditionally, a portion or parshah of Torah is read every week. These lessons often follow these traditional readings. Although not absolutely necessary, I recommend reading through Vayeishev to fully appreciate these teachings. Here are two resources for reading the parsha on line:
Vayeishev on Sefaria
Vayeishev on Chabad
This week’s chant phrase is Ma'aseh Vereisheet – Works of Creation. Throughout the week, use this phrase as a reminder to fully embrace whatever you're doing, or if you can't, perhaps shift gears and make a change. Creation is being worked through you in everything you do; step fully into your life and into this moment!
Note: Many more teachings, chants and meditations available in the Index (in process)
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
From My Office:
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This week’s Torah reading begins, “Vayeishev Ya’akov b’eretz m’gurei aviv – Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings …” Then begins the story of Jacob’s most favored son, Joseph. Joseph’s brothers become jealous of him because their father loves him the most and makes him a special tunic- the famous technicolored dream-coat. Joseph then tells his brothers about some dreams he has that imply they will one day bow down to him, and they hate him even more. So, they kidnap him, nearly kill him, and end up selling him as a slave to a Caravan of Ishmaelites. Then they dip his special coat in animal blood and trick their father into thinking that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal. Their father Jacob is devastated that his most beloved son was dead, so he thought.
On a deeper level, this tragic story is hinting at how we can all get into trouble with ego. There are three things that Joseph does which hint at ways the ego can sabotage the way we relate to Reality and cause us great misery.
The first is “vayavei Yosef et dibatam ra’ah el avihem – he brought bad reports about (his brothers) to their father.” In other words, Joseph would tattle on his brothers and get them into trouble. On an inner level, this is hinting at the mind’s tendency to constantly and spontaneously judge other people. Why do we do this? Because the mind is a judging machine. There’s nothing wrong with that, we need to judge between poison and nourishment, between being kind and being a jerk. But the downside is that since that’s what the mind does, it ends up being used by the ego, which wants to make itself feel superior by putting others down.
The second is when their father Jacob made Joseph a special tunic, and “vayir’u ekhav ki oto ahav avihem mikol ekhav vayisn’u oto – (the brothers) saw that their father loved him most, so they hated him. So here’s Joseph, wearing his special tunic, and this makes his brothers jealous. The key here is that what starts out as a symbol of his father’s love, ends up hurting him. And that’s exactly what the roles we play in life can do to us, if we hold them too tightly. The roles we play – parent, child, worker, friend, whatever – are like garments; they’re not who we really are. As long as we put them on and take them off as necessary, we’re good. But if we mistake who we are for our garment, then the mind will be constantly be referring to our role-based identities and the spacious wholeness and bliss of who we really are will be completely covered up.
Which brings us to the third example: “Vayakhalom Yosef Khalom… vayosfu od s’no oto – Joseph had a dream, and his brothers hated him even more.” Joseph dreams that he’s binding sheaves with his brothers in the field, and suddenly his sheaf stands up and all the others bow down to his. Next, he dreams that the sun, moon and eleven stars were bowing to him, symbolizing his eleven brothers and parents. This of course just brings on more jealousy and negativity from his family. So, what’s this about?
I am continuously amazed that intelligent human beings who I love and respect can have such diametrically opposed viewpoints about things. Whether it’s religion, politics or health, people seem to be chronically at odds with each other. Why? Again, it’s because we tend to dream up different narratives about reality, and these different stories becomes the food for our egos. We identify with our stories, just like we identify with our roles, because that gives the ego a sense of purpose, and even more, a sense of existence. Who would we be without all our dreamed-up stories? The ego hates that question, and so it keeps us busy with judging things, with playing our roles and arguing that our stories are true.
But when we drop all that, there’s a profound simplicity just in being, a simplicity that’s profoundly rich, miraculous and awesome. Then, all that ego-created drama and restlessness can drop away, as it says, Vayeishev Ya’akov b’aretz – Jacob dwelled in the land. The “land” is this moment in which we find ourselves. The key is, vayeisheiv. Be aware of when the ego is playing its games, and gently but firmly bring your mind out of the ego-created thought streams, and Vayeishev b’aretz, connect with physical presence – your senses, sounds and sights, the presence of your own body, and the flow of your breathing. Then, as you connect with what is actually present, rather than get carried away by ego-generated thought, you can begin to sense yourself as Presence, as a vast openness of consciousness within which everything appears and disappears.
This is hinted it at by the words Ma’aseh Vereisheet – Works of Creation, from the first blessing of the morning Sh’ma. The full line says, Ham’hadesh b’tuvo b’khol yom ma’aseh vereisheet – The Divine in Its Goodness constantly renews the Works of Creation. The hint here is the realization that the miracle of Being is present in every physical thing we become aware of. The mind tends to take the miracle of Being totally for granted, occupying itself with things that are not present, things that are imagined. But when you learn to sustain your mind in presence with the physical world, there’s an inherent goodness that can be felt in Existence Itself, which is really the goodness of your own being, of your own consciousness.
So, let’s sing these words, and as we sing, allow them to point your awareness into your senses, into the miracle of life in your own body and the miracle of consciousness in which the world is now appearing…
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Works of Creation