Last night, around 1 AM, our two-year old daughter wandered into our bedroom and cried, “Why did I wake up lonely?”
Sometimes Torah comes in the form of adorableness!
I think she meant to ask why she woke up alone, not lonely. But, I realized, this can be a concern for many people on the Path- “if I wake up spiritually, will I be lonely?”
Put another way- “If I awaken to a new level of consciousness, will I still be able to relate to people? Will I feel all alone if I let go of all the games and dramas that I am used to playing out with people?”
It’s true, there is an aspect of waking up that requires aloneness, but not necessarily loneliness.
On the inner level, there has to be a willingness to let go of your addiction to thinking. As long as the mind is constantly generating a stream of thought, the world will appear as a projection of your thought. Let go of your stream of thinking, and you open to the Divine Presence appearing in all its glory and unity. This happens when your consciousness fully stands alone, not seduced by the compulsive narratives of the mind.
This week’s reading, Parshat Nasso, is the finale for describing the construction of the Mishkan- the sanctuary of the Divine Presence. In preparation for the Mishkan becoming activated, the Israelites are told to expel anyone who is a tzaru’a, a zav, or who is tamei lanafesh.
All three of these terms have to do with bodily things that many people would consider to be…well… kind of gross! Metaphorically, they are related to ways that our thoughts, speech and actions can keep us unconscious and in “exile” from the Presence.
“Tzaru’a” means someone with a particular skin affliction, and is associated with the sin of lashon hara- gossip and slander. Since the skin is the boundary of a person but also the place of intimate connection with others, this mythic disease is an expression of relationships getting tarnished through destructive speech.
“Zav” means some kind of bodily emission and is associated with sexuality. Metaphorically, the outward emission represents the way thoughts of sexuality can be a kind of “reaching” or “grasping” for gratification, a loss of vital energy and presence.
These two represent the polarity of unconsciousness- “Tzaru’a” is negativity and destructiveness (like anger), and “zav” is wanting, grasping, neediness. Both of these lead to an absence of sacred presence in the body, which brings us to the third one:
“Tamei Lanefesh” means spiritually contaminated by a corpse. To the degree that you become seduced by the energies of “I hate” and “I want”, your body is temporarily dead to the Sacred Presence that is actually not separate from your own living, conscious, being. In order for your body to become a sanctuary again, these forces and the thoughts they produce must be “expelled from the camp” in a sense. You must stand alone from them.
And yet, standing alone in this way removes the energies that contaminate your relationships. Free from negativity and neediness, you potentially increase your connection with others. Standing alone does not mean being alone or isolated. So, in this game of waking up, you don’t have to fear being lonely at all. It’s just the opposite.
This Shabbos may we increase our connection to others by consciously letting go of any inner narratives of judgment, negativity, complaining, wanting and needing, and instead open fully to people as they are, in their beautiful uniqueness.
A question I often hear goes like this:
“When I am meditating or chanting, I feel so deeply connected and I have no problem being my highest self. But, when stressful things in life push my buttons, all of that is out the window.
"How do I maintain my spiritual connection in those moments?”
This is a question that often comes up after you have had some success with your practice. Before that success, sure, you will still have been looking for a spiritual connection, realization, experience or whatever.
But then, at the very moment when you think you've discovered and connected with what you've been searching for. . . Oy! . . . The problem is even deeper:
How do I keep the connection?
The simple answer, of course, is practice. You have to practice keeping that connection in different life situations. Only then will you get better and better at it.
But I bet that answer doesn't feel so helpful to hear, right? After all, you know that when you find yourself in a stressful or triggering situation, two things sneak up and derail you:
1) You don’t care anymore about your spiritual connection, because you are triggered! You go into in a fight-or-flight mode. You just want to get out of there or lash out.
2) Even if you do care to practice in such a moment, you probably can’t remember to practice because you are triggered! Your emotions have taken over and blocked your memory of what's most essential, and how to get back to it!
I guess you can see why, if you are going to actually be able to practice in those triggering situations, you'll first need a foolproof strategy for working through the two problems above.
And . . . Here is exactly that!
First of all, you need to remember to practice (zakhor), and second of all, you need to be motivated to practice (shamor).
There are many ways to approach this, but let’s explore one.
First, how do you remember?
A great way to remember is to use what I call the “Fringe Technique”. You may know the traditional practice to wear fringes, called tzitizt, on a four-cornered garment, or tallit.
The purpose of the tzitzit is exactly what we are talking about- they are a physical reminder on your body to dedicate your actions to the Divine and to avoid getting caught in distractions that take you away from that intention.
Another purpose of the tzitzit is to remind you to do the mitzvot, the particular spiritual practices of Judaism, throughout your day.
This brings us to the second problem- how do you remain motivated?
Let’s take a particular mitzvah and see how this can work:
There is a daily mitzvah to chant the words, “Ve’ahavtah et Hashem Elohekha… You shall love Existence, your inner Divinity, with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.”
These words are an expression of commitment. For the sake of clarity, let’s rephrase it to express this commitment more explicitly. You might say, “I commit to serving the Divine in everything I do.”
If you say this commitment every day (or use the traditional words, but understand them and mean them as a commitment), then you are adding tremendous power to your intention to practice in difficult moments.
Because even when you don’t care about spirituality in a moment of being triggered, you have made a commitment and you can rely on that commitment. You don’t have to care; you just have to honor your commitment. The actual saying out loud of a commitment will give tremendous power to your intention, even in the most difficult moments.
But now you still have to remember your commitment. That’s where the “fringe” comes in. You need to have some kind of reminder that works for you all day long, so that your chances of remembering in those difficult moments are increased thousand-fold.
Your reminder could actually be tzitzit. Of course, just wearing tzitzit is not enough; you have to train yourself to be reminded of your intention by them. For example, make it a practice to say your commitment over and over again, every time you look down and see them.
But, any reminder will work, as long as you empower it as a reminder. For example, you could set your smart phone to give you reminders throughout the day. Or, you could wear something else like a piece of jewelry to remind you.
Whatever you use, the key is to verbally say your intention out loud every day, and then have something to remind you throughout the day. Using this “Fringe Technique” is so powerful, you can transform your entire life in any direction you choose, simply by programming yourself with the intentions you choose.
This week’s reading begins, “Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe b’midbar Sinai- Hashem spoke to Moses in the Sinai wilderness… se’u et rosh kol adat- take a census of the entire assembly… according to their head count…”
Moses is instructed to count the Israelites who are ready to out go to battle.
The wilderness, the midbar, is the arena in which we live. Like the wild of nature, life itself is not totally predictable. It throws us curve balls. We need to be like soldiers if we are to make each moment count by bringing our spiritual commitments to every situation.
But later it says, “V’hal’viyim lo hotpakdu- the Levites were not counted…”
The Levites weren’t soldiers. They were in charge of the sanctuary- the sacred space at the center of the camp where the Divine rested. They represent the people’s connection to the One. In the One, there is nothing to count! There is only One!
And this is the paradox-
To bring liberating intention to each moment, you need strategies that work in time. You need to be like a soldier. But, the Reality you safeguard through those strategies is Itself beyond time. It is the space of Presence that does not change; it is Being Itself- it is not born and does not die. When you stay connected to That, the storms of life cannot shake you. You sit within the eye of the hurricane, the holy of holies.
May we bring forth our potential for unity and love through the power of our commitment to this moment, and may the world swiftly be transformed by it-
Here’s a question for you-
If you could choose exactly how much time to waste every day, how much would it be? Would you waste two hours per day? One hour per day? Or would you be conservative- maybe only waste twenty minutes? Five minutes?
And furthermore, what does it mean to “waste time” anyway?
Is watching a movie wasting time? What about sitting around enjoying a cup of tea? Taking a walk for no particular reason?
Or, is “wasting time” about doing something that creates the exact opposite of what you want?
If enjoyment is what you want, maybe watching a movie is a good use of time, as long as it’s not in excess. If peace is what you want, maybe sipping tea and taking walks are a great way to spend time.
And, if you want to be miserable, maybe complaining and judging and gossiping and putting yourself and others down are just what the doctor ordered.
But who wants to be miserable?
And yet, many spend time complaining and judging and gossiping and putting self and others down. When was the last time you did one of those things?
There’s really only one reason you would do something that creates the opposite result of what you want, and that’s not being conscious of what you are doing. Consciousness is the key.
You want peace, but an impulse arises to eat that unhealthy food. The impulse is bothering you, and you unconsciously assume that fulfilling the impulse will make you feel better and bring you peace. The problem is, fulfilling the impulse only gives you a temporary experience of relief, and you still haven’t come closer to the real peace you are seeking.
The real peace you seek can only come from getting to know who you are beneath all the impulses. It comes from knowing that underneath all your restless energies, you are peace, and you can know it for yourself.
You can rise above any stories telling you that you need this or that to have peace. But to do that, you need to be conscious. You need to wake up from the dream of discontent that your impulses thrive on.
How do you do that?
This week’s reading begins- “Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe b’har Sinai- Hashem spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai…”
After driving my son to school in the morning, I often return home along Skyline up in the Oakland hills, from which I can catch a glimpse of the entire East Bay and San Francisco. Seeing these cities from above is an entirely different experience from being down in them. There is a sense of peace, of wonder, of floating above the seething urban chaos.
It’s the same spiritually.
In order to be conscious and free as you move through any disruptive and seductive energies in day-to-day life, you’ve got to get up on the mountain sometimes. To hear the Voice of the Divine, you have to take some time to tune out the voices of the mundane.
Where do those mundane voices come from? They come from your own mind!
Sinai is totally within you and available to you, once the movement of the mind subsides. From Sinai comes the “Voice of the Divine”- meaning, the inner wisdom of how to live-
-to live without wasting time.
A still mind is not a waste of time, it is the end of time.
As the end of time, it is also the fulfillment of time. Fulfillment is completely available to you, right now, to the degree that you can open to your inner Sinai.
The reading goes on to say- “ki tavo el ha’arets… v’shavtah ha’arets Shabbat LaShem… when you come into the land… the land itself shall rest a Shabbat…”
The “land” is life itself- messy, chaotic, beautiful life itself.
But, when you stop wasting time, guess what- life doesn’t take so much energy! Your life itself becomes a “Shabbat”- simple, clear, straightforward.
Do you want simplicity? Do you want clarity? Do you want peace? Do you want a life that is wholly Shabbat?
Make a commitment now:
“I will let go of all excess thought, moment by moment. I will refrain from creating negative narratives and open to the reality of this moment, from this moment onward.”
Can you make this commitment?
I wish you renewing peace and clarity on this holy Shabbat, from the mountaintop~
The other day I saw my son sitting at the You Tube, ravenously drinking in the old 1980’s Michael Jackson Thriller video.
Oh man, that brought me back!
The way Michael morphs into some kind of wer-cat and then leads a band of zombies in that funky dance of the dead-
And then the really scary part- his girlfriend cowering in the corner of her house while zombies crash through windows, breaking through the walls and floor- it’s the classic zombie scene that both draws and repels.
Why is the “zombies-invading-the-house” thing so compelling?
To me, the home is a sanctuary- a place to be safe, to relax, to sip a cup of tea on the couch- wouldn’t you agree? And let’s face it- nothing messes with our nice, safe, home-sanctuary like a bunch of zombies clawing at your window!
But there is also an inner sanctuary- a place of peace and stillness, a place of vitality, of creativity, of light and benevolence. That place is your own deepest layer of being- the space of awareness itself.
When you dwell in that space, you dwell in the temple of your own being, which is also Divine Being. That space is always here, always open and sacred- the space of consciousness that is eternally this moment.
But, there are zombies!!
Sometimes there are only a few pathetic zombies, wandering around on your lawn. Sometimes they are fast, tricky and vicious, fooling and distracting you into letting them in. Sometimes, they are disguised as something you lust for- they are seductive- more like vampires- making your eyes glaze over as you lurch unconsciously toward the door and turn the knob...
These zombies and vampires are your own thoughts.
There was once a hassid who went to his rebbe for advice on how to empty his mind. He knocked on the door of his rebbe’s house, but no answer. He peered through the window- the rebbe was sitting at a table, reading.
The hassid knocked again, a little louder- no answer. Growing more and more frustrated, his polite greetings and knocks turned into screams and bangs, pounding on the doors and windows. This went on for hours!
Eventually, the rebbe opened the door- “just as I can ignore you, no matter now much fuss you make, so you can ignore your own thoughts and not admit them into your mind.”
It’s true, your zombie/vampiric thoughts can trick you, distract you, lure you, entice you. But unless you believe in them, they have absolutely no power. It is your own mind that is creating them; if you let them be and don’t get drawn in, they fade away. The power is completely with you.
This can be learned and practiced, but it is not merely a technique. It is a way of being that reveals your own inner freedom, your own inner divinity.
Free from thought, you dwell in the sanctuary of presence- a space of freedom, of blissful goodness within your own being. This is the space of kadosh- holiness, or sacredness. Kadosh means “separate”, because in it you are separate from the tornados of life. However, it’s not a separateness of alienation, but of the closest intimacy- not far off at a distance from the storm, but at the eye of the storm.
Get seduced by the storm- get absorbed into the drama of time and people, get dragged around and eaten by those flesh-rotten zombies, and you become tamei- spiritually contaminated. Let go of the drama, let the thoughts dissolve and you return to the Presence- to the Kadosh. This is your role, if you choose to accept it, as priest or priestess of your own inner sanctuary.
On that subject, this week’s reading begins with Moses telling the priests, “L’nefesh lo yitama b’amav- you shall not become tamei (spiritually contaminated) to a person among your people.”
In its plain meaning, it’s talking about a priest not becoming tamei from touching a corpse (a regular corps, not the undead!). But metaphorically, it also can refer to the inner tuma we can incur from allowing our thoughts about others to contaminate our minds.
When was the last time you allowed your mind to become tamei because of what some person did or said that you didn’t like, some argument you had, or anything else involving another person? It’s one of the great traps.
And yet, the power is with YOU! Remember- the tzures (suffering) you experience is mostly generated by your own mind. You can stop empowering it NOW and come into the sanctuary.
And yet, the next verse qualifies the first- “Ki im lish’eiru hakarov- EXCEPT for a close relative…”
Here we move from the metaphorical to the actual- from people as thoughts in your mind, to actual living and breathing people.
There are people who are our “close relatives”- not necessarily blood, but those in our tribe, in our community, in our web of interdependence. For them we must become tamei at times, meaning that the relationship sometimes requires the sacrifice of our own needs in order to serve.
Sometimes that sacrifice takes a few minutes, as with a screaming child, and sometimes it can go on for years, as in someone who needs on-going care. Sometimes we must sacrifice the plush-ness of kadosh for love, for the love that binds us together.
But then there are those who are not “close relatives”, who seek to insert themselves into your life for whatever reason. They have their dramas, their pathologies, their fixations, and they are truly zombies and vampires, seeking to drag you down to their level.
As all famous people learn, you can’t let every person into your life who tries to get in. It’s impossible. But, this truth is not just for famous people. The rhythm of reality dictates we work with both sides of the Tree of Life- the Hesed and the Gevurah- the loving-kindness and the setting of boundaries and limits. And life/Hashem will test you on this- you must learn both sides of the Tree!
Of course, there is also gray area- folks who lie somewhere in between close and not-so-close.
Then what do you do?
Make a decision, and don’t worry. Each moment is new. The enemy is not the not-knowing, it is the not-deciding.
Good shabbisss, good shabbisss!
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