Things I am good at asking for:
Things I am not good at asking for:
Ever hear of Joseph Campbell? The guy who dedicated his whole life to the themes and archetypes of story and myth across cultures? The one who laid out the common pattern of the Hero’s Journey in culture? He’s one of MY heroes. Campbell saw the greatest human transgression as “the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.”
Of going through life hearing, but not actually listening.
Seeing, but not really noticing.
It’s typing on the computer while the kids are talking about something that happened at school.
Going outside without looking at the sky.
Driving to work and realizing you have no idea how you actually got there.
Looking down at dinner and seeing, surprisingly, your plate is now empty.
Going a whole summer without feeling bare feet on grass.
I’d like to think that I spend my time conscious, truly awake, truly thinking about everything around me. But to tell you the truth? All of that paying attention can be exhausting.
That’s actually why, for all you lovers of irony out there, I use awake-ness as a strategy for getting to sleep.
Try it sometime.
Lay in bed with your eyes closed. Allow your ears to do all the work. Pay attention to the sounds. ALL the sounds your ears can possibly pick up:
The air conditioning
The wind blowing
The dog’s breathing
The hum of the earth
Listen to it.
All of it.
Bring it all in at the same time.
Keep it all there.
Your mind will fight you, will try to let some of it go.
Hold on to it, as much as you can, as long as you can.
At some point, you will have no choice
But to let go.
I have a confession to make. During services? When everyone is singing, speaking, or praying? My mind tends to wander. You might not notice, because I say and do the right things. But that’s not where my brain is. I know, it sounds terrible.
Growing up in my Reform synagogue, where a major portion of services was conducted in English, I had always been trained to get my spiritual fix by reflecting on the words themselves. The expectation was always to follow along closely and to pay attention to what I was saying. “Spacing out” was frowned upon.
But luckily for me, I learned that Judaism is actually okay with it. I made that discovery when praying with Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Traditional services have the silent Amidah, which consists of pages and pages of Hebrew. Everyone begins together while standing, goes through at his or her own speed, and sits and waits for other congregants to finish. If you’ve never been to a service where this is done, you’d soon learn this takes many minutes. Long enough for your mind to wander from one thing to another. Long enough for you to wonder what keeps those people standing and praying so long.
That’s the beauty of it. There are parts of the service that are actually SUPPOSED to be long, and maybe a little bit (dare I say?) boring. The secret? The familiarity of the words gives the freedom to explore deeper ideas. Prayers are so routine, they become background music to a conversation with ourselves, or perhaps with God.
This month at your services – wherever you pray – I have a challenge for you. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander during some of the more familiar prayers. Call it going on “spiritual autopilot.” Go ahead and say the words, but from time to time, allow them to wash through you. Give yourself a bit of freedom to listen to what’s really going on Inside your head, inside your heart.
May the coming days be a chance for you to make new discoveries in self-reflection. May you find time to listen to your private thoughts. May you sing and pray with your congregation, yet remember that your most spiritual reflections are within you.
And? If the rabbi asks? I’m TOTALLY paying attention during the sermon.
I’m not the same person I was
Four months ago.
I’m not the same person I was
Three years ago.
I’m not the same person I was
Twelve years ago.
Fifteen years ago.
Twenty years ago.
Twenty-two years ago.
Thirty five years ago.
Each life experience
Losses and gifts
As I change, I get to know
More of me,
Finding out more about
What I’m about,
Discovering, as I continue to unwrap
That I’m more the same self
Than I had ever realized.
I’m a teacher. I’m all about the learning. I LOVE learning. It gets me excited. It doesn’t matter what subject area or topic. I can find a way to be totally jazzed about it. Here’s some of what I learned this summer:
Of course, there’s much, much more to it. And there’s so much more that I want to learn. So much I need to learn. So much I’m going to learn, even if I don’t know I need to learn it yet.
That’s why I’m such a big fan of life.
Today’s post is proof of two things:
1. I’m human. Yes, I missed a couple of posts. Don’t worry, I beat myself up over it more than you did. So ha.
2. My blog is truly eclectic. Sometimes I wish I could find a niche and specialize. Is my writing poetry? Educational? Parent-based humor? Spiritually leaning? I am at the mercy of my brain cells. Come along for the ride.
I’m a counter. Always have been.
I can’t help it. It just happens that way. I love numbers.
I look for the palindromes on my car odometer. I sometimes count spoken syllables. Groups of five are best. (Don’t judge.) I might count lights. Or steps. Or chairs. Or panels on the wall. Or anything that’s more than one. One time in geometry class I calculated the number of holes in the acoustical tile. The same class I got in trouble in for counting the rotation of the ceiling fan.
Yet somehow, as a kid, I let myself be talked into the idea that I wasn’t good at math. It didn’t happen right away. Geometry was amazing. I loved theorems. (Hey. I TOLD you not to judge.) I loved the way that every bit of knowledge connected back to the most basic concepts via mathematical daisy chain. But beyond sine-cosine-tangent, things just became too theoretical. Without a solid grounding in numbers and ideas, I didn’t have anything to hold on to. Maybe it was the friends around me, the math gurus and geniuses who took calculus while I gracefully backed away from the table. I looked at them, figured I didn’t have what it took, and convinced myself I wasn’t a math gal.
Still, my whole life I have been taken with the poetry of numbers, their symmetry, the way different numbers have their own distinct personalities. I love working with numbers, even still. They’re comfortable to me.
It wasn’t until I began teaching math almost exclusively that I realized I was more mathematical than I gave myself credit for. That I carried numbers and patterns and systems in my bones. And that I had the ability to teach my students how to carry it with them as well.
Soon, I started to hear more and more adults tell me how bad they are at math. I wonder how many of those adults are actually just like me. People who have somehow gotten the message that they stink at mathematics. They tell me that they’ve never understood it, and that they are terrible with numbers.
In my heart of hearts? I. Don’t. Buy. It. One. Bit.
So here’s my challenge:
Hey. Grown-ups who hate math. Or who think you do. Or who think you suck at math. Or numbers. Come chat with me. Anyone want to take me up on the offer? Bet I can convince you otherwise.
The numbers are in your favor.
Post-script: And if there is anyone out there who can make calculus make sense to me, who can bring it back to tangible math roots for me, well then. Sign. Me. Up.
Taking the time
The crescendo of cicadas
From the loner
To the deafening
Building from right to left
And back again
The settling of my body
With a deep inhale
Eyes sensing sun
Through closed lids
Skin drinking in,
Refusing to relinquish
Holding it safe
What do I know? Right now, at this point in time?
That I have good friends who think about me.
That I have an amazing, supportive family.
That I can’t write anything deep with four teenage boys bickering ten feet away.
That it takes a special kind of zen to ignore said boys bickering ten feet away.
I mean special kind of zen.
I know that a martini doesn’t make my children behave any better, but it does make me care *that much* less.
That a Shabbat dinner does offer a degree of specialness I don’t always get.
That said Shabbat dinner can still fall to pieces with a glut of male energy.
That a homemade chocolate cookie and a glass of milk deserve their own unique circle in heaven.
And you? What truths come to you, either deep or trivial?
This is a tough one.
Acceptance is more than acknowledgement. It is allowing a presence in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives. It is the weaving of truths into ourselves. I don’t have to like something to accept it, but it does become part of who I am.
I accept that my brother Mike died this April.
I accept that it wasn’t an accident.
I accept that he had been hurting, emotionally, for a really long time.
I accept that I may never know what he was truly feeling and thinking in his last days.
I accept that I can no longer contact him, despite the fact that his messages are still on my phone.
I accept that that the rest of us need each other now, in ways deeper and more different than we can imagine.
These thoughts are who I am, where I am. For better or worse, they have become a part of me.
I’d like to think that acceptance is the best way, and that we need to create room for all things in the universe as part of our selves. That our minds should approach the world with open arms.
I also think there are ideas best kept away. There are patterns of belief which seek to destroy us, rather than make us whole. There are ideas which are, quite simply, not true. And those things I turn away at the door.
I do not accept that Mike made a decision in clarity, of sound mind.
I do not accept that he wanted to be without his wife and children.
I do not accept that anyone is to blame.
Acceptance any of these things would require me to believe they are true. And, knowing my brother, I simply don’t. Mike was a great guy who was a good dad. Who told his family every day he loved them. Who would sometimes text me lines from the movie Airplane because, well, c’mon. Airplane.
I’m still picking up the pieces. I’m still trying to figure out exactly the size and shape of the hole he left behind. And perhaps, as time moves on, as I learn more, I will come to different understandings and different acceptances.
Until then, I have come to acceptance of where I am.
Of where he his.