Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Do You See?

Last weekend we celebrated Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Mike and I spent some time outdoors in the chapel of nature and many more hours watching an inspirational service streamed live online from Central Synagogue in New York City. Last night I participated in an equally inspirational discussion of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy. The two have several threads in common.

Yom Kippur is a fast day. People sometimes mistakenly think that the act of fasting is, itself, a type of penance, the way we purge our souls of accumulated sin. Not true. A one day fast is a short-hand way to experience suffering, which reminds us people are always suffering, even when we are not. Active Hope asks us to “honor our pain for the world,” rather than turning away from the mess we’re in because it is too painful or we don’t know how or feel powerless to make a difference. 

The Yom Kippur service calls on us to recount and ask forgiveness for the ways we personally caused suffering in the past year—through our decisions, thoughts, words, actions, and omissions—rather than thinking we can hide these sins from ourselves, others, and, most importantly, from G-d. The authors of Active Hope likewise ask us to “acknowledge that our times confront us with realities that are painful to face, difficult to take in, and confusing to live with.” In both cases, we begin our quest for something better, something more life sustaining, by being honest about the error of our ways.

We gain individual strength to make things right by participating as a community in the Yom Kippur service, which emphasizes that the spiritual purpose of life according to Judaism is tikkun olam, meaning “to repair (or heal) the world.” This suggests all people have a shared responsibility to heal, repair, and transform the world—beginning with ourselves, but not all by ourselves. 

Similarly, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone encourage us to “draw on a sense of fellowship, belonging, and connection…as if we are remembering our root system. This is a power-with (rather than a power over)…that we can draw on, that acts through us.” Both sources tell me now is a time to realize the importance of our connection with the Earth and all life on it and to feel gratitude as well for the unknowable forces that propel life. Now is the time to be willing “to find and play our part,” to ask ourselves, “Does the way I live my life support the changes I want to bring about?” And to build our relationships with like-minded people.

Finally, Yom Kippur is an opportunity for redemption, to begin anew inside the Gates of Heaven. Having humbly purified ourselves, we have drawn closer to the essence of Spirit, we have made at–one-ment with a merciful G-d and set our intention to faithfully practice tikkun olam in the days to come.  Macy and Johnstone put it this way, “In the model of co-intelligence, we’re never alone in (our) endeavors. A larger story is taking place, and we’ve just chosen, or been chosen, to play a particular role in it.”

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope-not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (our people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of "Everything is gonna be all right," but a very different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.
Excerpt from an article written by Victoria Safford which appeared in the September 20, 2004 edition of The Nation. Adapted from The Impossible Will Take A Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

So Much To Do, So Little Time

I once read that new experiences trigger denser memories. First time events are deeply encoded with rich, novel detail that cannot be easily attached to previous neuron firings. Thus, I can recall the nuances of a family vacation to Niagara Falls when I was no more than eight years old as an extended sensory panorama that seems to have lasted for months, when, in fact, we were away from home less than a week. I recall the lumpy beds in the cabin we stayed in the first night out, the sight of cows in the dewy meadow across the highway the next morning, the roadside teepee where my parents bought me a beaded "Indian Princess" doll, the heaviness of the oversized yellow rain slicker I had to wear and the chill of the nearby waterfall as we rode the Maid of the Mist.

In contrast, since I'm now an experienced traveler, the recent tour of the Northeast Michael and I took with stops in North Bellmore, NY - East Meadow, NY - South Chatham, MA - Northport, NY - Hungtington, NY - Lebanon, NJ before driving the 11 hour journey home is stored in memory as more or less a whirlwind. In recollection it is shrunk into one delicious, kalaidescopic gulp of goodness. Instead of the details, I appear to have each segment of that trip recorded as fewer details, but more intense emotions - the ever-bittersweet time with Mom and brother Josh, sharing laughs and fine food with old friends, the non-demanding embrace of cousins on Chatham Bay, inspirational exchanges with a wise muse and her hubby, a deeply moving family birthday party provoking thoughts of generations moving on, and, finally, sweetly savored moments of love exchanged with our grand daughter, days before she begins her senior year of high school. A week turned into a blink and tucked among so many other fast flying moments of Summer 2013, traveling and hosting travelers from afar.

It is now Labor Day Weekend. Dogwoods and Fire Bushes are already showing red leaves. Tomato plants have succumbed to blight (too much rain!) Goldfinches are moving ever so slightly into their duller colors. And children have returned to school. I guess I wasn't bored, because I'm wanting to stall these changes out a bit. 

I know all the wonderful ways I've filled my summer days, and I would count each one as happy. I've been playful and creative and crossed off many items that have been on my "to do" list for a long time. Most satisfying was collaborating with Brother Josh to enroll Mom in an adult daycare program she'll attend twice a week, thus tearing down the wall of isolation that has surrounded her and attacked her mind. But I haven't had my fill of looong, sunny days, and too few of them, if any, have been lazy. So much yet to do, so little time...But hold on; just hold on a minute....