Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Jewish Anniversary

It was 3 years ago today, one day before the start of Yom Kippur, that I heard the unbelievable news I had breast cancer. I remember crying off and on that entire day. By the next day, Erev Yom Kippur - Kol Nidrei, I was calmed down and not crying....until I saw my friends at services.

I'm always amazed by what happens in my life coinciding with the Jewish holidays. They seem to be like guide-points informing the course of my daily challenges, learning and growth. And this 10 days of Tshuva has been as Awakening as the one 3 years ago, though in a different way.

"Mindfulness" is all the rage right now in psychotherapy. Mindfulness, in it's simplest explanation, is observing what is going on around you and inside of you with no judgement - only curiosity and radical acceptance.

So I've been thinking about mindfulness as it addresses the challenges that I've been going through lately. It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that the story I tell myself about anything is usually more critical and hopeless/helpless than things really are. Truly whenever I get challenged and I go into that negative state, it always passes and something wonderful comes out of the challenge.

I see mindfulness as a way of observing the negative thoughts/feelings without creating more negative story. It's looking at your story with compassion and curiosity, "hmmm, this is stressful, what's that about? What am I thinking/feeling? Hmmm, that's interesting...What do I need? What can I do about it?" Mindfulness to me is gaining some distance from thoughts and feelings - a realization that they are separate from the You who never changes and is always there observing without judgement. That Observing You is eternal, compassionate and wise.

So why go into the negativity in the first place?

Well, we have to go into negativity and challenge in order to come out the other side. Challenge gives us the information we need to grow. I'm always looking for the hidden lessons in my experiences. I think that's what the Kabbalists mean when they speak about the world being created by a shattering of the vessels and that our job is searching for the sparks of light within the broken shards.

Yom Kippur takes brokenness and says there's always a repair. Did you know that it is the anniversary of the breaking of the first set of tablets that Moses came down to give the Jewish people when they built the golden calf? It's the 2nd set of tablets, after the broken ones, that are eternal. We can't repair unless we first break down. So Yom Kippur comes as a reminder that there is always hope for repair and return. When the vessel of our personality becomes too inflexible, we experience the challenge to open up and become more than what we thought we could be.

The world we are building is so much more than we can ever fathom! That is the promise to the Jewish people from G-d.

There is a beautiful prayer on Rosh Hashana that says "On Rosh Hashanah all of mankind pass before Him like sheep -they pass by Him one by one, one after the other, yet He scrutinizes them all with a single glance."
That prayer was written by a righteous Jewish rabbi who was constantly challenged by his Roman ruler to convert to Christianity. The one time he didn't come when the Roman called him, his punishment was cutting off his arms and legs. After that, he was still living and had someone record this prayer before he passed away.

There are many prayers we read on Yom Kippur about the martyrs of our holy sages and the ways they were tortured and killed - it's revolting! And yet, "R. Cruspedai said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three ledgers are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for those who are entirely wicked, one for those who are entirely righteous, and one for those who are in the middle. The entirely righteous are immediately inscribed and sealed to live. The entirely wicked are immediately inscribed and sealed to die. The fate of those in the middle is held in balance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." It doesn't make sense that our sacred, righteous and holy people were murdered and tortured!

So why do we read that the righteous die when they are supposed to live? I believe it is because "death" and "life" are not defined literally. A totally righteous rabbi can be tortured and die but his prayer can live on. There is no control over life and death in this world because there is free choice and the monsters and the polluters who cause cancers and the people in power who care only about money above humanity, have their free choice. When we are co-creators with G-d, what we create is eternal and will be part of the ultimate creation of the world to come.

The creations of the monsters will die along with them - they are only golden calves. But the righteous and "g-dly" LIVE. The challenges we have are passing and temporary. Look for what is eternal. So, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as I know I'm not entirely righteous or wicked but instead am a "benyoni", I am continually working on expanding the vessel so it can hold more light. And my work is in the vessel that holds myself, my career, my friends and my own family. I'm continually trying to find the light in my own tiny corner of this crazy world.

My you all find the light in your own tiny corners this year!