Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wedding

On June 10th of this year, I officiated the wedding of my friends David Huff and Josephine Zarkovich, one of the great honors of my life. I wrote the ceremony after a number of hours' conversation with the couple and some consultation with my father, so a great share of the credit for it is of course due to each of them for many of the ideas that made it in (and many of my poorer ideas that were cut), but I'm quite proud of the final result.
About the performance of the ceremony, I'll only say that I was surprised by how palpable was the energy of the moment. It seemed magical, at the time, weaving the attention of a hundred assembled guests into a transformative event, and afterward the couple seemed, in some tangible, detectable way, to be different. It was awesome.
So, with no further ado, here's the text of David and Josephine's wedding:

Dave+Joe are offstage, looking into each others’ eyes, preparing to get married, while I talk to the washed and well-dressed masses.
Hi. Welcome. Thank you all for coming. D+J will be out in a moment, and we would all like to give them our full attention and support. Today is a gathering of the tribe, as they put it, and we are each enriching the events to take place here by adding our own presence and attention.
I’ve been asked to officiate the ceremony this morning and bless the couple, but it is really we, as the tribe, who are marrying our dear friends today. It is by our recognition and celebration of their vows to one another that they will truly become married. So I’ll be talking to David and Josephine for a while once they come in, and I’ll be saying the magic words “Husband and Wife” later on, but I’d like You all to vest in me Your authority as their friends, family, and tribe, and allow me to act for today as your deputy. If you are ready to give me that consent, please say “I do.”
Everyone says “I do,” we hope. Or we lynch ‘em.
Thank you. A wedding is necessarily a social event. We here have struggled with David and Josephine in hard times, made good times by celebrating with them, and connected them to themselves and the world. We are the people who have held them up, and they are asking us now, and from now on, to hold them together.
This wedding is also a spiritual action. David and Josephine don’t identify with any church or denomination, but they intended that the presence of God should be felt here today. I don‘t know what God is, or what sense can even be made of such a question, but I believe that God‘s touch can be felt wherever it is made welcome. So I invite God into this room, to bless each of us and bless the couple we are honoring this day. For many people, religious language can be suggestive of judgment or narrow-mindedness, but I hope we all can allow those connotations, for today, not to color our appreciation of Spirituality.
David and Josephine share with me a sense that spirituality lies at the meeting of the sublime and the ridiculous. At spiritual moments like this one, we surrender in gratitude, to forces that we do not understand, but which lift us up as we let go. Spirituality liberates us, even as it boggles our minds.
That meeting of sublime and ridiculous can be seen in D + J’s lives and choices. They value art that relies on accepting some absurd premise, but where the oddness that follows is self-consistent within the whole. David  and Josephine have made a choice to accept a basic, absurd premise of human life, that we can join for life with some one other person, to become more ourselves by changing for them, become freer in binding ourselves to them, and in this way find happiness. We hope and trust that their choice today will prove sublime, and that they will be able to laugh off as ridiculous whatever struggles inevitably challenge their union.
We are here today for a holy task, to change the lives of two dear souls, and we should bring our highest faculties to bear. I believe that attention leaves a residue, and the attention we give to David and Josephine today will continue to mark their life together for years to come. If you’re here with your own partner, maybe take their hand and think of some of your happiest times together, with the intention that David and Josephine can have a share of that happiness. If you are one to pray, please join me in praying that only good will come of what takes place here this morning, and that the couple will have a long, beautiful, and joyous life together.

Before David and Josephine join us, let us please take a moment of silence together to clarify and sanctify our minds.
[We do a minute of silence. Then music, and the couple walks down the aisle together.]
You may be seated. [I turn to face D+J]

David, Josephine, welcome to your wedding.
We are all happy to be here with you. It’s wonderful that so many people were able to come here from so far away for this delightful occasion.  It’s a true sorrow that you both lost a grandmother in the past few years, who of course would have been so happy to join us today. We’re so glad, David, that your grandfather is with us, and we are surely aware of the presence, in spirit or memory, of those who could not be here in flesh.
We are here with you today to welcome you to your new lives together, to celebrate the wonderful choice that you have made, to bear witness and sanctify this transformation of your relationship. We are here, your friends and family, to participate in your becoming family together. We know that you are not entering into this action lightly, and we applaud you in your courage. We offer our support to keep you together through hard times, and our joyous expectation that hard times will be rare and fleeting.
Tomorrow will be different, for you, than yesterday. You’ll surely spend your next few weeks, months, and years defining the roles of your new relationship. We each came here to embrace you in community at this pivotal moment, and to strengthen, with our recognition, the foundations you are laying today.

You have both chosen to work in the world as curators, and I think there’s something revealing in considering this day as an act of curation.
A curator gathers together pieces of art which previously stood alone, and adds a new meaning to each of them by their context. So it is that the two of you are each whole, healthy human beings, choosing to add new meaning to your lives by living them together. You will be seen, from now on, in the context of your partner. I can assure you, at this moment, that the new light is very flattering.
You met one another at a time when each of you was newly independent and ready for change. You had each let go of old, painful habits and you were actively seeking something new. You entered into a relationship predicated on self-reliance and exploration. Part of what first got you excited was how little you needed each other, and how much that allowed you to give yourselves freely, creatively,  playfully. Five years later you stand here today, with a commitment offered and received, but never demanded.
So in curating your marriage, we honor and affirm you as strong individuals, offering new meaning to one another, but remaining whole and good in yourselves, living two lives better and not one life fused.

To all accounts, being together really has been a blessing for each of you.
It’s beautiful how you enjoy talking to each other, sharing insights and lessons, and developing ideas together, and it’s clear how much you enjoy access to one another’s minds.
I see in both of you a strong moral compass. You are both committed to service in your communities and thoughtful about your effects on others. You are both models of good action in the world, and being together clearly helps each of you live in better accord with your own principles.
I knew David first in high school, where he was a fiery leader of men, waiting for his chance to take on the world. I see in your work together how you, Josephine, have helped David focus that energy and draw it out into something sustainable and effective, just as powerful as before, but now slow and steady enough to make great changes in the world.
I wish I had known you, Josephine, before David entered your life, so I could better speak to his effect on you. From your own accounts I learn that David has helped you find greater joy and confidence in your creative work. I believe that the two of you together are capable of truly remarkable achievements, and I know that you will each be more successful in your work for the bond you share.

The three of us have talked more than once about a favorite museum of yours, and an exhibit entitled “The world is bound with secret knots.” This is a vision of a universe enchanted with spirits that want to be together, gravity, magnetism, and human companionship all reflections of a mystical pull towards oneness. We are each bound to you, and you are bound to each other, by more small and subtle knots than we could ever reveal or untie. Many of these knots will remain secret forever, but today you are tying a public knot between your deepest selves.
It is good, at these moments that change our lives, to reflect on the larger story we are living, to take stock of the forces that shape us and the purposes that drive us. We each have within us an urge to be more, to do better, to become wiser. This is the same urge that opens us up to receive love and inspiration, and release what we no longer need with us. This urge is what makes our story meaningful. Just as flowers, being heliotropic, grow toward the sun, so human beings are theotropic, and we grow towards God.
I believe, and I know that you believe, that joining one another in marriage is an expression of that Godly urge. We cannot know the mind of God, but we know there is Godliness in the harmony of each one of us with our surroundings. We can see today a deep Godliness the coming together of your two hearts.
Take a deep breath, both of you, and another. Feel, in your hands, the rise and fall of your partner’s breathing. Feel your motion together. Feel the exchange of heat and attention through your skin. Feel your love for one another in your fingertips. These sensations are your wedding presents from God, and they are always available to you. Trust and rely on one another, remain open to one another, and God will forever reaffirm your connection.
David, Josephine, may God bless you for a long and loving life together. May you never want for money or freedom, joy or inspiration. May you continue to discover secret knots that bond you together. May you raise happy children in good health.
In the language of my own tradition, Yevarechecha Adonai V’Yishmarecha. Etc. [This is a traditional blessing given by the priestly class. It sums up to ‘May God be nice to you,’ but it’s juicy.]

[long pause]

I turn to the audience. Before we read from a favorite poem and the couple exchanges vows, please let us take a moment to acknowledge that many gay and lesbian couples are not yet allowed all of the joy felt by David and Josephine today. May a time come soon and easily when all loving couples will enjoy the full protection and service of the law.
Sam comes up and reads the following Rumi poem:
You that love lovers,
this is your home. Welcome!
In the midst of making form, love
made this form that melts form,
with love for the door,
soul the vestibule. Watch the dust grains moving
in the light near the window.
their dance is our dance.
We rarely hear the inward music,
but we're all dancing to it nevertheless,
directed by the one who teaches us,
the pure joy of the sun,
our music master.

When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you're not here, I can't go to sleep.
Praise God for these two insominias!
And the difference between them.

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both. We are
the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.

I want to hold you close like a lute,
so we can cry out with loving.

You would rather throw stones at a mirror?
I am your mirror, and here are the stones.

Josephine, do you have your vows?
Jo reads vows. [Blog readers: I’m sorry to say, I don’t have the vows. They were really good.]
David, do you have your vows?
David reads vows.
Josephine, do you take David to be your fully wedded husband, to love, honor, and serve from this day forward, through joy and hardship, as long as you both shall live?
Josephine: I do. David, with this ring, I thee wed. Wear it with love and joy.
David, do you take Josephine to be your fully wedded wife, to love, honor, and serve from this day forward, through joy and hardship, as long as you both shall live?
Dave: I do. Josephine, with this ring, I thee wed. Wear it with love and joy.
David and Josephine have asked us to make a vow to support their marriage as their tribe. If you are willing, please listen with strong intention and reply “we do.”
Do you, assembled friends and family, take these two lovers to be a fully wedded couple, and vow to hold them to the promises they have made today, support them in the hard work of marriage, and share with them the joyous fruits of that labor?
All: We do.

David, Josephine, By the power vested in me by the State of California, yourselves, and your assembled community, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. David, you may kiss the bride.
The couple makes out for a minute, then wrap themselves in a conveniently placed shawl and run out of the room without making eye-contact with anyone (this is actually important, I hear). We entertain the crowd for a while, then they come back in to be toasted and stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finding Out What It Means (To Me) / Goodbye Florida

Hi Friends,

Here's one from the back catalog. I tried to write about this a few times back in America, but I think it's a little bit easier here with some distance and perspective. This is gonna be my last Ma/Ashram story, but it's a little different from the others.

Before I left the Ashram back in May, the last thing Ma said to me was "I hope you learn Respect. Go with God." (It might have been learned, past tense, hard to hear in there, but I don't think so.) It stung when she said it, too. Tone of voice, and whatnot. She'd told me "forgiven and forgotten," and that seemed like neither. Inconsistency! Flaw! Failure! Ouch! It's so hard to convey, or maybe just to trust that I have conveyed, that everyone around me was saying "Ma is Perfect, and Ma's Love for you is Perfect, and any imperfection between you is yours." I understood that I'd hurt her, but here she'd voiced forgiveness and yet still hurt me back. In the context of the Ashram, my ability to be hurt by her was my fault. Her actions are Perfect.

But as hard as it is to believe that - it was hard while I lived there, and it's only harder now - there's some truth in it. There's some truth to be had in seeing things that way. Ma, who probably loves me, took our final moment together to teach me:
1 - That I still need to learn respect
2 - That I react with anger to the observation that I need to learn respect.
And she's onto something with both of those. I've gotten a little less reactive about it since then, and maybe even more respectful to boot, but it's still true, and it still smarts.

To elaborate: it's happened a few times in my life that authority figures have taken me in, and been kind to me, and rejected me again after some period of time, showing the kind of woundedness that comes of feeling that I hadn't shown them proper respect. Nowhere else to such extremes as with Ma, but enough that I can notice the pattern there. Enough that I can still see, in myself, the certain something that chooses poorly how to act towards my betters. I've certainly thought I respected them, and I've certainly admired them, and I always thought my willingness to confront them and doubt them within the context of my admiration meant that I respected them, but in fact, I don't think I really knew what respect was. I'm working on it, but I'm still not sure I really know what respect is, in regard to one's teachers and betters. I'm not sure I see whatever one needs to see in people to treat them respectfully. I can fake it a little bit, but the thought of faking it right makes me exhausted.

But let's dispense with reaction before we get to response. This is a big confession. Some big feelings come up when I really own what I just said to you. Disrespect is on the Cardinal Offense list! Cause for Immediate Disqualification from Goodperson-hood! 

Disrespectful=Bad, Bad=Awful, Awful=Utterly Undeserving of Love. And nobody likes hearing they're utterly undeserving of love. And on the other hand, looking at respect, and trying to imagine acting respectfully, felt smothering, overwhelming, like a total abdication of self. I wanted to scream and throw things. The same inner two-year-old who threw a tantrum at Ma reared his head again when I considered becoming respectful.  

The first couple months of Respect work were just about undoing that chain of equations and breathing through the hissy fit. It took a lot of sitting with it, just facing my virtuelessness, facing the need to do better, before I could say,
 "Great! We have identified a legitimate problem in an otherwise excellent Yotam. Solutions?"

There's something amazing, something liberating, in discovering that you're Awful and getting on with your life.

Like any other great fear, the fear of being a Terrible Person is better faced than avoided. Now that I've got that over with, I can quit avoiding and move on to integrating.

My step-mother, Eve, helped me with this a lot. She really held the space for me that it's okay to have flaws, it's even okay to have my flaws, this flaw, and that eventually I should think about getting past the accusation and taking this opportunity to grow.

So let's grow, shall we? What is it about me (this is a rhetorical question, don't worry) that manifests in my respectlessness to my betters? What virtue lurks in that vice, and how can we release it? From my ungoodness, how can I become better?

I don't have definitive answers on that, yet, I'm sorry to tell you. But I've got a couple thoughts on the subject.

Respecting somebody's strengths, I think, hasn't been my problem. Ma, or the other teachers I'm thinking of - I think these people are awesome, and I'm pretty sure they each know it. My problem is respecting somebody's weaknesses. It takes a certain kind of affection, a certain kind of distance and perspective, a ... um... a something, to see the limits of your admiree's comfort and ability, and stay within them. To say "This person doesn't have a lot of time, or a lot of attention, or a lot of willingness-to-be-yelled-at-in-public. Why don't I not demand this precious resource from them?" The hardest one for me, probably, is respecting the limits of their knowledge, and accepting the validity of a teaching that may not be perfectly complete.

I learned a lot about vulnerability in Maine, and the bonds between our vulnerabilities and our strengths, and hopefully I'll get to talking about that at some point. What I think I'm saying here is that respect involves honoring the person's strengths, sure, but also honoring the person's vulnerabilities. It may not be fun to even witness that your admiree can be vulnerable, or to exercise the attention to consider their vulnerability, but this is one of the difficult early steps of becoming respectful.

It's also not sufficient to wait for someone to say "Hey. You're transgressing my boundaries, friend. Please honor my vulnerability." This is the excuse I always gave, that I was trusting people to tell me when I'd  overstepped, but by the time you overstep, it's already too late. You gotta see it before you cross it, and hence the spect part of the word. You also gotta see their way, and I think that's where the re comes in.

So that's boundaries. But what pushes me across it, right? Why transgress at all? What's so important to me, I throw a tantrum when I think I'm deprived of it? I think in these cases, with my Teachers, it's been about wanting to know what they know. I've been impatient with the slow process of growth, wanting deep down inside me to get inside these people and extract something critical, something critical to my purpose in life, critical to my being here. "Why?!?!?" was my question each time, and they each said they couldn't answer me, and I kept trying 'cause I was sure that they knew. It's my inner student who's still two years old, crying and screaming when he doesn't get what he wants. Naturally, eventually, certain people get fed up with that.

I still feel that way. I'm still anxious to figure it out quickly. I still panic at the thought that without one more little question, one more blip or bibble of attention from some master, I might not get where I'm going in time to... save the Universe, maybe? Or whatever my job is?

Studying vulnerabilities in Maine, I got to really look at that panic and relax it a little, and say "What I don't learn today, I'll learn tomorrow. What I don't learn this lifetime, I'll pick up in the Bardo, maybe." I still want to know, I want to know, but I'm working on trusting that I will know, or I do know, or I don't really need to know, and it's just a desire, and it's just a desire.

So those are my thoughts, and it's clearly something I'm still working on. In a way, I feel like I've just written 1000 words on my taste for live puppies dipped in orphans' stolen candy, like I've revealed something unrevealable, worse than my dieting or my pot-smoking or my blasphemies against Science and God, something irredeemable, something that excludes me from the basic cooperation of society; my skin crawls with that feeling, and I don't think it's true. I'm working on it, and I'm getting better, and in the meantime, I'm still a basically decent human being, and better to face it down now than wait until it's my kids' problem.

One more thing about respect, and vulnerability, and that burning desire to know something incommunicable. A lot of great Teachers don't really know what they know, you know? They know what they're teaching, but there's something inside them they really know, the background to everything they can see and state clearly, the indefinable sands inside them provoking their pearls. When you ask a great teacher "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how do you know? How did you get to that knowledge?" I don't think they can answer that. I don't think they're very comfortable around it. I don't think they can ever put that fundamental something in another person anyway, and I don't think they like being asked to. It's just how they see the world. If you ask somebody why they see the world like they do, they'll tell you it's the world's fault, not their own, and they couldn't hardly say anything else without undermining their own credibility. 

I want my own something, I want my own... thing, I've been pestering my elders and betters for the foundations of their wisdom, and naturally they don't really like it when I do that. So I'm coming back around to this thought that I should let the knowledge come as it cares to, relinquish willfulness to rest into willingness, and trust that I'll know enough, I can still learn just enough, even without bullying and badgering those who know more than me until they don't want to talk anymore.

May it be the will of God in Heaven that I get over myself, and start treating people the way they ought to get treated.

I've thought a lot about Ma since leaving the Ashram, and since I'm all out of Ma stories I want to find some kind of (respectful) way to put a cap on the whole crazy experience there. But I don't know what to make of it, really, and I may not know for a long time. Ma is amazing, and powerful, and I'm moved and grateful for the work that she did for me. She really changed me, from the inside, and people could see it when I left that place. She does that for lots of people, and the love her students feel for her is not fake, and not wrong, and not in the least undeserved. On the other hand, I'm really uncomfortable with the presentation of Ma as Perfect, Ma as The Mother, Ma as categorically more than human. I don't know how to live in that universe. There's no room for a Goddess Incarnate in my ontology, and I don't understand her. 

Somewhere near the first hand, Ma's teaching is a path of transformative discomfort, and maybe I shouldn't be so attached to my ontology and understanding everything. Trying to understand Ma is just one more manifestation of ego, one more sign of disrespect. It feels violent, at times, but Ma has never shrunk back from violence in the pursuit of her students' transcendence. 

It's becoming clearer to me now why Hindu gods have so many arms: on yet some other hand, I'm not sure the dialectic of violence and devotion is really right for me in the long run. I've defended it to others more than once, but it's... I don't know. It's not for me, I think. It's hard to create a space where that kind of direct spiritual surgery doesn't lead to infection. I have to wonder if there's a gentler way to get the same transformations. Again, I'm really grateful, and I'm better than I used to be, thanks to Ma. Her last teaching to me was a kick in the teeth, but I'm still learning from it today. I just don't think I could survive doing all of my spiritual work that forcefully.

At the heart of it, between all these hands, I don't really belong there, and it's not supposed to make sense to me. Ma's first responsibility is to the students that live with her. Many have been there for 35 years, and those who haven't hope they will. Ma has taken responsibility for these people's well-being, personal and spiritual and karmic, at great personal cost to herself. Visitors like me can gain a lot from a dip in and out of that world, but it's not for us, and we're not meant to understand it all. What she's cooking, there, isn't really my dinner. So it's not my place to complain that it tastes funny.

Goodnight, Friends. Happy Weekend!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Future of Adventuring

Hey Friends,

I've set up a time in my regular schedule for writing and editing Yotam ADVENTURES, and I'm hoping that means I'll be giving you fortnightly updates on my doings and derrings-do. I didn't use my time wisely this week, so I don't really have anything publishable in my many piles of note-scrap, but from now on you'll be able to see something new up here every other Friday. I wish I had the freedom and fortitude to publish weekly, but I'm sure you'd get bored of me at that pace, anyway.

I've avoided writing about writing here, 'cause there can easily be no end to that trip, but I'd like to share a couple thoughts and questions about this blog, now at this moment of its transformation.

I'm not gonna be jumping off any bridges again soon, and I'm not gonna be seeing new places and new people all that often, even. I'm mostly gonna stay put here in Jerusalem, running through the same schedule of classes and activities week after week. I've still got a nice big backlog of Ameriventures to write about, and there's always plenty to say about Israel, Talmud, Theology, etc, but the wild and crazy road-trip element is probably gonna be missing from here on out. I'm a little sad to see it go, and I hope I can still keep you interested without it.

A lot of the fun of this blog, for me, has been the experiment in honesty. Can I tell the truth, here on the internet, about my struggles and aspirations and failures? Can I really face myself in public, with the horrible risk of rejection afforded there? Can I show my parents and siblings and friends what I'm really about, and keep on going with it?

I think I've answered that with a Yes, more or less, in the six months that I've been doing this project. Honesty is less and less scary lately, and the challenge instead is becoming one of clarity. Can I see my life clearly enough to write coherently about my experiences? Not the daily litany of events, but can I see the pattern in the process that makes it worthwhile for me? I guess I don't know yet, and this chapter of living and writing is gonna have to explore that a little. I'm gonna be learning a lot of big stuff this year, and I'm gonna be experimenting a lot in my practical theology, and I hope I can synthesize my education in 1500 word doses for other people to also appreciate. If I don't write that into my schedule, like I talked about last time, it'll never, never happen.

So I'm doing this for my sake, for the practice in writing and the push to reflect on things, but I want to make sure it's for my readers' sake, too. So my question for you is, what brings you back here once in a while? What can I do to make this better for you, in what I write about and how I write it? What questions can I ask myself, as I'm sitting down to write here fortnightly, to prompt a message you'll be interested in reading?

If you're willing, please answer in the comments section, so that other people can see and respond and we can get a conversation going. The more I feel like you're invested, just a little even, in reading something interesting here twice a month, the easier it'll be for me to make sure that can happen.

Thanks a lot for your help, and your attention, and your affection and support and curiosity, and I'll look forward to seeing what you guys think about this.

Yours, as often as possible,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hebrew, Habits, and Humility

Hi Friends,

A quick update on the events I wrote about last time. After posting that story, I found out that Rebbe Nachman wrote somewhere about the dangers of the evil eye, and how it can cause embarrassment, and also that by looking at the face of a holy man, like Rav Koenig, you can release trapped emotions. I happened across this info in a book of Rebbe Nachman teachings, and I was totally like "Whoah! That's exactly what happened to me!" So that's cool.

Since that story happened I've started up at school again, and it's a busy, busy life. If I made it to morning prayers every day (Shacharit, 7:30 AM) and went to all my classes, and stayed for evening prayers every night, I'd be at school for a nice, round 60 hours a week. I haven't made it to morning prayers every day, exactly, but I'd like to. I also meet up with my brother and sister after school for more studying once a week, and cook lunches for my roommates most evenings, buy groceries and schoolbooks and whatnot... it all adds up, you know? I had a lot of time to myself back in America, and I just don't, here.

I'm pretty overwhelmed, really. School is hard, and I'm in this new country... Whatever. It's not even culture shock. Everyone here speaks English, and school is a total America-bubble. But I'm surrounded be new people, and I feel totally removed from my former life and self... When I think about taking to friends in the States, I haven't the foggiest idea where to begin. Life here just is, you know. There's no explaining it to anyone.

I'm learning a lot, and that's the reason I came here. I felt, back in LA and in Florida, that I couldn't really grow as a Jew without learning Hebrew, and the prayer services specifically, and I'm picking those up at a good clip. I've got 14 hours of Talmud a week - ancient Aramaic arguments about everything under the sun - and 7 hours of bible study and prayers and studying prayers... I've got a biblical grammar class for two hours a week that scratches my math itch, but I really should study that more in my off time. I'm surrounded by passionate, interesting, knowledgeable Jews with thoughts to share, and I'm taking all of it as fast as I can.

Stopping to write like this, to actually take the measure of my life instead of chasing my next obligation, is weirdly difficult. Day by day I'm just going for it. I'm just going for the ride.

I feel like I'm jogging, or something, and I'm just starting to get into that zone. I can keep up my schedule, learn what I need to and get where I'm going, but I can't stop to think about it. Thinking about it, judging whether it's right or its wrong, if this whole Jewish system I'm studying is brilliance or nonsense, if I'm in the right place, if I'm doing the right thing... Don't bother me with questions, buddy. I'm busy right now. If I tried to know where I am, I'd lose my way and never get where I'm going.

Another of my classes is called Practical Halakha, and we're studying a book of contemporary Orthodox rules. For instance, the first thing you should do in the morning is thank God for restoring your soul to you, and immediately afterward purify your hands with ritual washing. Some Jews often keep a bottle of water and empty bowl by their bed at night so they don't have to touch anything before washing in the morning. Rules like this, many of them reasonable, or at least understandable, and others totally inscrutable even to the experts on the subject, govern basically everything that you do from waking 'til sleeping. (We haven't gotten there yet, but I'm looking forward to learning the correct order in which to clip my fingernails. I'll let you know.) The rabbi teaching the course suggested we try out some of the commandments we read for a week at a time, just to see how they feel on us, but not try to commit ourselves to following all of them right away.

His interpretation of Halakha (lit. The Way, refers to the complete corpus of  Jewish law) is that it's a constant, low-intensity mindfulness meditation. Every little action, a hundred times a day, reminds you that your choices matter, but your ego doesn't. Don't worry over deciding for yourself what order to clip your fingernails in - God or Tradition had worked that out for you, thank you. It's humbling, ideally, to follow an arbitrary, inscrutable ruling over your own personal will.

I feel kind of similarly about my overwhelm here lately. I've always got somewhere to be, something to do, probably something I'm not very good at, no time for laziness, no time for willfulness. I'm taking in more new knowledge every day than I can keep up with, hoping enough of it will stick, not knowing how much is enough, not knowing how much is sticking. I feel like the dumbest guy in my Talmud class sometimes, the least prepared pray-er at prayers, and it's awesomely hard.

This whole year, I'm starting to reckon, is about absorbing a system that might be smarter than I am, aligning myself to something better than me. It's not about God, exactly, in some abstract and wonderful sense. It's about Judaism, a living breathing beast of its own, one that I'm part of and hungry for, and too busy encountering to try to understand. If I do what I'm told, and learn what I can, and just get through the day every day, I'll be right where I aimed at about 8 or 9 months from now. Trusting the process, and letting go of willfulness, is what gets me into that zone.

I'm just going for it. I'm just going, friend. I can't think about where.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rebbe Nachman Melts my Heart

Hey guys,

I have a bed now, and I'm living in my apartment, and it's good to have a home. It's good to be settled. I don't like having to carry all of me around everywhere.

Friday night, I went to the Breslav Shul (Synagogue) in Tsfat for the service celebrating Shabbos (Shabbat (Sabbath)). I was in Tsfat with a few friends, all staying at my mother's house, and my sister had recommended we go there. She said it would be gevaltic (profound/awesome) davvening (prayer).

We got stoned first, naturally, (you have to do it before the sun sets. Afterward it's shabbat, and you mustn't light fires) and I already had a great God-lovey moment back at the house, thinking about the divine quality of Malchut. I was in a good, tender, fun space, and I knew that davvening at Breslav would be interesting. I thought it would be more anthropologically interesting, and it turned out to be more spiritually transformative interesting, but that's okay.

It's really hard for me to be concise on this blog in general, and I'm not really even gonna try this time. I want to tell you about being stoned at this shul, and it was a long, rambly experience, and you're gonna read a long, rambly blog post about it. Feel free to think of this more like a short story, if you like, and I'll feel free to take my time on the details.

I haven't been to a Breslav shul in a long time, but my brother and sister are both Breslavers. It's a really loving community, with a lot of rich spiritual teachings. They're about having a personal relationship with God, being genuinely accepting of others, enjoying your Judaism. It's lived-n and juicy, and I like that. It appeals to me much more than must Ultra-Orthodox (i.e. they don't look like us, they don't sound like us) communities.

I got there late and came in through the wrong door at the front of the room. I felt this blast of attention blowing past me, and I cowered and hid behind everyone as quickly as possible. I felt a red, warm bubble of shame around me, the heat of a sore thumb, and I did not belong. I found Lev (Heart), my buddy, standing right smack dab in the center of the room, and I went in to join him. I noticed on Yom Kippur, praying in a couple new spaces, that I felt like an outsider when I stood at the edge of the group, and a participant when I stood in the middle. Okay, I thought, I can handle this.

In a milling-about moment between prayers, my 11-year-old nephew came by to say Hello and I gave him a big, uncle-y hug. He froze, and I gathered that big uncle-y people don't hug anyone in this shul, and I looked different from everyone else, and I had just marked him as different, and everyone saw it, and now he would have to explain to his friends about his weird, secular hippie uncle, and no one would like him anymore, and it was all my fault.

At this synagogue, the men wear the big fur hats and the long black coats, or white coats, or black and white striped coats, and the long forelocks and bigger beards than mine. The women don't show their elbows and sit on the second floor behind a glass wall and a frilly curtain. I was the only one wearing blue. I'd known I stuck out, already, but I put my finger on it after the disastrous hug. There was a great variety of fabrics and styles in the wardrobe around me, but all of it was in blacks and whites. I didn't want to look around too very carefully, but I didn't see anyone in color besides myself. Standing in the middle, I still didn't feel like a participant. I have a lot of reason to believe, now, that nobody was actually staring at me, and no one actually minded my being there, but I felt different in a sea of same. Embarrassment.

Nephew left me there in the middle, and the praying resumed. I looked for my place in the siddur (prayer book) to follow along. Lev helped me, and told me I got there at just the right moment, L'Cha Dodi was about to begin. We had been told that the room would "explode" for L'Cha Dodi, and it pretty much did.

Up until that moment, everyone was mumbling. In unison, and with great passion, but in a definite mumble. That's pretty standard in orthodox synagogues, 'cause it lets people get through a whole lot of text quickly and in a way that's personal (God can make out what you're saying, even if your neighbor can't) but still collective.

For L'Cha Dodi, they still mumbled, but only for the verses. This is something I haven't seen before. L'Cha Dodi is sung on Friday nights in every synagogue around the world, more or less, and with literally hundreds of different melodies, but it's always sung. Here, they mumbled through each verse, then all got together to really sing passionately for the chorus. L'Cha Dodi welcomes in the Shabbat as a mystical loving presence and a beloved queen. It deserves passion.

A lot of my prayer time, lately, has been spent on just figuring out the noises. I don't understand most of the words, but I can sound them out in Hebrew, and I'm trying to get more comfortable just getting the text through my lips. Comprehension builds in parallel, and in a few more months I suspect I'll be actually be able to pray my prayers. I got to really sing along for the choruses of L'Cha Dodi, though. I know the words to that one, and I was still wearing a blue shirt, moron, but I could participate in that.

I looked around the room a little bit, and got a great kick out of seeing all these bobbing heads and singing faces. It's a beautiful space, with marble walls and wood and gold and stuff, and perfect acoustics and a whole bunch of people there who really mostly seemed like they were there to have fun with their deity, and I respect that. Some people had their eyes closed, some people were looking up to the heavens, some people sang loudly, some people sang soft.  They all knew the words and the melody, they all had done this before, and they were comfortable inviting Shabbos into their lives for a day or so.

I can't always be so great with God, lately, and I'm less interested in all of the rules than I used to be and hope to be again, but we're told that God, Torah, and Israel are the three pillars of Jewish life. I've been rocking the third pillar, lately, and really enjoying the People Israel. Some do it this way, some do it that way, some don't bother doing much, but Jews are really cool, altogether, and I've been developing an appreciation lately for the many great varieties of engagement and disengagement that Jews have with their Judaism. With a room full of Breslaver Chassidim all singing along together, I like watching 'em go. Not the song so much, but the singing, gave me something to love God about.

So I got a moment for holy passion, to really feel the joy of the incoming sabbath, but self-consciousness struck again. I realized that I was quite stoned still, and I was probably acting weird, and people would probably see I was acting weird, and it would reflect badly on my nephew and sister and father, and I would be embarrassed for the rest of my life, and not just this moment. This discovery left me a little bit self-conscious and disconcerted. I said No, the cure for embarrassment is authenticity, and got really into the music, but then I thought about this guy, and tried not to resemble him, and went back to trying to be invisible. But when you're embarrassed, there's always someone looking at you, so I tried to suggest with my body language something like Hey. Sorry for interrupting. I know I don't belong here. I'll try not to ruin your evening.

Yom Kippur was about a week and a half ago, and I went to services, and I atoned for my sins, and I didn't have the kind of blissed out "God loves me, the world makes sense" moment that I'd kind of hoped to, but I had a really good cry and I felt pretty forgiven. I'm not the Jew that I want to be, and there's all kinds of stuff I don't know and rules I don't follow. I don't treat everyone the way I'd like to, I don't listen enough, I waste water and plastic and electricity. I'm clearly in the bottom 3% or so of human beings, ethically speaking, because I've had every opportunity to be better and I haven't done it, but on Yom Kippur, wrapped in a prayer shawl, I got to feel what a useless slab of meat I am, and feel how much God loves my sorry ass anyway, and promise to do a little bit better if I'm not struck down by holy lightning before I get a chance.

In Friday prayers, we read the words "And you shall love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might," and it brought me back a bit to that sense of forgiveness. I haven't fulfilled that commandment, exactly. I think it would be awesome to love God with my heart, soul, and whatever, and I totally want to, and I know that I should, but... I normally push myself, when I'm reading that passage, to try to squeeze out a little more love, kind of to puff up my stats while the issue has my attention. But I know I love other things, like laziness and being awesome, in ways don't really jive with my relationship with the Big Man. This time I saw the difference, the gap, the space of not loving God, and instead of pushing it down I felt it just be there, and I felt God value the love and forgive me the other stuff. "You tried hard," Coach God tells me. "You put in a good game, and I'm proud of you. Shower up."

After L'Cha Dodi, before the love thing, we all joined up hands and danced in a labyrinthine pattern around the chairs and benches there. I held Lev's hand in front of me, and I thought I heard someone telling the kid behind me that, yes, he really did have to hold my hand, too. He held it stiffly and uncertainly, and I felt shame for his shame. Nevertheless, I was blissed out by the faces and clothes of the people around me. A few times I realized I was staring, and again obviously stoned, obviously a tourist, and shut myself down again.

I found out after the service that my roommate, Sarah Brucha, a womanly person, was really frustrated tucked away in the women's section, above and behind where the action was, discouraged from singing lest she distract someone who matters more. It's an awful thing to be told that your prayers don't count, that something about you is an obstacle to others' prayer, that you're better off Elsewhere. SB had the whole Orthodox Patriarchy telling her this, on that evening, but I was more or less telling myself the same thing. You don't belong here. You're a distraction. This is a holier moment without you. I wanted to be myself, get into the moment, pray and dance and sing and whatever, but the moment seemed it was meant for other people; no Yotams allowed. 

I know it sounds silly, that I keep coming back to this. Oh poor Yotam, you were stoned and embarrassed for an hour.  Shut your pie-hole already. Right? I don't know. It might just be poor craftsmanship on my part, writing a story this way. But I think it's uncomfortable reading because embarrassment is uncomfortable. It doesn't change, and it isn't interesting, and it just keeps coming back the same way until you leave or you deal with it. I kinda dealt with it, eventually, but I want you to have a sense for how oppressive and annoying it was, and how weirdly absent it suddenly made itself later. Still, to be fair to Sarah Brucha, I'd rather face down my own demons than thousands of years of entrenched sexual oppression. My problems tend to end faster than that.

This might be a good time for an intermission. The next paragraph doesn't follow, really, and Hey, you've been reading a while. Get up and stretch your legs a bit. It's really good for you. I don't have a dryer here, and sometimes I have to get up from my computer and go get the laundry from the washing machine and go hang it up on the thing on my roof, and I think that's really good for me, and I encourage you to go find a similar task to do. Less healthy would be going down to the lobby to get yourself a snack, but I understand the urge to do that, and I don't want to judge you if you take this moment to feed yourself, but I will anyway, probably, and I apologize. Please keep reading now.

I've been thinking a lot about listening, lately. I'm a big talker, and, frankly, I could stand to shut up and listen a little more often. It's hard for me, though, because I have really cool, important thoughts all the time, and listening to someone else involves not interrupting them with the awesome thing that they made me think of, and might not ever get to think of it again. Thoughts hate that. They hate impermanence, you know. They fear their own demise and unbeing. Listening - or rather, not speaking - feels to me like letting go of a wild bunch of balloons that float away into the darkness, feeling the ribbons slip through my fingers and the balloons climb higher and higher, feeling the river of balloons all around them, floating up to me and past me and around me and by. It's a beautiful feeling, and it's great, and it usually distracts me from whoever I'm trying to listen to, and that's cool.

Sometimes during L'Cha Dodi, and during the dancing, and moments afterward, I tried to really listen to the rest of the room, there, and adjust myself to that flow going around me. Motivated partly by my embarrassment, still, I guess, but also with an intent of appreciating the beauty of it and riding along. Those were good moments, I think. Those were holier moments, when I was listening, and taking in the room around me, and letting my own stuff float off into nothingness.

After my God/Love/Forgiveness/CoachMetaphor moment I tried listen a little again, and found myself still shrinking my body, lest someone be angry with me for my stupid blue shirt. (It's a nice shirt, actually, and totally appropriate for Shabbat anywhere that people wear color.) But I had that sense that God forgave me, and I managed to leverage that into something interesting.

God, I'm really trying to pray, here, and I'm distracted by this embarrassment. Please, please, don't hold against me the gap in my focused intention, and accept my fears as though they were prayer. Please don't let anyone else's prayers be interrupted, or diminished, or detracted from in any way by the shock of my stupid blue shirt. Please don't let anyone's love for you be diminished by any way because I'm distracting them. Instead of other people's attention, let me feel your attention on me. Please let me be judged by your eyes, and not my own and not my neighbors'. Please count me among the number of those praying here, and give me some reflection of the honor they are incurring in you for my presence and what good intention I can muster. Please accept me, despite my fickle heart. Please accept my prayers and ignore my failures. Thank you. -Yotam

This is not the solution I foreshadowed above. I was still distracted and nervous and worried and embarrassed for the whole rest of the service, but a little bit less so. I managed a few times to really put myself into the words of the prayers, and really feel the intentions, and really thank God for Shabbos, and Mitzvahs, and creating the universe and whatnot. I got worried, during the standing up and reading silently part, that I would still be standing and struggling through the Hebrew when everyone else had finished and sat down, and I tried to decide what to do in that situation, and instead they just started up again with the singing while there were still about a dozen of us standing and reading silently, and I didn't have to worry about it, and I went back to thanking God for things, like the fact that Breslav synagogues have a lot of slow davveners in them, and a lot of people who don't want other people to feel embarrassed about praying.

After the services, Lev and I walked back outside to meet Sarah Brucha and Lev's wife. We found my sister, too, and my sister suggested that Lev and I go back inside to shake the hand of Rav Koenig, the spiritual leader of the Breslav community in Tsfat, and let him wish us a Good Shabbat. You did it when you were a kid, she said. People do it all the time. That's okay for you.

I lived in Israel for a year when I was 12, and had my bar mitzvah here, and I haven't lived here again since then. I've visited a few times, but it's different. I like the symmetry that I'm gonna turn 26 here, 13 years after my 13th birthday. I'm hoping this year will liberate some of the karma of my last year here. It was a really difficult, really painful experience at that time, and there's plenty of karma to liberate. I was a confused little kid at that time, and I was totally out of context. It took me a long time to feel okay about Judaism or Israel after coming back to America, and I'm still, actually, kinda touchy on both of those.

I met Rav Koenig twice during that year, and they weren't pleasant experiences. My sister took me to meet him so he could fix me or something. I wasn't acting like a normal orthodox boy should ('cause I wasn't a normal orthodox boy, naturally) and maybe he could... straighten me out or something. I don't know what, exactly.

I had long-ish hair, at that point, 'cause I wanted to look like my big brother back in America. I liked to wear sweatpants, and when I visited the rabbi I put on my biggest, nicest, shiniest chenille sweater. Sitting at a plastic table outside somewhere, he asked me why I wanted to look like a girl, and I told him I didn't. "I'm a boy, and I look like myself, so I look like a boy." Defensive 12-year-old logic.

The second time I met him was on a Friday night in Tsfat, a couple months later, when my sister told me to go shake his hand and wish him a Good Shabbos, much like she did last week. I was wearing a nice white shirt and black pants that time, and I went to say "Hello," so he'd be impressed with how normal I looked, and he wasn't. He very dismissively sent me away. He wanted me not near him, it seemed to me. He didn't say anything to acknowledge we'd ever met before, or indicate that I was remotely of interest to him. My sister told me a couple of years ago that Rav Koenig is only mean to the people he likes a lot. He's like a Zen master, that way. I thought of that often when I was with Ma, and the spiritual gift of rejection.

In Maine this summer, I studied an energetic healing practice called Integrated Awareness. IA has its own map of the soul in the body, in which your knees are about abandonment and your left big toe is about responsibility, and your front expresses Personality while your back expresses Karma. When Lev and I walked back into the synagogue, I was afraid of meeting Rav Koenig again, but light and excited for facing my fear. I was buzzed just from surviving that service, and the moments of good prayer I'd gotten to. Lev told me "It seems like your heart, or something, is like exploding right now. It looks fun," and it was. It was my back that was opening up. The top of my back, behind my heart, where my karma lives. It felt awesome.

On the way out of services, the first time, we were stopped by a young man with fragrant leaves in his hand. Myrtle, or something sweet like that. Everyone leaving got to take a big whiff of the plant and say a blessing on it (as one does with sweet-smelling leafy things), and I got to say my blessing with an old, magic-looking man with a long grey beard and beautiful eyes. He seemed to ignore me, but I was glad just to be near him. He looked awesome. We walked by the fragrant leaf kid on the way back in, and I took another deep breath and enjoyed it good.

Rav Koenig is also an old, bearded, wise and weathered man, and he's been ill lately, so he doesn't shake people's hands so much. Lev and I walked in his direction - we thought it was his direction - that looks like its him - and he sorta noticed us at about 20ish feet away. He was talking intently with somebody else, and he gave us a come-no-further-I-acknowledge-you look at about 12 feet. He raised his hand, and mumbled Shabbat Shalom, or something like that, and waved us away a little bit. Lev and I mumbled it back, and I kinda fumbled on whether or not to keep walking forward, then noticed that Lev was turning back and I followed him.

Breslav Judaism was founded by a guy we call Rebbe Nachman. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, actually. When Ma told me, back in March, that she felt with us the presence of an old mystical Rabbi from a long time ago somewhere near Russia, he's the person I thought of. He kinda gave me a spiritual hug and a thumbs up that evening with Ma, and it really satisfied me somewhere. A lot of other communities like Breslav have a lineage of head rabbis that continues to this day, but Breslav decided that Rebbe Nachman was their guy, and there would never be another. Men like Rav Koenig are not the official commanders of this community, therefore, but he's a great, learned, well- and rightly-respected man.

In the moment of interpreting Rav Koenig's wave, then trying to communicate that I understood it, I kinda waved my hand back at him before turning away. My gesture was a little bit the echo of his gesture, and I worried immediately that it might not have been sufficiently respectful. One doesn't dismiss the great rabbi, he dismisses one.

I've been thinking about respect quite a lot since leaving the Ashram. The last thing Ma told me was "I hope you learn respect. Go with God," and that stuck in me like a burr for a long time. It made me feel like a really bad person, not to be sufficiently respectful to people. I wanted to be respectful to Rav Koenig, and I was worried I hadn't been, but there wasn't really anything left to do about it but keep on walking.

Shaken, I turned to Lev and said "I need to just sit down here and cry for a minute before we go back." We sat down at a table there, and I put my head down for a second, and I totally lost control. I thought I would just have a quite kinda moment there, and then move on quickly, but I put my head down and wept and my tears soaked the tablecloth. I shook and I cried and I drooled a little, and I didn't moan or wail or say anything, but my body was totally given to crying, and my mind was not at all in the way.

I thought about my sister, and my mother, and the difficulties of being 12 and disoriented, and I cried about it. I thought about how hard it is to learn these prayers, and I cried about that, too. I let go of feeling embarrassed, and I thought about how needless it was to ruin a whole hour of prayers by feeling embarrassed about a shirt, and I cried about it. I thought about a lot of stuff, and I knew that I wasn't really crying because of what I was thinking about, I was just crying, and I happened to be thinking, but the crying came first. I felt the back of my heart opening up, and the release of all kinds of everything, and I put my arms up on the table, and I cried, and I cried, and I was so grateful, I was so happy, I was so sorry and accepted, I was so ready to let God do his thing, and I didn't have to do anything, and I let all the big balloons float above me.

I thought about Rav Koenig's smile and nod, and the piercing clarity of his eyes. It seemed like he'd slipped me open just by looking at me. I've been thinking a lot about how Ma does what she does, reaching out and just kinda doing something to people with a word, or a look, or the simple efficacy of her spirit. It might all be the power of suggestion, but then suggestion is much more powerful, and much more subtle, than I used to give it credit for. Whatever she does, however she does it, I think that Rav Koenig does it, too.

Another thing I learned in IA was about being physically sensitive to people. If you let it, your body can be fully aware of the people all around you, in the room and in the neighborhood, and you can shut that out or you can look for it, and there's a time and place for both of those. Weeping on the table, I opened myself up a little bit to the other people in the room, the other people in the city, and for a moment I was weeping for them, too, and not only myself. But that's intense, and it's hard to maintain, and I kind of washed my way back into just me, or just the room, when the bigger self got to be too much.

Tsfat's a really different kinda city than Jerusalem. Jerusalem is holy, but it's very dirty, too. There's a lot of friction in Jerusalem, a lot of boundaries, and a lot of antagonism. Jerusalem gets a lot of attention from the rest of the world, and you can feel it here. Tsfat's on a mountaintop. It's much calmer and cooler and fluid, and it seems like it's the center of a lot of spiritual energy, but it's mostly just sitting there, in Tsfat, instead of running around and inward and outward like it does in Jerusalem. It's intense, really, to feel into, but it's awesome. I could feel the mountain of Tsfat underneath me, with my head on the table, and I could feel the raw available something of the city pushing more of my old karmic crap right on out of me, and I cried harder because of it. Or not harder, but better. More.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav used to teach a practice called Hitbodedut. He said that the written prayers, the standard prayers, are really important, but they aren't really as important as talking to God. He told people to walk off into the woods every day, for an hour every day, and just Talk to God like anyone else. It's an impossible practice. Try it for 20 minutes, once a week, and you'll know what I'm talking about. Kung Fu masters can do it every day for 60 minutes, and if they're lucky they won't burn their eyeballs out in the process. Normal, mortal people have to work up to that. But Rebbe Nachman believed in it, and he taught it, and I don't think he would have seen anything wrong with a kid in a blue shirt leaking his eyes out after prayers in a Breslav synagogue. I thought of this, too, when I was sitting their burbling, and I burbled more.

Before that line about loving God with your whole heart, we recite the central pillar of Jewish faith, the Shema, which goes "Hear O Israel," or (a lot of Jews like to translate Israel as "wrestles with God.") "Listen, God-Wrestler(s). God is our God. God is One." It's an affirmation of God's being and oneness, and it's not just any kind of oneness, but a universal, God is one and there is no Second, there is naught that is not God, God just Is, kind of oneness. It's a powerful prayer, when I can mean it.

Reciting it Friday night, I stumbled over which God I was affirming. There's a God for me here in Israel who's all about doing it right, following the rules, learning the Talmud and the Grammar and the right number of times to shake a palm frond in the Festival of Booths. I'm trying to get familiar with this God, 'cause I think he's important, and that's a lot of what I find myself doing here. I've been keeping stricter rules about Shabbat, and stricter rules about Kashrut, and I'm trying to pray the right words in the right language at all the right moments, of which there are many, and I want to affirm the existence and rightness of the God who pays attention to all of that when I'm saying the Shema.

There's also a God here in Israel, and everywhere, that's a little more loving and organic than that. It might easier to call that side Goddess, if you're okay with that, and she's huggy and forgiving and more interested in your goodness than your righteousness, and I believe in her, too. When I'm trying to do what Mr. God-Boss a-tells me to, she kindly reminds me, sometimes, that I don't need to feel bad that I'm just a beginner and I always will be. I don't want to call Good Cop / Bad Cop, 'cause there's a lot of value in the righteousness deity, but if I were gonna call GC/BC, she'd be the Good Cop.

I really got into the words of the Shema, and everyone there was singing them loudly, and I kinda took my time going through just the first couple. But I noticed, in my affirmation, that by the middle of the sentence everyone else was being quieter than I was, and I retreated back into embarrassment and finished it out as more of a whimper than a prayer. Then that nice moment of being forgiven for not loving God quite so perfectly, yet.

If I were quicker on the uptake, or less distracted, I might have noticed when I got to the word for that Oneness that, maybe, I could affirm both of these God images together, and marvel at their mysterious unity, instead of trying to pick one over the other. I think I did notice this while I was weeping over the table, and if I didn't, I could have, and it would have been totally appropriate. Good Cop and Bad Cop were holding me together at that point. I'd confessed already, and they could give up the routine.

I thought about all the different ways people pray. Some people read loudly, some people read softly. Some people sing, and some mumble. Some communities let one person read for the whole team, and others don't really subject themselves to organization or pattern. I can't go around telling people which ways are right and which aren't. I've got ways that I like, and ways that I don't like, but praying is praying, and I'm not the audience for that. It makes me feel better, thinking about all this, that I'm praying by sounding the words out, and not by telling God, with perfect eloquence and honesty, exactly what God wants to hear. I thought about all the ways of praying, and that maybe my ways aren't any worse than anyone else's ways, and I cried on that for a moment, and kept on crying still.

Karma takes space in your body, you know that? I got to see it a little at Ma's place, but it really got obvious in Maine. It's not nothing, karma. You've got to carry it around with you. You've got to put it somewhere. You can't just leave it at home when you're going out and interacting with people if it's people karma and not home karma. You can't just leave it at home, so you squeeze a little under your eyelids, and tuck a little into your spine, and hide a little bit more in every bone, organ, muscle and nerve, and you carry it around in case you need it for whatever you're running into, wherever you go. A good cry like that, when someone or something or nothing or no one just interrupts your regular rhythm and lets you actually drop something, it gives you space in your body where you can start putting new things. Happy things, if you're lucky, or just new things, if you're less lucky, or maybe nothing at all, if you're really lucky and you like travelling light.

I really don't know what I shed, crying like a warm popsicle for ten minutes, but I could feel it in my body when I stood up again. It's the taste of the open, karma-free space that I was crying about, really. It tastes like water, and it gives you tears. I think the actually shedding happened as soon as Rav Koenig looked up at me. I've got some theories about the mysterious disappearing karma itself, and you'll read them in a minute, but whatever it was lived in my kidneys and the small of my back, and a lot was behind my heart around C7-T1, and a lot of it was in my face, which has felt a lot lighter since this whole thing happened, although I'm sure I'll stuff all kindsa things back into that primo real-estate sooner or later.

My brother-in-law was there when I looked up again. The father of my nephew, this is. He didn't really say anything, but I could see in his eyes that he was cool with it, too. That he had been there, and he didn't need an explanation of anything, and he was totally on my team, and of course he was. He gave me a hug - not a big one - and wished me well, and went out to my sister.

At lunch the next day, somebody shared the idea that on Yom Kippur, we apologize to God for all the things we've done wrong, and we don't get to think about anything we ever did right to make up for it. On Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, we get to celebrate not only that we have been forgiven, but that we're actually not such terrible people after all, and maybe we do get something right once in a while, and maybe this year we'll even get more right than last year.

When I'm trying to get everything right, and I think about the rules, even the small, limited subset of the rules that I'm willing to consider might apply to me, doing it because it's the rule almost never, if ever, feels good. Thinking "You really oughtta, it's the rule," is also rarely an effective way to get myself to do it. It's really hard to serve God 'cause you're supposed to. Or something. But sometimes I can find some other motivation - not exactly like wanting to, more like willing to - that gets me to do the things that the rules say I ought and feel good about it while it's happening. It's like there's a flow heading towards keeping kosher or going to services, and I can ride it or not, and there's really no reason not to. I'm learning that the value of discipline is in nurturing that willingness, and creating opportunities for it to arise. Or something like that, maybe.

The thing ended as gently and easily as it came on. I was crying, and I was crying, and then I was still crying, but I didn't have to be anymore if I didn't want to. I was more and more aware of the people around me, and ready to start acting like a person again myself, and eventually I just looked up and smiled at Lev and said "So how are you doing?" or something to that effect. He handed me a handkerchief, and he gave me a hug, and then my Brother-in-Law, and then we walked out of there again. I think my nephew was there again, too, and I didn't hug him this time. I shook his hand like a real man, and gave him a random salute. I think he was still pretty confused about what to do with me, exactly, but a little bit less so, which speaks well of him.

I'm kind of crying again now, trying to write about all of this, but I can't find the words, still, for what I'm not feeling anymore. I'm sure there are all kinds of other wonderful things that occurred to me, hunched over that table, but I don't know. It's the balloon thing again. Those dudes are gone, man. Maybe they'll come back when they have to.

It's really hard for me, not having a home. I got here month ago, and I moved in a couple weeks ago, almost, and I'm still catching up to myself. I don't know who I am in this country. I'm with new people, in a new place, with this random smattering of deep familiarity and a bunch of people who knew me once, but not so much lately. It was really a gift from Rav Koenig to just let all of that go for a while, and not be anybody necessarily, and just cry about how hard it is to try to love God, and how sweet it is, and how hard it is, and how sweet is is. And and that maybe the reason I'm trying so hard to love is that I already do, and I still don't, and I want to, and I never will. 

I don't really know what he did to me, or subtly suggested, or had nothing to do with, but I'm really, really grateful, still. I think my heart was in a cage, and then it wasn't, and now it is again, but it's a bigger cage, with cleaner windows, and a fresh batch of newspapers lining the floor to poop on.

I went outside and I got some hugs, and I went right on back into crying, and I'm normally really quite talkative, and I had nothing, not anything, to say about what was happening to me. I assured folks I was fine, I was happy, this was good crying, and eventually we all just went over to our dinner hosts. I wanted to save it for writing down later, after Shabbat, because it was loose and disorganized and perfectly beautiful, and I wanted to let it just be what it was instead of knowing what it was, so I could sit at my dining room table and picture Rav Koenig's face and just cry a little more and write out all the little pieces, all the broken flaps of rubber and ribbon, and think about the party that was, and live it over again differently now, and cry again, and cry again, and thank God that God is easy-going enough to really love me, Really Love Me, and hold and sustain my every moment, and never need me to be anything that I amn't, and let me go, let me float away, let me ride off up into whatever, instead of holding me down.