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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When the Spiritual Journey Runs Smack Into Religious Ritual

Before I immersed myself in a more Jewish life, I was a practitioner and teacher of Raja Yoga meditation. The way I learned and practiced was a silent, open-eyed meditation. This is not a mindfulness practice, but one all about sublimating and elevating every human impulse into relationship with G*d, and I loved the space that the silence created for experiencing that relationship.

In that silence, I feel G*d's presence, love, and inspiration connect with me not in words or ideas, but between my own thoughts, between my own words and understanding. It is the silence itself that makes room for G*d.

I have just spent the last 25 hours or so immersed in the rituals of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. And I am struck by how many words we say. We use words in prayer and song and we recite them over and over in a variety of forms. There are literally hours worth of words to say, and hardly any silence in between. And along with words, lots of sitting down and standing up and bowing and bending and supplication, in remembrance of G*d and the Holy Temple where we used to offer sacrifices.

I want to feel meaning in those words, in those movements, in the tremendous spirit of  a community full of beautiful, warm, generous souls. I love this community, but I miss the silence, and all the words remind me of how much I miss it. I miss the feeling of sitting quietly with G*d, of opening my heart and mind to Divine presence, Divine love, Divine forgiveness. I miss feeling cherished in His presence, and feeling elevated in letting His love purify and empower me. Ironically, I think this is the same place Yom Kippur is designed to take us.

I just don't know how to get there through words. A dear friend told me that Judaism makes space for the silence too, and that my own way is also ok. But at the end of this very intense day, I am left wondering what to do with a spiritual practice of silent meditation in a religion that cherishes words.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Life as an Air Plant at the Kotel

I used to live like an air plant, like the ones growing on the massive stones at the Kotel, taking their sustenance only from sun and air, anchored to the face of the stones, but not actually rooted in anything, tethered onto a space where they absorb what they need quite literally only from the air.
I can feel my roots unfurling, lengthening, digging deep into soil they’ve been desperate for, but deprived of, and energy is seeping back into me, snaking its way up through these roots, filling me with new understanding, new insight, and new intention. And I can feel Holy Jerusalem re-imagining herself again and again through us and our connection to her.

This was me, living a spiritual life, attending to my physical and human needs only as much as required, giving myself over as much as I could to the Divine Dimension. I breathed in the air of solitude and silence. I drank in the nectar of quiet and peace and contentment. I stepped around and away from the ugliness and the complication that human existence brings, and cultivated detachment as my answer to every unpleasantness.   

Life as an air plant has its benefits especially in the sense of deep relationship with G*d. But there is also an arid quality to such a life, a sense of disconnect from everyone around me, which is, I guess, part of the intention. But more and more strongly, I felt pulled to plant myself, to root myself somewhere, in something, as if gravity itself was pulling me towards earth, towards humanity and towards life.  

And more than anything, I was pulled to Jerusalem, a place so intense, so compelling, so complicated, so conflicted, that detachment wasn’t an option. A place so bustling, and noisy, and in-your-face that silence and solitude and quiet lose their meaning. This Jerusalem, the one in whose streets I walk, the one on whose ruins I stand, the one from whose mythic narratives were birthed countless lives and countless more deaths, is a place both so human and so divine that I cannot turn away.

I cannot turn away from its humanity or my own. This Jerusalem brought me down from the wall of spirit and planted me deep into the ground. This Jerusalem rooted me into humanity, into community, into religion, into history. And this Jerusalem is feeding me from the roots up, filling me with power and intensity and intention as holy as the land itself.

I am rooted in the energetic field of some supernatural crystalline geological formation that I know is buried deep in the sacred ground here, channeling Divine energy into humanity, into those of us who feel it, filling us up with the potential to transform ourselves, our relationships, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.