פסח

As many of you have been asking me – yes, I made my decision about whether or not to stay in Israel! But before I talk about that, I want to share with you some of what’s been on my mind.

Tonight is the beginning of Passover (Pesach). A huge holiday for the Jewish people.
It is a holiday of the journey from slavery to freedom. We are remembering the story of when the Jews were slaves in Egypt (Mitzrayim – coming from the Hebrew word for narrow) for years and years and years, exiled from our true faith and way of life, and how that exodus toward freedom took place over time. The Sedar (the big meal experience we have) is a way for us to not only keep telling the story to future generations, but for the people participating to experience (as much as we can) what our ancestors went through. We do this 1. because it is deeply relevant to our history and 2. because we are still going through it, in our own ways, today.

We don’t eat leavened things (hametz) for a week to represent the culture we left behind in Egypt, which represented enslavement to ego. A people who built pyramids to celebrate themselves. Bread, during this time, represents worshipping ego. It is puffed up, full of air. When we do this extreme cleaning of our entire homes, cleaning out every inch of every corner (don’t even get me started on how intense this process is!), burning the last of the hametz we find, it is to serve as a cleansing of our souls. Getting rid of whatever is enslaving us. We eat matzah (unleaved bread) for a week to represent this same thing, the conscious freeing ourselves of ego. Matzah is the bread of affliction at the beginning of the Sedar and becomes the bread of our freedom at the end. They say that when you take the first bite of matzah at the sedar, the act in itself is freeing. (It is the only food that we are commanded to eat by the Torah – This is some holy stuff!)
So why do we do all this? Why are we so deeply tied to this symbolic holiday? Well for me, it’s an incredible way to be consciously bettering ourselves. Breaking our enslavement to our own egos, our own Mitzrayims. When this happened historically, when the hebrew people (not yet jews) were freed from Egypt, they then started wandering in the desert, trusting this one guy (Moshe Rabinu – Moses) to lead them to freedom. It took weeks before they understood what the purpose of this commitment was, needing to go on faith. Needing to go through many stages of freedom – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But after 7 weeks (49 days), Moses went to Mt Sinai, talked to God, got the 10 commandments, and the people entered into a covenant with God. It wasn’t an arbitrary assignment, like ‘Hey you guys are here, so you’re all Jewish. Cool.’ They needed to enter into this covenant, to consciously accept God, Judaism as a way of life, before being led to the promised land (40 years later!)
The Sedar, and Pesach, are ways for us to go through our own narrows every year and come out the other side. Not only to keep the story alive for generations to come but to take a light to the corners of our beings, clean out the dust, and arise into something new. Elevated. A lighter being, perhaps. It is said that a new piece of soul comes into us every Pesach. And after the first night, we start something called Sefirot HaOmer. We count for 49 nights, until Shavout, marking the time it took between us leaving Egypt and reaching Mt. Sinai. During these 49 days, we are preparing ourselves for this new part of our soul to be integrated.
Each week has a theme, and each day has a sub-theme. (This process is no joke!) The theme of the weeks correspond to 7 of the 11 kabbalistic components/energies of the soul (see diagram below). The 7 areas (midot) we work on during this time are Chessed (generosity, love, giving), Gevura (justice, knowing, sacrifice), Tiferet (beauty, grace, compassion), Netzach (endurance, trust in God, eternity), Chod (consensus, splendor, acquiescence to truth), Yesod (truth, implementation, foundation), and Malkhut (kingdom, mastery, reflected light). Then the days of the week start with the chessed of chessed, then gevura of chessed, tiferet of chessed, and so on. They say that each of us are rooted in one of these midot but it is still important to do tikun (work, healing) on all of these areas. We don’t work on the top 4 sefirot (keter – transcendence, binah – discernment, chakmah – insight, and dat – knowing) during this time because the bottom 7 are the ones most subject to flaw as we go through life.
WHOA that gets complicated. Luckily I have a handy little guide to take me through each of the days with thinking points and such. But hopefully you get the gist. Needless to say, I have a lot to be thinking about during the vacation from classes! Of course, freedom and what it means has been on my mind as I prepare for this holiday, this cleansing process. This process and this story tell us countless things, but I think one of the most valuable is that few of us are actually free. Freedom, the process of becoming free, or exodus, happens slowly. Consciously. (I have met people in prison who are more mentally free than I am, yet live behind barbed wire and metal bars. Go figure.) Figuring out what my personal Mitzrayim is, and how I can free myself has been so valuable. So, I invite you to do the same, no matter how you identify spiritually. Spring is upon us, a time for rebirth. What are you enslaved to? Materialism? Consumerism? Body image? Your own expectations? The past? Relationships? We all have something. And the more aware we can be of these things, the clearer our path to our own exoduses will be.
I can think of many things that enslave me, ranging from lifelong struggles to more superficial concepts. As I was making the decision about whether or not to stay in Israel longer, I wanted to be sure that my decision wasn’t influenced by any of these things. That I could get to a place of stillness and clarity so that the decision would arise naturally and it wouldn’t feel much like a decision at all. Doing this meant really working out some knots, dealing with feelings of elation and despair, sometimes within seconds of each other. As I was struggling with this one day, I decided to take a nap and I had the most comforting dream. I was walking into the woods and starting to go down this path. It was green and beautiful and the sun was shining through all the leaves in these amazing rays. I felt so happy to be there. Suddenly, I was in front of myself, or rather my conscious self was now separate from my physical self (Or I had two selves? Not really sure. But I was in front. Whatever that means.) And I turned around to see myself walking down the path and I had this huge smile on my face as I hugged myself and said, “Welcome home. You’re finally here.” And then we floated away. The not-so-unbearable lightness of being. A few days later, I made my decision to stay here for another year, and after some initial freak out about what that meant, I feel like I’ve returned to the feeling I had in the dream. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Free of that which holds me down. For this moment anyway!

So kudos to YOU (especially if you read all of this) and your path to freedom, whatever it may be. Whether we have to wander in the desert for 40 years before we ‘figure it out’ or if we happen to become truly free tomorrow, I’m just happy to be on the path with you all.
Wishing you a holiday or a season filled with insight and freedom, in whatever ways you need it most.
לשנה הבאה בירושלים
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Decisions Decisions

From a recent email of mine (feel free to leave feedback on this one especially!):

i’m having somewhat of a crisis of faith right now. i absolutely love what i’m doing, learning, questioning, being right now. i think i told you, i feel like i’m exactly where i’m supposed to be. but i really feel like an infant in this spirituality world. my friend said to me the other day, “i’m so impressed with how much you’ve been processing/communicating about your journey in 4 weeks! it’s more than i’ve done all year.” which is a nice thing to say, but i think some of my over processing is coming from a place of insecurity. i’m worried that if i go home in 3 months, this will have just seemed like a dream. i’ll go back to secular life and feel this twinge of emptiness and not be able to figure out how to fill it. i need to be writing, processing, talking to people all the time to document that this is indeed happening to me. that this journey is so important for me, no matter where i am.

despite how much i feel this is right for me right now, i still have this very fundamental qualm with god. or not god. my relationship to god? (i’m going to use this word and assume you understand my definition at this point, in order to save myself repeated explaining. i think you can handle it.) i have this huge decision coming up this week. april 15th is the date i definitively hear from grad programs about being offered a spot off the waiting list and it is also the day i need to commit to a grad program (the one i’ve already been accepted to). i’m also toying with the idea of staying in israel for another year of learning. this means a few things. 1.) if i do want to defer grad school and stay here another year to learn, i need to tell them on april 15th. 2.) if i get offered a spot at one of my top choices, i need to see if they allow deferral. if they do, i have a serious decision to make. if they don’t, i guess that answers it for me. so, how does one make these decisions? for most of the people i’m surrounded by, they consult god. they pray. they get an answer. i have no idea how to do that or what i even think of that (initially, it freaks me out to be honest. i’m not familiar with this model of operation. i’ve never done it.) this is the crisis. how do i know? how much faith do i actually have? if i do have faith, how do i tap into that and let it help me? i have no idea.

so, in the meantime, i’m doing the only thing i know how to do. talk to a lot of people. hear my thoughts/desired out loud to see what i really want (which i don’t actually know yet). this kind of decision can’t be made with logic. i think this needs to be intuition. maybe thats what faith feels like? trusting your intuition? i don’t know. i don’t want to make this huge decision by april 15th! this is my crisis of faith. this is why i feel like a child in this world i’m in. i’m so in awe of the people i’m surrounded by and close to and how beautiful their faith is. but will i ever get there? do i even want to get there?

this is where i’m at with spirituality right now. and my derech (path). more on what i’ve learned jewishly to come (amazing things about the upcoming holidays of pesach and the omer. so deep. i’m so elated to be experiencing these holidays i thought i knew on this level!)

on another note, i just started my pesach break so now i have three weeks off from classes to travel, reflect, be. i’m doing some really exciting things actually. i’ll be spending a lot of time in the desert at this place called silent arrow (http://www.silentarrow.co.il/a.asp?p=24948) that my friend verity has a really close relationship with. from there, we’re going to go to a few festivals. one dance/movement/creative community called adamah (http://www.adama.org.il/EventsSystem/DisplayEvent.aspx?TypeID=1&eID=488) and another at the desert ashram (http://www.desertashram.co.il/Default.aspx?tabid=81) called zorba (http://www.desertashram.co.il/EventDetailsEng/tabid/93/Article/89/Default.aspx). possibly a hop across the border to the sinai also? i really want to go to egypt. i think we’ll also travel up to haifa for a few days and stay with one of her friends. these two girls i’ve gotten really close to – viktoria and verity – are incredible. such beautiful girls, inside and out. i’m so grateful to have met them and to be learning and traveling with them.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
-Derrick Walcott

Alice in Wonderland

I absolutely love hiking in the desert. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is about being there that is so moving to me, but the feeling is unmistakeable. We (my Shirat Devorah sisters and I) went to Eilat this past weekend (the southernmost point of Israel, unfortunately resembling Las Vegas in many ways). The good parts were: our hike, being on the beach, swimming in the Red Sea, getting to spend time with these amazing girls, a wacky Chabad experience, being in hottttt weather (although dressing tzniut (religious modesty) in 95 degree weather was certainly a new experience), going Jeeping (who knew that was a verb?), and going to an underwater observatorium (the humans were in the tank with the fish looking in!). The bad part was that I got a cold and spent a lot of time sleeping and feeling pretty loopy. Which was actually semi entertaining.
I wish I had more to write here but my mind is so active during the day that by the time I sit down to write something, I’m drained. So instead of trying to compose some sort of rational piece, I think will go about it in a totally irrational way and insert some quotes from myself (from notes or emails I’ve written) and others that are on my mind recently. Some background first: in my classes, we’re preparing for the approaching holiday of Pesach (Passover) which most people are familiar with. It has to do with one of the most pivotal stories in Jewish history – the exile of the Jewish people and the exodus out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) into the Promised Land (guess where!) This is an incredible story with so many deep connections that I can’t even elaborate on right now. Amazing how I can be gaining so much new insight from a story I thought I knew. Definitely more to come on that topic!
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the world is sending me crazy signals. i went out for tea last night and there was a placemat with alice in wonderland and this quote:
“would you tell me please which way i ought to go from here?”
“that depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.
“i don’t care much where” said alice.
“then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the cat.
“…so long as i get SOMEWHERE,” alice added as an explanation.
“oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(remember that self portrait i did in high school? i totally related to her and feeling lost on a journey)
i was talking to my friend about how i related to the quote and her so much when i was younger. and then today, in class, our teacher referenced THAT SAME QUOTE in reference to the upcoming holiday and us all being on our own exodus’s and finding a path. so it was relevant when i was 17 and and its relevant now that i’m 24! and still on a journey! whoa. mamash. thank you universe. i see you! anyway, just a tiny drop in my daily ocean of experience.
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this is why i’m ecstatic. because i am learning and growing and changing and taking root and reaching for the stars every single day. my classes, teachers, these ladies i’m living and learning with – everyone is inspiring in his/her own way. the friends i’ve made. the conversations i’m having, the questions i’m asking. i have this incredible feeling that i’ve rarely felt which can only be described as “i feel like i’m exactly where i’m supposed to be.” what more could i want?
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wow it is so amazing to read this because i would have used almost these exact words a few years ago. totally viewed faith as a psychological tool. and why not! it makes perfect sense. we are highly evolved, we know when we need comfort in something. i was so so skeptical (still am) of my own developing beliefs because they started in a time of serious loss. but does the need for the feelings negate the reality of the experience? what i came to conclude, eventually, was that it didn’t matter to me any more. i wasn’t, i’m not, searching for absolute truth. for proof. for logic. i’m interested in bringing meaning to my every day life, not an easy escape.

about my own feelings and what i relate to, i love that you said this: “It’s recognition of something greater, pontification of the infinite, notions of an incomprehensible layered system that we are simply floating in. That is all very powerful/scary/beautiful and it really does transcend day to day realities. But that can be inverted in on itself, that day to day realities transcend the infinitude of conceptual space and so on. That is a kind of spirituality in itself, seeing the beauty in the menial.” yes, I have had the “highs” of religious experience (a limited amount, but significant enough to make me question the very meaning of existence. so pretty worthwhile, in my opinion). what i think is more worthwhile, however, is the day to day spirituality. connecting to the part of yourself that is open to being amazed by the world we live in. whether its a meteor shower or a rock in the desert. the vastness of the universe and the boundlessness what my own experience can be within it blows my mind. the concept of god for me is not about an all knowing, all powerful being who will make everything right, but very much rooted in the feelings of awe in the everyday. god, to me, is not a man or a king, but the connectedness of every single atom in the universe. when the divisions fall away and you have that incredible feeling that everything is one. (this is what the shema is all about!) yes – the feelings of appreciation of incredible food, a wonderful connection with another person, the feeling of sand in between my toes, the heart wrenching feeling of loss. the goal, for me, is not to transcend reality, but to be so in touch with reality (ALL of it – not just the good) that i don’t need to get high off god, or anything for that matter. that i can simply breathe in and feel secure in my own awareness, knowing that god is in me and everyone and everything around me. i don’t need religious hierarchy to inform me of these feelings. they came to me way before i had a name for them. to me, where religion comes into play is simply giving us a framework, suggestions maybe, about how to live so that we can be reminded of these feelings.
what do i believe? that’s so hard to articulate. i believe in oneness. in the good of humanity. the falling away of dualities (if one person is imprisoned then we all are). i connect with this “god” through feeling the wind in the desert and watching sunsets and really knowing another person so well that we can realize we’re the same person, that we come from the same place. to be truthful – judaism/religion is difficult for me. this imposed structure. prayer is still something that is incredibly difficult for me not to have an aversion to. my experience is so personal (yet so shared) that is find it hard to relate to words that i haven’t written. but i yearn to connect to this practice! to make my faith a part of my daily life, not just an email conversation. it is already so much a part of who i am, what i want to do with my life, how i view the world, people, nature. my journey, path, derech, right now is to figure out how to solidify my spirituality into my everyday life.
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I had such an incredible day of classes today. I go back and forth usually like 4 times a day about whether or not I can actually see myself going back to the states in 4 months. I just feel like I have SO much to learn, and want to learn. We had a talk from this incredible woman today who is pretty well known in this world (Sarah Riggler) who spent 15 years living at an ashram and devoting her life to spiritual growth and now she’s an orthodox woman. I love hearing about people’s journeys. Something she talked about that spoke to me so much is the idea that most people who are trying to be spiritual (maybe not most, but a lot) are searching for that ‘high’ feeling. Those moments when you connect with the infinity of the universe and are totally transported (being at Livnot, for me). But that true spiritual growth and progress doesn’t occur from those moments (nor is it possible to live in that space) or in picking a few practices from different places but in devoting yourself to a practice, a being or authority higher than yourself, that you will follow whether it ‘turns you on’ or not. And that is where the real learning/growth/progress/work occur. It spoke to me a lot today because I think I’ve taken that approach with Judaism a lot (in the 1.5 years that I’ve decided to actually be Jewish again, haha). When a belief/ community/practice doesn’t seem like something I like, I’ve shyed away from it. I think “i can be jewish but i wont dress tzniut or be shomer negia or even shomer shabbas. but i can still feel it. no problem.” But you’re (i’m) really losing something (still trying to figure out what) when you pick and choose elements of a religion or a practice. Granted, I’m not saying I’m not going to be orthodox, but I really see that point. And I think it is part of why I haven’t connected to conservative Judaism thus far. Nor have I really connected to wanting to be Jewish and not really having a practice. Although I’ve consistently felt the void that leaves. Anyway, my mind is racing right now. I can’t imagine not immersing myself in this learning.
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Meditation is not to get out of society, to escape from society, but to prepare for a re-entry into society. We call this “engaged Buddhism.” When we go to a meditation center, we may have the impression that we leave everything behind-family, society, and all the complications involved in them—and come as an individual in order to practice and search for peace. This is already an illusion, because in Buddhism there is no such thing as an individual.

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of Practice”

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i thank you god
for this
most amazing day
for the leaping greenly
spirits of trees
and a blue true
dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.
e.e. cummings
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