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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