Category Archives: The One

Eating My Lima Beans

ב”ה    الحمد لله

I hate lima beans.  Always have.

I remember in third grade, sitting at the dinner table long after the others had left, staring at the seven lima beans my mother insisted I had to eat before I was excused.  Finally I consumed them, in the most painful manner.  I would ladle one enemy bean onto my fork with my right hand and clutch my water glass in my left.  I moved my tongue to one side.  Then I lowered the lima bean down just inside the base of my teeth, holding my breath so as not to taste it and washed it quickly down with a large mouthful of water.  Like a bitter pill.  One down, six to go.

It didn’t help to be told me they were “good for me”.

It didn’t help to told that people were starving in Ethiopa.  Send them these lima beans; they would enjoy eating them, and then I wouldn’t have to.

My life experience didn’t include the kind of insistent, throbbing hunger that would make me grateful for any kind of food, of whatever taste.  (Thank God I was never so deprived.)

Not only did I not appreciate the blessing of having enough food to eat, I also didn’t appreciate the blessing that someone cared enough about me to force me to eat healthy food.  As an adult, I’ve been with families where the kids fend for themselves and the adults have no interest in what they’re eating.  It’s a blessing to have a parent that –whatever other faults they may have, large or small–  makes you eat something good for you, even when you don’t want to.

But in that lonely dinner chair, all I knew was that my mother, who was supposed to love me, was subjecting me to cruel and unusual punishment.

And I’ve been reflecting on that the past few days, because recently God has been making me eat some adult lima beans.

Today’s lima beans are the bitter experience of reliving some old and painful experiences from childhood.  Intense feelings and memories that need healing.  Most unpleasant.  Oh, I always feels better afterwards, but the sensations themselves are awful to go through, and I throw my little internal tantrums wondering if I’ll ever be “done” with these adult lima beans, and why I have to go through all this, and will it never end.

Just like I did when I was a kid staying late at the dinner table.

Of course, as an adult I know a little bit more about life and how things work.  These days I know that there is One behind these experiences Who loves me infinitely, knows what’s best for me, and would never let me suffer any more than is exactly necessary for my growth and spiritual well-being.

These days I appreciate the cathartic power of these unpleasant adult lima beans, and feel myself growing healthier and stronger as I eat more of them.

And that makes things much more bearable.

But I still get grumpy.

And I still hate lima beans.  Both kinds.

But now, when I’ve cleared my plate for the evening, I can sincerely thank my Heavenly Father for setting them before me and making me eat them.

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Are You Sick of It?

ב”ה

I’ve been sick lately.  Cough, sore throat, hard to sleep at night.  A steady supply of cough drops and hot tea (thanks to my wife!) and water and coughing.  Ugh.  Thank G-d this rarely happens to me.  But when it does, I take notice.  And this one was hanging on, as if to underline the fact that I didn’t get it yet.  By which I mean I was not understanding the message.  Because I understand that everything happens for a reason, and getting sick generally means I’m missing something and am being forced to slow down (I missed two days of work) and focus on my life until I figure it out.

And, with the help of a friend who had a message for me, I think I’ve figured out what I’m supposed to do here.

To set the context, I’ve recently accepted a computer programming position.  It was not my first choice of how to spend my time; I was hoping to change careers and become a full-time author or speaker or live some kind of life of service.  (Well, programming is a kind of service, I suppose.)

But that’s the point, really.  I was spending my time before and after work hours trying to figure out how to change my livelihood to more spiritual pursuits.

The message, as I read it, is to let go of that and settle into my new life here.  Do my work 9-5 (well, 7-3 really!) computer work with all my heart, and, away from the job, focus on my first year of marriage, my family relationships, getting my finances in order again, and things like that.  Daily living.  Exercise, diet, volleyball and bridge.  Walks by the water with my beloved.  You get the idea.

So that means setting aside all the projects I have going:  two phone apps I was gearing up on, getting my novel published, writing a book on spiritual practices, and, yes, trying to do something with this blog.  Worthy endeavors every one, I think, but the message feels clear that now is not the time to focus on them.  To everything, there is a season.

So, Gentle Reader, it’s possible that I may occasionally write a post here.  Something quick, just jotting down some thoughts, perhaps.  But I need to set aside my own expectation of a weekly well-edited profound post.  My time and energy needs to be focused more on the people around me.  (And I hope that includes some meaningful volunteer work, please G-d!)

So thank you for reading, and do feel free to check back in a bit; one never knows, do one?

See What I Mean?

ב”ה

Part One
My glasses have gone on hiatus.  I remember wearing them 24 hours ago, returning from a poetry reading at a Berkeley bookstore, and since then, I have no idea where they are.  Usually this kind of absence is momentary or fleeting, and I have a system of sorts to help me: I’ve designated one spot in each room where I place my glasses if I take them off in that room.  This reduces the number of places they usually might be, an important strategic point, since ironically the most important physical possession to have when looking for my glasses is… my glasses.

Since I use them to drive, this could theoretically be catastrophic (for me, for other drivers, and especially for innocent pedestrians), but I have my prescription sports goggles (that I use for volleyball, racquetball and running), so I can still get around even if I look more strange than usual.  Which means this is primarily an annoyance.

What do you do when you have misplaced something?

I usually do three things.

First, I search the most likely places.  I went through each room of the house.  I started with the chosen put-my-glasses-here spot in each room, and then expanded my search to all kinds of would-never-put-my-glasses here places.  Nowhere did I see my glasses.

Second, I retrace my steps.  I thought back to the time I knew I last had my glasses.  I clearly had them after the bookstore event, because if I had driven home without them, I would have noticed.  But I blanked out when I imagined coming inside and taking them off anywhere afterwards.

Thirdly, I do what I should do first: I check in On High.  This usually starts with a whining, “Really?!  Was this necessary? Why you gotta do this to me?” and progresses to inquiring if there are any things I’ve left undone, unsaid or unattended that The Master of the Universe is bringing to my attention.

Sometimes, God is being helpful in a masterful way, like when I’m in a rush to get somewhere and head out without my glasses.  I come back inside to get them, and in the course of looking for my glasses I discover another needed item (like my wallet!).  Without the “inconvenience” of misplacing my glasses, I would have arrived at my destination completely unprepared.  So the “annoyance” of misplaced glasses turns out to be a kindness from On High.

More often, however, there is some other lesson being pointed to, and the instruction is often related to the item I can’t find.  For example, I found it fitting that on my road trip out to California from Minnesota this last time, when I was planning to get married and stay out here, I misplaced my Minnesota driver’s license.  To me this was symbolic of letting go of my identity as a Minnesotan to embrace creating a home with my new bride (and her son) in sunny California.
I view my life as a canvas on which God and I together create an artistic work of a lived life.  I see symbolism and grace in the details, and I hope to contribute my part towards making it a masterpiece.

My sense of the lesson of my glasses was not coming into focus, however, and I remarked to my wife that I didn’t think I would find my glasses until I next davened (did my traditional prayers).  Praying increases my connection On High, and I often have increased intuition and awareness during and afterwards.

Part Two
Later in the day, I went to my usual davening space and saw my glasses sitting atop a tall adjacent cabinet.  This is a place I never put my glasses.  But there they were, resting comfortably on their high perch, waiting for me.

I took this as a sign that I had gotten the message.  That I wasn’t seeing how important my daily prayers are in my life and so The Master had gotten my attention, via my glasses, to redirect my focus.  (And in fact I had missed saying my prayers both that morning and that afternoon, an unusual dereliction).

It often goes this way.  I interpret my life almost as you would a good movie or a great novel: everything means something, everything is placed where it is for a reason, and there are meanings and hidden symbolism available to the inquisitive and open mind.  And while not every situation discloses its secrets so easily, I find my life richer for being in this conversation with The One.

May your life reveal its hidden meanings to you, Gentle Reader, and may you gather in the hidden meanings and act appropriately on their messages.

Humility Teachers

ב”ה

A young man goes out behind the wheel for his first driving lesson.  He has a tendency to drift to the right, so the instructor gently tells him several times, “steer a little more to the left”.  He makes it through the session with increasing confidence and later meets up with a friend to tell her all about it.

“Oh, you have the same instructor I do!” she exclaims.

“Isn’t he so wise,” he rejoins.  “Don’t you just love the way he says, ‘steer a little more to the left’?”

“He never says that,” she avers.  “It’s always, ‘steer a little more to the right’!  Maybe you weren’t listening as well as you thought.”

“I could have sworn he said, ‘steer a little more to the left’.  In fact, I’m sure of it.”

This story illustrates the problem of promulgating a single set of “rules” or “teachings”, as if the same insights apply to all people at all times in the same ways.  If you’re a person that drifts to the right, the message you need to hear is “steer a little more to the left.”  If you’re a person that tends towards the left already, “steer a little more to the left” would be an unfortunate directive to receive; a serious accident could result (G-d forbid!).  So I’m often cautious in putting out generalized truths, because they might land poorly for an individual who actually needs to hear something different.  (In fact the rebbes of Psischa didn’t write down their teachings for exactly this reason, if I understand their history correctly.)

Adding to the difficulty: often the messages that we are open to hearing aren’t the ones we need to hear.  Perhaps we are comfortable going to the left; we lean to the left; we drift to the left.  It’s easy for us to hear someone tell us to steer a little more to the left.  Which means the appropriate message –“steer a little more to the right”–  sometimes has to come in an emphatic, dramatic or difficult manner.  And G-d obliges us by raising the volume on the message until we start hearing it.  He starts with a soft whisper and, if necessary, ends up using an oncoming car to get our attention (G-d forbid).  “Steer a little to more to the right.  We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

This is all by way of introducing what I call “humility teachers”.  This practice of seeing certain difficult situations/relationships/people as humility teachers is not something I would encourage you to do if you (a) have any experience tolerating abusive behavior, (b) have low self-esteem, or (c) are a “people pleaser” or conflict-avoidant.  If you would place yourself in one of those categories, please be cautious with this practice; you may be better served by  intervening to alter the situational dynamics, rather than accepting the situation as a message from which to learn wisdom about yourself.

Most of us have at least one person in our lives that we find frustrating.  They misunderstand us, they don’t exhibit compassion or kindness towards us, and, in fact, they may be hostile and critical when we encounter them.  Often we become defensive or self-conscious around them, and this can make the problem worse.  When I find myself in these situations, I try to ask why G-d is placing this person and these harsh words in front of me.  And for me, the answer is usually to teach me humility.

This understanding (usually) immediately transforms any impatience or anger that I may find building up inside.  This person is just a messenger from G-d, who understands me completely, loves me infinitely, and decided that in this moment I need to be told by this fellow that I’m not as smart as I think I am, or that I’m arrogant and condescending, or that people like me cause all the violence and hatred in the world.

So I try and take whatever kernel of truth there is in their words and meditate on it carefully.  I review their speech and what I understand of their frame of reference.  I reexamine assumptions I may be making about myself, or things I have overlooked about how I may come across.  How can I improve?  (I also examine whatever fear or insecurity leads me to become self-conscious around them.  Why am I seeking their approval, and what do I fear?)

This perspective sometimes allows me to be gracious in the moment, and even grateful to G-d for sending the message in a relatively mild fashion.  And at other times I still find myself acting an utter fool with the person, and the wisdom of the message I only uncover later.

It is said that the great Rabbi Akiva, who at forty years of age was an unlearned peasant who didn’t even know the alphabet, was sent by his refined wife into the marketplace in such a way that caused everyone to ridicule and mock him.  Once he became inured to this treatment, she sent him to the Jewish elementary school for him to learn with the little kids.  Because he had developed a “thick skin”, he was able to tolerate the teasing of the small children as he learned to read and write at such an advanced age.  He went on to become one of the greatest sages of Israel.  But first he had to endure some rough humility training.

So when G-d sends us difficult people or situations, it’s for a reason.  If we ponder that reason and act on the message, we will heal, grow and draw closer to our potential.  If not, I find that G-d will send the message again and again, often at a louder volume each time.

But these challenges are not always an opportunity to just “turn the other cheek”, as it were.  Sometimes these difficult situations arise in order for us to find creative and gracious ways of asserting ourselves.  As I said above, it’s almost impossible to generalize; G-d speaks to each of us individually in the language we best understand, giving us the arising moment that our soul needs right then.  Sometimes He says, “steer a little to the left” and sometimes He says, “steer a little to the right”.  And sometimes He says, “now is not a good time for you to be driving!”

The important thing is to listen as best we can.

May you hear the divine messages heading your way, and may you find the strength and courage to act upon them.  If you have a relationship with The Divine, may your understanding of the Origin of difficult situations lead you to better accept them more easily and learn from them more fully.

Gentle Reader, if you are open to sharing, I’d love to hear a story about what course corrections you understand G-d is sending you today, or has sent you in the past.

Marriage: 1 + 1 + 1 = 1

ב”ה

I’m married!

Last Monday, just a week ago, my wife(!) and I were married in Piedmont California amidst family and friends.  A beautiful ceremony blending my traditional practice with my wife’s renewal approach, followed by dancing and eating and toasting and dancing.  And then flying to Minnesota to celebrate with friends there.  And now back in California.

After the ecstasy, the laundry.

There are all sorts of gift boxes to unwrap (thank you, everyone!) and thank-yous to send out.  The rooms of my wife’s house (where we’ll be living) need to be rearranged to reflect this new reality, and the cell phone accounts, and the dishes and the new joint financial structures to put in place.

But it’s all quite lovely to have to figure out, thank G-d.

During the course of figuring out what our ceremony would look like, we had many occasions where our practices were in conflict.  No compromise seemed possible; I need it this way, she needs it that way.  For example, it came as a surprise to my wife that in the traditional ceremony, the groom presents the bride with a wedding band.  It’s a one-way gift; there is no exchange.  In fact, an exchange would cancel the required gifting.  For her, a joint commitment should be reflected in an exchange of rings; we’re both committing to the relationship, we should each give the other a ring.  Hard to find a middle path there.

Our first attempt was to do both actions (in two ceremonies, one traditional and one renewal).  That would have resulted in my wife having three rings: an engagement ring, a traditional wedding band, and a ring from the exchange of rings.  We were walking down this path, meeting with an artisan/jeweler showing us her wares, when she said, “Of course, this is very important; you only have one wedding ring!”  My bride  resonated with that sentiment: she should have only one ring.

What to do?

And so we walked forward trusting there would be a way, and G-d answered our prayers with this inspiration: I gave her a plain wedding band in the traditional ceremony, and for the exchange ritual I gave her a second ring that fit over the first one to create a single ring.  The ring she gave me had a similar design (two levels already crafted into a single ring).

So, we have matching rings, and I was also able to give her two rings.  Pretty amazing the way it turned out.  And there are other stories like that, where we had conflicting needs and no apparent way to resolve them, and we stepped forward trusting G-d would show us a way.  And He did.

In mystical circles, marriage is considered a three-way partnership: bride, groom and G-d.  One plus one plus one makes one.  That has been our experience as we walked toward the wedding canopy, and I trust it will continue to be our lived reality as we walk down this life of marriage together.

So far so good, as we move forward amidst the mundane details of day-to-day life, grinning ear-to-ear at each other, making our way through our “to do” lists, the ecstasy and the laundry.

Gentle Reader, I welcome any advice that you have on what practices help nurture a strong marital relationship.

The Spoonful of Sugar

ב”ה

For the past several weeks I’ve been waking up to some intense and distasteful emotions.  Mostly a mix of fear, dread, and a desire not to have to make my way through another moment or another day.  An unpleasant experience which includes an almost nauseous sensation in the body.  Blech.

As I understand it, these are feelings from a certain time and place in my childhood; reactions to trauma that require reexperiencing in order to heal at a deeper level.

So on the whole, I view this as a positive development.  Apparently I’m ready for another stage of healing.  Over the years I have found that my psyche allows things to come up when the time is right, when there is both internal strength for healing and an external vessel suitable for healing.  The “vessel” here is the deep and profound connection with my life partner (the wedding is 12 days away!), and the unconditional love she offers me so beautifully and courageously.  So I see the emergence of these intense feelings as feedback that I’m growing stronger and that my heart trusts this woman in a compelling way.  (And my old therapist, who has worked with me on some of these issues in years past, will be nearby as I move out here to California!)

But the mornings are still tough to experience.

Mostly I take it easy with myself, just sitting and being with the feelings as much as possible.  I do some inner visualizations sometimes to “take care” of the inner part that’s hurting.  Mostly I just try to be gentle with myself and start the morning slowly.  I know the difficulty will pass as the day progresses.

Some folks struggle with the “why me?” question in this kind of situation; railing against G-d that it isn’t “fair” to have to suffer things like this.  I probably used to do that myself (I honestly can’t recall, but I imagine I did).  But these days I’m not really in that space.  It’s true that undergoing abuse is not “fair” from our point of view, but it seems clear that this life required it.  The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years with backbreaking labor and untold abuses.  Not fair.  But those years were a prerequisite for becoming the Jewish people, enjoined to care for the stranger (and the widow and the orphan) because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I enjoy the following thought experiment:  You have an alien friend visiting from another planet and you show them around Earth, sharing your daily routine with them.  In the morning, you go to the gym for your daily workout.  Your friend looks around at the people moaning and sweating in exertion on various machines and with different accessories, and asks, “What kind of torture chamber is this?  What have these people done to deserve this?!”

“They haven’t done anything wrong,” you answer.  “They’re here by choice.  They want to improve and get healthier, so they choose to push themselves to their maximum capacity.  It’s our way of growing, of getting stronger.”

Your friend is skeptical as she studies the surroundings more closely.  “Ah, but this is totally unfair!  Why do some have such heavy burdens and others hardly any?  There is no justice here.”

And you explain that each person has different limitations and different goals (strength versus flexibility versus endurance); each person’s capabilities and goals determine the kind of exercises they choose and the magnitude of weights or resistance that they work with.

And of course the point (which your skeptical alien friend may or may not appreciate) is that I see our lives here in that same way.  Each of us is given the spiritual challenges necessary for our course, the exact exercises that can produce the refinements of the soul that we need.  Each soul is different, has different capabilities and has different goals.  So of course our “fitness programs” vary from one soul to the next.  They are not “fair” as in “the same” as everyone else’s, but rather each regimen is tailored to fit us exquisitely.  Just as not everyone wears the same size suit jacket, it wouldn’t make sense for everyone to have the exact same spiritual struggles.

So I try to embrace the current difficulties as being just the right experience needed for my soul, brought to me by The Master of Infinite Love and Kindness, who only gives us the minimum amount of pain required for us to perfect ourselves.  Not a drop more.  The Heavenly Father, the ultimate doting parent.  “This will hurt a little,” I can almost hear Him saying, “but it will be all right.”

I find this attitude to be my “spoonful of sugar” that “helps the medicine go down.”

My friends, may you find a way to embrace the difficulties of your life in a way that enhances your spirit and allows you to draw strength and wisdom from the challenges you face.

And may you have great success.

Sukkah and Chuppah

ב”ה

Sukkah 2014

One of the lovely miracles this holiday season was the way my [brand new California] Sukkah came together just in time.  Thank G-d.  The classic trips to the lumber yard, hardware store, finding out the lattice wouldn’t fit in my Prius and borrowing a pickup truck, revising the design as I went along, all at the last minute…  to build a temporary dwelling as decreed by The Master at the time and season of His choosing.  And as the sun went down Wednesday evening, there it stood.  Quite amazing.

And now the energy is peaceful and lovely, and we’ve been sharing it with guests, both expected and unexpected.  Every evening I move the table and chairs out and bring in a plump mattress, still wrapped in plastic, and pile sheets and blankets atop it so I can be warm overnight in the chilly evening air.  And then every morning out goes the bedding and back comes the table so we can eat and have guests over.  A nice rhythm.

And so, two weeks until my wedding and I’m both caught up in the stress and craziness of planning such an event (during the Jewish holidays!), and delighted and thankful that my beloved and I are joining our lives together at so many levels.

There are many parallels drawn between the Sukkah and the chuppah (wedding canopy).  They’re both open structures, both fragile (in the human sense), both under G-d’s watchful provenance, both filled with joy and gratitude, and both invite communal support and celebration.

And it occurs to me that perhaps my bride and I should make some kind of yearly practice of putting up the wedding canopy again (as we will the Sukkah every year), and reexperiencing the joy and hope and gratitude of this season.  Because a fancy anniversary dinner and a night out just can’t compare to the awe and splendor of a holy dwelling, consecrated by G-d, witnessed by friends, family and community.  The deep movement of the soul.

I think G-d knew what He was doing when He set out the holidays for the Jews to celebrate, to return to Him, to remember our relationship with Him, and to rest into it completely and joyfully.

And I hope, please G-d, that my future wife and I can celebrate our joining of souls within the rhythm of our marriage over the years in the same beautiful and inspiring way that Jews the world over have renewed our relationship with The One by observing the holy days (holidays) over the generations.

May we have great success, and may you, too, have great success if you endeavor to.

So I ask you, Gentle Reader, what brings your soul to joy and gratitude, and what do you do to mark that, to celebrate it in your life?