Tag Archives: G-d

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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Who Makes Darkness?

ב”ה

I enjoyed watching Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday yesterday.  (Yesterday wasn’t Sunday; I watched online at http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Full-Episode-Barbara-Brown-Taylor-Video.)  She observes that people in the spiritual/religious realms encourage us to stay in “the light”, whereas she advocates embracing our experiences of “the dark” as being rich for learning.

(I also appreciated that she eschewed giving a simplistic or reductionist 1-2-3 approach; I find those one-approach-fits-all formulas to be lacking.)

The question I pose (to myself, or to you) is who do you think made the darkness anyway?

For me, the answer is the G-d made (and makes) everything.  Everything.  Good and bad, light and dark, sublime and ridiculous.  I don’t expect to fully understand why Hashem has done so; as He said, “My Ways our not your ways; My Thoughts are not your thoughts.”  But I do search for lessons and meaning in the difficult times.  I usually find profound love behind the difficulties.  And when I can’t find it, I trust it’s there nonetheless.

I’m preparing for another round of intense therapy in the months ahead.  I’ve contacted an old therapist (who helped me untangle difficult issues in the past) and we’re scheduling some dates for some new work.  This entails going through old painful experiences, many of which I pushed to the far recesses of my mind and memory.  Exploring them brings up powerful unpleasant emotions and fears, unmet needs and terrifying ordeals.  I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to that.

But in the process, I reclaim vital life energy, I heal, and I emerge more whole, more humble, and more able to be present for others.  It feels like the best way forward.

May you find the strength to linger a little longer in the difficult spaces of your life to see what you can learn there, and may you find unexpected grace and healing in the process.

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.

What are you thinking?

ב”ה

light_bulb

So I’m driving along on a California freeway, six lanes in each direction.  Six lanes.  The traffic is relatively light, so we can all choose whatever lane we want.  But I notice no one drives in the rightmost “slow” lane; my fellow drivers are spread out across the remaining five lanes.  Is there a stigma to that “slow” lane?  Indeed, the driver in the left-most “fast” lane is going the slowest of all.

I realize I’d like to pass, which I would have to do on the right, but I can’t because the driver in that lane is also going relatively slowly.  And I find myself growing annoyed at this situation.  “What are these drivers thinking?” I ask myself.  If they want to drive slowly — fine!  Pick a slow lane.  Why dawdle in a fast lane?  If we all chose our lanes thoughtfully and cooperatively, everyone could go just the speed they want.  No problem.

And it’s not just these two drivers, either.  All five left lanes have relatively slow cars in them.  Cars approaching from the rear that want to speed along have to weave in and around many of these sluggish cars.  In fact, the irony is that the fastest drivers end up using the slowest lane a lot, because it’s usually empty, creating the dangerous situation where the fastest vehicles and the slowest merging on-ramp traffic vie for the same space.  Crazy.

“Why, why, why?” I self-righteously ask as I shake my head and condemn my fellow travelers’ lack of safe and considerate driving choices.  And, just moving here from the Midwest, I leap to the stereotypical explanation that Californians in general are so caught up in their own experience that they are oblivious to the needs of the other drivers around them.  Unfair, I grant you, but that’s where my mind goes.

So I pause.  I take a breath and remind myself that G-d has created this moment for me for a reason. What might He want me to learn from it?

The thought blossoms in my mind: is this how we look from On High?  We’re all going about our daily individual lives, caught up in our own experiences, our own families, our own Facebook pages, and all the while–  people relatively nearby don’t have enough food to eat, families lack shelter, children face terrible schools, whole communities are losing hope.  There’s a crisis demanding our attention, and yet we go trudging along, day by day, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our inaction keeps such a system in place.

What are we thinking?

G-d seems to have infinite patience with us, but I have to say, “Why, why, why?”  Why are we, one of the richest nations on earth, failing to provide for our fellows in such obvious ways?  Do we really think it’s fair and good the way things are for the least well off?  That their suffering is somehow their own fault?  Even the kids growing up in some of these neighborhoods and schools?

I had a conversation recently with my soon-to-be brother-in-law.  When we look back at the 50s, we wonder how people could tolerate such a blatantly racist system of separate public bathrooms and schools, sitting in the back of the bus, and so forth.  Surely we would never have been so complacent, right?  But what will generations hence say about our tolerating the huge inequity in school systems between rich and poor communities?  The glaring and increasing gap between the rich and poor overall?

Lovely questions to ask, I say to myself.  Ultimately, I’m asking these questions of myself, Gentle Reader.  And I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do about this.  When I was younger I did social work for a time, helping families in difficult situations.  We didn’t solve all their problems, but I know I did feel, at the end of the day, that I’d made some kind of positive difference in their lives.

But I feel we need some kind of systemic change here; a more widespread change of awareness, a change of heart.  We need to find ways of working cooperatively, not just on the highway, but in communities as well.

I feel this acutely myself right now.  Moving to Oakland, where plenty of folks are suffering, I find it difficult to contemplate taking a six-figure computer job and just ignoring their plight only a stone’s throw from my house.

Part of the difficulty, I think we all readily admit, is that these problems seem so large and intractable that we don’t know where to start.  So we don’t start, and we end up doing nothing at all.  Which is clearly unsatisfying.  Even volunteering one weekend a month would be better than nothing.  But somehow that feels inadequate as well.

And this is something I need to figure out.  It’s bothering me.  I can’t just poke along behind the slow moving driver in front of me, thinking self-righteous thoughts.  I need to act.

Gentle Reader, what do you suggest I do?

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?

Take Any Road

ב”ה

I was sitting on a loveseat during the Shabbos after Rosh Hashana (that is, nine days ago), meditating on the coming year and considering the different paths into which I might invest time and energy.  I have many possible projects: computer work, blog, publishing completed novel, writing next novel, creating phone app, hosting podcast/show, etc.  For the past few months, my mind has repeatedly come back to these options, like a tongue worrying over a missing tooth.  What to do?  Where to focus?  What to choose?

And as I sat on the loveseat, the answer that blossomed strongly in my mind was, “It doesn’t matter.  They’re all the same.”

The larger context that came with this message: The Master arranges my experiences in such a way that what needs to arise for me will arise for me.  If I need a lesson in patience or humility, it will surely come.  If there are insights I’m supposed to share, the opening will present itself.  It doesn’t matter which path I choose, what road I follow.  The Master will ensure that it leads where I need to be going.

And I felt a large burden ease.  The weight of needing to make my life worthwhile, to ensure that at the end of my life (may it be far from now!) I will not look back with regret, or feel I’ve wasted such a precious gift, or squandered invaluable opportunities.  The responsibility (which I’ve felt from a young age) to do something important with my life.

Instead, my obligation is to be as present as I can in the arising moments, and make the best choice I can for each circumstance.  And to trust that The Master will ensure that the right things result over the larger sweep of time.

That, in and of itself, is plenty of work!
And I’m sure my mind will attempt returning to its old habit of pondering and measuring different large-scale options for my life.

But at least now I have an answer to these creeping thoughts that habitually try to direct my life: it doesn’t really matter so much, because in the larger sense, all the roads are the same.  Just be on the road you take.

May you enjoy the arising moments of the day, and may you trust that the series of small choices you make throughout the day will lead you where you need to go in the year ahead.