We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Follow the WaterCourse Way

Fall                                                                              New (Healing) Moon

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate’s improved a lot. Bleeding stopped. Pain mostly gone. She’s getting some nutrition though a nasal tube and has eaten a bit. But, the nausea returned with eating. Damn. That’s so fucking disappointing. And, she’s been in bed so long that she may have to go to a rehab center after all. Not what either of us want, but if she’s too weak, then that’s what we’ll do.

After a visit to Kate last night, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie and I went to G.B. Fish and Chips on Broadway, a Ruth and Gabe favorite. Family’s bond in many ways, but attending to a sick or injured member of the family is a strong one. And, it doesn’t stop with visits and care for the patient, but happens, too, in these after visit moments. G.B.’s motto is “In Cod We Trust.” Works for me.

Spent time yesterday in cyberspace, about an hour, with Paul in Maine, Bill and Mark in Minnesota, and, briefly, Tom in Santa Fe. Kate was an important part of our conversation since these guys have known her, and me, for 30 years.

taoismThere was some talk of how Zen my approach to all this has been. Thought about that. Really, wu wei. Often translated, inaccurately, as inaction. It’s a Taoist idea better expressed by Alan Watt’s book title, The Watercourse Way. Taoism and Buddhism in China created Chan Buddhism, the immediate influence on what Japanese Buddhist monks came to call Zen. Wu wei is a critical idea in that mix.

Going with the flow is not far off in understanding it, a direct link with the Watercourse Way notion. Essentially it means not trying to bend situations or force them in ways they won’t naturally go. Said positively it means following situations as they progress, trying to move with them, stay present. It does not mean there is no intervention, rather wu wei acknowledges the givenness of so much of what we encounter. Perhaps judo is a good example, where using the strength of the opponent against them is a main idea.

It doesn’t sound very Manifest Destiny, make the world free for democracy. We Americans, especially white male Americans, have this fantasy that we can bend the world to our will. Taoism is a direct counter to this, a way of revealing the fantasy nature of such impulses.

taoism wu weiInstead with wu wei I try to follow the path of the chi, where vital energy is flowing. If Kate needs medical care now, I take her to the emergency room. If she needs diagnostic procedures or interventionary procedures, I learn what I can about them to help make decisions, to help both of us understand the implications. I interact with and try to make all of this happen as easily and effectively as possible. I’m not trying to force her medical care in a direction in which I think it should go.

A good example right now is the rehab facility decision. I want her to come home. She wants to come home. We could be obstinate, try to bend the physicians to our will, but would that serve Kate? No. We need to know what they believe is best for her healing and to act on that as quickly and fully as we can.

I don’t know whether I’m saying this clearly, and much of it is retrospective, not conscious at the time, but an attitude cultivated over many, many years. Part of the inner posture is also a product of existentialism. That is, take the world as it comes, as it is, not as you might wish it be. See clearly. Listen well. Only then can we make decisions that are human, not dogmatic or blinkered by personal bias.

tao ma linWhat I can observe from this last week plus is that these attitudes, these ways of approaching Kate and mine’s current reality, has allowed me to sleep, not despair, not become anxious. In turn it means I’ve been able to show up in each instance where I was needed. To show up to what is actually going on, not what I wish was going on or what I think should be going on. Much, much simpler to follow the chi.

71 years have taught me somethings. This way of being, this wu wei, this following the chi has proved itself in the battle between my wilfulness and a difficult situation. And I’m grateful for that.

 

The Laramide Consolation

Fall                                                                          Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Reminded yet again of the evanescence of our human life span. As I’ve driven 285 down the hill into Englewood and back up again, some days two and three times in the last week (today is a week from Kate’s trip to the E.R.), I’ve become aware of the mountains in a new way. Always I pay attention to them, rocky outcroppings of gneiss and marble, sandstone, carved by small, powerful streams and covered with lodgepole pine, ponderosa, aspen, shrubby oak. The exposed layering, sometimes all aslant, sometimes straight up and down, and in at least one very beautiful, curious instance, curved like wooden planks bent for canoe hulls, lies open like a literal book of the ages.

The new part of my experience is this, motion and upheaval. Mountains are stolid, perhaps they define stolid in a way most earthly features do not. They stay there, the same each day, Black Mountain’s peak still in the same place as it has been since we moved here four years ago. But there is that spot, just before Hwy 470, where 285 slices between the hogbacks*, then the mountains are gone, receding in the mirror as I drive on east at the very end of the Midwest, the last hurrah of the great plains.

hogbackIt is there, right there. Between 80 and 85 million years ago the Laramide orogeny found tectonic plates crushing against each other in that slowest of slow dances, continental formation and reformation. The result here at the hogbacks and all along the long collection of peaks and valleys we know as the Rocky Mountains shoved formerly settled layers of the earth’s crust into the air, up from the subsurface. The power and violence of the orogeny ripples past me, past all of us on 285, especially at the cut just before it dips under 470.

Apparently immobile now, the hogbacks steeply upthrust layers show the direction of its unearthing, no longer laid down below an ancient ocean’s floor, but blinking slowly like a lithic lizard gazing at the unexpected sun. I have no trouble seeing it slowly emerge, pushed up, up, up as forces way beyond human imagining tore it out of its dark home. 80 million years ago.

And here we are, tiny creatures in small metal containers passing back and forth through it, living our 70 or 80 or 90 years, then disappearing from existence. Let’s say 80 years for ease of calculation. At 80 million years ago that’s 1,000,000 human lifetimes. I would have to live and die 1,000,000 times to know the earth like those hogbacks.

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

Four years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon during my episode of prostate cancer. It was a similar feeling and I’m calling this the Laramide Consolation. Our days are precious, our lives unique, our presence in the universe irreplaceable. Just like the hogbacks. We, all features of cosmic evolution, wink in and out of existence, even the Laramide Orogeny being a mayfly moment compared to the creation of our planet and its creation a blink compared to the creation of the solar system and so on back in infinite regress until that thunderous blaze of first light.

The consolation here, at least for me, is to know that our life and death expresses what the Hindus call Shiva, the ongoing destructive and creative forces that underlie all. Death is not, in other words, a cruel punctuation, but a delicate force that refreshes and renews. Our consciousness of it, of course, colors our experience but in no way changes its necessity and its pervasiveness. There will never, never be anything like true immortality, nor, if we are sane creatures, should we reach for it.

*In geology and geomorphology, a hogback or hog’s back is a long, narrow ridge or a series of hills with a narrow crest and steep slopes of nearly equal inclination on both flanks.

 

Oh

Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

Deep in the soul

Lughnasa                                                                 Harvest Moon

yomkippurToday is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the day when God seals the book of life for another year. May you be inscribed in the book of life (for the coming year) is a greeting we will hear today. It completes the ten days of awe that began back on September 9th, Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s day and by rabbinic logic the 6th day of creation, the New Year for humans.

The whole sweep of the days of awe reach deep into the soul; the month of Elul prepared us for the chesbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, that culminates today on the metaphorical turning of a page in the book of our life, closing off the last year and opening a blank one, ready for a renewed person, returned (teshuvah) to the original, unique, best we are.

Of course there is no need for the ten days of awe to do what the Jesuits would call examen and I’m sure there is no book on a divine table that determines whether I will live or die in the upcoming year. I am equally sure that schmuz gathers on the soul like creosote gathers on a fireplace chimney or plaque in an artery. From long life experience I know there is no holy chimney sweep I can hire to clean me out, no heart bypass operation for the soul. The examined life requires an inner examiner. The high holidays are a communal reminder to do serious inner work and to give that work outer expression through worship and apology. I’m grateful for the prompt, aware of its necessity not because I believe I’m a deeply damaged person in need of unconditional forgiveness, but because I know I’m an ordinary human with the tendency to shift away from my best person.

1000Kate and Charlie in EdenKate and I had a sweet moment, a grace filled moment, when I sat down with her and asked her forgiveness for the times I’ve wounded her in the last year, for the times I’d been short, thoughtless. Sure, we could do this at any time, but these holidays encourage it. We rested our heads together, aware of the reality that we’re just two folks traveling our journey, doing the best we can. “I’ve not always been at my best.” “Neither have I.”

Akedah

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Off I went to seminary in 1971, knowing Minnesota not at all and the world of academic Christianity almost as little. When classes began that fall, there were full day and half day classes. Core curriculum subjects like church history, theology, ethics, and biblical study were full day. I don’t recall right now what subjects were half day classes, I think homiletics, liturgy, practical theology.

What surprised me was my fascination with biblical study, studies in the Old Testament (as we called the writings of the Jews) and the New. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing for a mussar session on rachamim, compassion or mercy as a character virtue. In my preparation I’ve sought out particular Torah passages that typify or describe rachamim. I’ve found myself drawn again into this antique mythic world, one where humans and the holy shared day-to-day experience, a world Emerson called, “the revelation to them.” And I’m loving it again. All over again. Maybe more.

09 11 10_Joseph_0256Emerson wanted a revelation to us, “not the dry bones of revelation to them.” I agree. But how do we know revelation? What is it? Take for example the difficult, painful story Jewish commentators call the akedah, the binding, the binding of Isaac. It’s the sort of scene from which I would avert my eyes were it to play out before me. (Or, I would call child protective services.)

akedayYet, let me put it in personal context, the binding of Joseph. I’ve encountered this very dilemma as my son, the son of my heart whose small hand I held, whom I carried on my shoulders, took himself to his own Mt. Moriah, the USAF, willing to carry the wood for his own sacrifice on his back, much as I had carried him. How could I countenance this self-sacrifice? I couldn’t. Only a father who loves his son could entertain such a decision and so I can see the awful choice facing Abraham. A higher duty called him, a responsibility that he felt, a responsibility that cut into his own flesh.

Joseph has not yet been required to mount the altar, to lie down on the wood he carried and feel its flame lick round his feet, his torso, his hands. I am very glad. Perhaps there will be a ram caught in the bushes for him, too.

foolThere are in these stories archetypal truths. There are in these stories a record of how the ancient mind heard the inner voice, how powerfully their imaginations worked, a record of how careful attention to the soul could reveal a way to make the pilgrimage from beginning to end. I do not believe they were written with a holy goose quill, nor by a secret transmission through a sheet, then transcribed on tablets of gold. I do believe they belong with the Greek myths as some of our best sources for understanding this fool’s journey we call our life.

It feels like time for me to follow Paul Ricoeur into my second naivete with these texts, to spend much more time this next year in the study, following the parsha as they advance through the Jewish liturgical year, reading especially the works of Avivah Zornberg as commentary on them. Writing about them, listening to them, probing them for clues for how to see a revelation to us. These texts do call me. It is time I paid attention. Again.

 

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

I have been myself

Lughnasa                                                                           Harvest Moon

Friday was a domestic day with laundry and groceries, a workout. Saturday was one of those days when I couldn’t get traction, took two naps, felt tired all day. In the afternoon, after an email from friend Mark Odegard featuring a sumi-e youtube video, a friend of his showcasing some of his work, I told Mark I was going upstairs and pick up my favorite large brush. I did.

20180915_162623 20180915_162727

Somehow draining my self of current concerns, holding the brush, and then in one stroke laying ink down on paper helped me, gave me the sense that the day was no longer chaotic.

A familiar fall feeling had begun to make to itself known. Melancholy. Sleep had not been good for a couple of nights. We’d had a busy week, tiring. The religious school class was emotionally draining. And, we’re heading into the time period, now 54 years ago, when my mom had her stroke and died. I was also feeling my side of Kate’s predicament, the uncertainty, the frustration.

But. Gone after my session with the sumi-e. Art therapy?

IndividuationGot that old debil feeling in this mix. You know. What I have done with my life? Here I am 71 years old, with much less time. Much less time to do whatever it is that floats like a dark cloud out of reach. Too little discipline. Too much fear. Too little desire. Too much distraction. Oh, look, a new book! A movie. TV. Yet this has been my life. Always. Work hard, rest, work hard again, rest.

Things have happened in my life. Housing has gotten built. Greedy corporations turned back. New businesses started. Unemployed folks got jobs and paychecks. Immigrants got enough cash for a green card application. Books have gotten written, stories, too. Gardens have flourished, bees kept, an orchard maintained. Two boys raised into men. A steady, soul supporting love. Friends for life made and retained. New friends made, too. Religion has passed through me like a fire, burning down old values, letting me peek into the world beyond, challenging my ethics and pushing me to be better. Perhaps, no, not perhaps, certainly, this is enough for one life.

Yamantaka

Yamantaka

So why does what have I done with my life arise then? It’s not fear of death. Yamantaka and I resolved this. It seems to emerge when other matters press too hard against my soul, deform it. Then, I’ll look at someone else, like DaVinci or Richard Love or Herman Hesse or Rilke. Look at what they did. Look at what I’ve done. Oh.

Might keep Rabbi Zusya on my computer for a while, just to remember. Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’

I have been and am being Charlie.

 

You are the only you. Ever.

Lughnasa                                                                      Harvest Moon

authentic do who you areAuthenticity. The honest and fearless expression of the life within. A life lived without guile and pretense, one focused on the difficult challenge of finding out who we really are, then living from that knowledge. This is the examined life that is worth living. It counters cultural expectations, pushes aside parental and family pressure, demands knowing yourself.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman

Authenticity does not expect or insist on logical coherence as proof of a valid self. “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” Emerson. Instead it insists on not hiding, not cutting and fitting conclusions, actions, to another’s template. It insists on the dangerous act of knowing and speaking truth from within the universe inside you.

multiverse2Last night as I was going to sleep an odd conflation occurred to me. The multiverse is a standard hypothesis of string theory. It is not fantasy, it is also not proven. What we do know is that we live our lives inside our own skin, a barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world. The deep web of our own thoughts, experiences, physiological tics, the vast bulk of our life experience hides within us and dies when we do.

multiverse quiltedHere’s the conflation. What if each of us, in our truest and fullest sense, is the pressed into this particular universe unique representative of another multiverse? Our unrepeatable uniqueness really a reaching out, a cosmic attempt to connect all those sundered, also totally unique realms. In this admittedly wild and unlikely situation, our genetic code could write us into existence with the hand of another reality tweaking the GATCs.

Earth then would be a place where the unimaginable complexity of the big bang expansion attempts some sort of reconciliation, a synergy based on the interaction of otherwise disconnected, isolated realities. And, Earth would probably not be alone in this.

OK. This is weird, I admit. But it seemed like an interesting notion.

Maybe a New Show?

Lughnasa                                                              Harvest Moon

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

At Tu B’av, a minor holiday, now a celebration of love in Israel and dubbed by its restorers as Jewish Valentine’s Day, unmarried women would come together, all dressed in white, dance, and hope to find a partner. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

We celebrated Tu B’av on August 15th at Beth Evergreen and Kate won a silent auction for a backstage experience at a local production of Funny Girl. We went last night. It’s tech week for Funny Girl and our friend Alan Rubin is a player.

I had nearly enough theater credits for a minor and acted quite a bit in high school, college and seminary. After that, nada, but Kate and I were regulars at the Guthrie. When I was in high school and middle school, our parents took us several years in a row to Stratford, Ontario, to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A passion, really, but one that has slowly faded.

TheatreJust before getting up this morning a strange, but somehow obvious thought occurred to me. While on the backstage tour we visited the dresser, an energetic guy who made or altered 490 costumes for the women in this performance. !. We saw the multiple props, a day bed, a drinks trolley, several doors with wheels, a set of steps for musical numbers, a kitchen table, a dressing table. Downstairs we saw the storage areas for costumes and prop making materials. We spoke with the dresser, the stage manager, the director, the actors, several of them, the lighting and sound people. All, to a person, warm and friendly.

We watched the rehearsal through until intermission at 9:30, then these old folks began to tire and went home.

Theatre2Here’s the thought. Going backstage, seeing all the accoutrements for staging a play, especially going into the basement area, made me think of id, ego and superego. Of the masks and personas we wear. Of our brain as backstage, where we store props, costume changes, makeup, where we put together the elements of the show that is our lives. The show itself, and its superego, the director, is the life others see, the one we present as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, then are heard no more.

Let me extend (overextend) the metaphor in one more significant way. All these various elements costumes, props, actors, the stage itself alter themselves for each new script. In other words it is the nature of the theater to be plastic, to use familiar elements for telling unfamiliar stories.

As our life goes on, we often get stuck in Groundhog Day times when we simply repeat the same script over and over. We don’t hear the audience, we don’t see the repetitiveness, are not aware that we’ve been mounting the same play again and again.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Examine the script. Become aware of the lines you’re delivering, the plot you’re pushing forward. Is it still the one you want? Is there another play you can put together with the props, the roles you’ve already played, the stage to which you’re committed? Could be. We can put on new productions, use familiar elements for unfamiliar stories. Might even be fun.

Cheshbon Nefesh

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

tishrei-month-5768As the moon’s change, so does the Jewish calendar. We’re now in the month of Tishrei, its first day, Rosh Hashanah, the new year of the world. All over the world, throughout the diaspora and in Israel, Jews will be celebrating the new year, shana tovah. This is short for l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life*] for a good year.”

This is not, as may be inferred from the paragraph below, primarily a message of judgment. Rather, it is a call for cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. That is, instead of judgment, the focus is on introspection about the last year, honestly acknowledging areas of life where we’ve missed the mark and then, developing a plan for a new year that includes both atonement and teshuvah, return to a path of holiness. This is an iterative process, it happens every year because there is no achievement of perfection; but there is, as one writer said, the opportunity in this life to become very good.

The soul curriculum of mussar, Jewish ethics which focus on incremental gains in character virtues, acknowledges both the strengths we have and the areas where we can improve our character. “My practice, for example, for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?”

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-ShofarI thought about two boys of a man I know. I pictured them both, slovenly and overweight, and thought, what went wrong with them? I had added to those two judgments an assumption that they were lazy, had not fulfilled whatever potential their father, a successful and kind man, hoped for. Since I don’t know either of them, it’s obvious this reaction said more about me than about them.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

However, I woke up to the judgment and used it as a prod for curiosity. What are they really like? Why did I make those assumptions? What about my own fears did this judgment express? That I’m not in good shape, that I don’t always present my best self? That I had not fulfilled my own potential? Ah. Well, there we are. My judgment was not about them at all, but about me. Yes, I’m curious to know more about them, to learn about their lives because they’re the sons of a man I respect; but, that particular curiosity is not the one most useful here. In this case the curiosity needs to be turned back on my own soul.

So, curiosity is on my soul curriculum. When I’m incurious, I tend to be judgmental. When I’m curious, I learn new things, I can adjust my behavior. Also, when we’re incurious, we simply don’t learn. Because there is no need. That reinforces our judgments and makes us slaves to our biases and prejudices. Curiosity can be a sort of soul broom, sweeping away our assumptions to make room for new insights, new relationships.

It is this hopeful, supportive type of cheshbon nefesh that the metaphor of the book of life and the book of death encourages. We can have a sweet new year, one dipped in honey, if we are honest, acknowledge our strengths, and work to add to them.

 

*The language of our prayers imagines God as judge and king, sitting in the divine court on the divine throne of justice, reviewing our deeds. On a table before God lies a large book with many pages, as many pages as there are people in the world. Each of us has a page dedicated just to us. Written on that page, by our own hand, in our own writing, are all the things we have done during the past year. God considers those things, weighs the good against the bad, and then, as the prayers declare, decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

 

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