July 24, 2013
1) The traditional approach in Elul is to really ask the question, how have I caused suffering, to myself and to others? And then to work with what comes up when we ask this question. Where possible, we practice going to others and seeking forgiveness, or at least seeking to clarify those relationships in our life where there is density, static or difficulty. None of this is about feeling guilty – it’s about fixing what we can and reaching out with the intention of changing hurtful behavior.
2) Write a letter once a day (the old-school kind with stamps) to someone in your life who means something to you. Visit a cemetery, and talk to your loved ones who are no longer here. Even if they are buried somewhere else, we know that all graveyards are connected.
3) The “Give it away” practice. The Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron teaches that most of us go through life with our hands clenched, so that our fingernails are actually growing into our palms. This affects so much about how we live. She suggests the meditation of picturing the physical thing that you are most attached to: a piece of jewelry that was your grandmother’s, a lock of your mother’s hair, a first edition book of Gerald Manley Hopkins poems, your truck – all good things to be attached to, all precious things. And then to picture many of those things, as many as you can think of. And when you’re aware of the abundance of these precious objects, to begin – in your mind’s eye – to give them away. Give one to your teacher, to your student, to your child, to your sister, to the person sitting next to you, to strangers. And notice what happens internally. Chodron suggests that this giving away practice can be immensely transformative in changing how we walk through the world.
4) Buy a book of William Stafford poems that have stanzas such as these: “Your job is to find out what the world is trying to be.”
5) And finally, read the parasha this coming week, which begins: “ See I place before you on this day a blessing and a curse. Blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God; curse if you do not listen to the commandments but turn away from the path that I have put before you this day.” In short: Stay on the path (if you get off the path, you will suffer). For me, what is going on here is – first – a deep affirmation of the human condition. Yes, there are blessings. Amen. Yes, there is suffering, too. Amen. We have both as humans. We cannot control whether or not we experience hardship. We can change how we respond to both blessing and curse. We can change how we define this word, blessing, so it is not just happy, positive things, but moments when we’re able to be awake. As if to say, somehow we have to learn how to bless each thing.