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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Practice Perspective--Practice Perspective

Today is Yom Kippur. I went to services last night, because I’m a High Holidays Jew, which means I go to the synagogue twice a year, at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which in case you are wondering, are the most important Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, which, in case you're wondering, in the Hebrew calender, is 5773 this year. Rosh Hashanah kicks off ten Days of Awe that wrap up with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Also, in case you’re wondering, Jewish holidays start the evening before they appear on the regular calendar. Something to do with Genesis saying, “It was evening and it was morning,” in the description of the creation of the earth, not "It was morning and it was evening." On Yom Kippur you’re supposed to fast from the time you go to services in the evening until sundown the next day. You’re supposed to spend that whole day in services, and then have a large meal and possibly a party, called the break fast.

Only I started this blog post at 10 a.m., and I’d already eaten some piecrust. And I don’t even like pie, really, except for strawberry rubarb. In general, I feel that sweet calories that don’t contain chocolate are a waste. And I’m in my pajamas, not at temple. So that’s the kind of Jew I am. 

But, I went to services last night. For the first time that I can recall, the rabbi talked about spiritual matters. She also, I found amusing, gave a lesson in the creation of the universe, starting 13-plus billion years ago and including supernovas and the creation of the elements, evolution, and the beginning of language. This was in the context of getting balanced by putting our individual selves into perspective. She mentioned some rabbi of old who said he kept two scraps of paper in his pocket. One said, “I am dust and ashes.” The other said, “The world was made for me.” He carried both to remind himself to blend “humility and self-worth.” Without the second, you could quickly end up in despair of nihilistic proportions (I’m dust, ash, nothing, bleh.) Without the first, your head swells until it squeezes out everything else. You have an overinflated sense of self-importance. Let’s see, do we know anyone like that? Rush Limbaugh? 

Well, readers, if you’re anything like me, you see-saw between these extremes. Neither one is a particularly productive place to be, especially if you’re trying to accomplish anything. When nihilistic despair takes over, bleh. Why do anything? Why not just eat the crust off the apple pie and stop the morning shoulder and neck exercises? Who cares if I can turn my head anyway? There’s nothing to see. When the self-importance takes over, well….Actually, my mood skews nihilistic. I can’t act-chully say when I’ve had an overinflated sense of my own worth. Might be interesting. Maybe I’d end up with a radio show.

Yeah, anyway. So the balance has been off lately. My balance.  You might’ve glimpsed this in recent posts. When the scale tilts towards nihilistic, work slows, because it doesn’t seem so worthwhile anymore. Add broken fridges and 9th graders suddenly having larger feet than me and 5th graders returning from class overnights with itchy red bumps all over and well, work just doesn’t go forward.

Okay, I’m exaggerating here, because in fact this week, I have gotten back to work. The book sections are all over the dining room table and the morning yoga routine is up and running again. The most recent book review is done. 

So the rabbi talked about techniques for restoring balance, and guess what? She brought up meditation, attention, and mindfulness. These practices increase our connection to the larger world by removing our minds from our own personal concerns to seeing how we are interconnected. Through noticing moments, through returning to awareness again and again, through the practice of mindfulness, periodically and repetitiously returning to a balance. Mindfulness gives us a sense of ourselves in a particular moment, but also a sense of ourselves as part of the whole organism of life.

It’s a practice, life. From a panoramic view, I can see the times I skew nihilistic and the times I lean  towards self-important, the times I feel totally on task-- exercising, job-hunting, writing, cooking, parenting, spousing, community-building, etc, etc, etc--and the times I drop everything and collapse, as part of one whole life. Losing focus, failing to accomplish, then somehow finding the will to return to one part of it, and then to another, and then getting it all up and running, and then losing it again, are all parts of the practice. Mindfulness helps restore balance, but mindfulness is also a practice. Practice is discipline. It's a continual recalibration. Breathing in, breathing out, mind wandering. Breathing in, breathing out, mind wandering. The wandering is part of the practice, and so is the remembering to breathe.

In Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, talks about making incremental movements towards your goals. Sometimes doing something only distantly related to where you want to be, like getting a book on writing if you want to write a novel, can get the jalopy ready. Reading that made me think of Glinda telling Dorothy to tap her heels together. Such a little thing. She already had everything she needed to go home, she just didn't know it.

It also reminded me of Bill Murray in "What About Bob?" Remember that? Baby steps? That's how we do it. Breathe. Baby step.


  1. Hi Hope-- Love the post and the clip. Ahhhhhhhh! That does describe how those baby steps can feel! And love the two scraps of paper and the balancing views, and even more the image of books sections all over your dining room table! a beautiful image indeed.

    1. Thanks, Kate. I hope I can pull together all the sections...Feels overwhelming right now. Glad someone appreciated the sermon--if anyone would, it would be you!

  2. Tippy toes, too.

    It helps me when I remember it's not all about my own success (and failure).