Onward and Inward
The advances of technology are truly astonishing. When I have a question, I go and ask the oracle — Google. When I want to see my grandson who is far away, we use FaceTime. My computer has become a portal to the wide, wide world.
Now, I grew up watching The Jetsons, an animated sitcom that anticipated so much of the technology we have today.
When I was about 8, I actually rigged my bedroom with strings and pulleys that opened and shut the door, turned on and off the light, clicked on the record player, and sent my stuffed animals up to the ceiling in a basket. I went through a phase when I was entranced by automation. I wanted to know how machines worked. I believed in progress. I saw that the world was broken and I held some dim hope that with all of our brilliant, inventive, imaginative capacities, we could fix it. We could figure out the solutions. I thought that by just getting smarter, we could solve problems like warfare, racism and environmental destruction.
Over time, I learned that all our amazing outer technologies will not save us unless they are married to inner development. The inner development I’m talking about is the training of the mind through ever-expanding awareness, the development of heart through the cultivation of compassion, and the deepening of our connection to the wisdom of our bodies and to the larger body of the earth.
In fact, the divorce of the outer technologies from our inner development is deadly.
We need to transform human consciousness and forge a deep inward wisdom, to balance and support those amazing outer transformations. If we don’t, those technologies will destroy us.
It is only this deep inward wisdom that can keep us centered in a world that is always pulling us with its distractions and momentum.
On Yom Kippur we admit, Al Chayt shechatanu l’fanecha: We have sinned against You… by being so distracted with all the tiny separate parts, that we have missed the whole. We have been pulled away by petty dramas, away from what is Essential. I think of Yom Kippur as a day when we get to remind each other of what we have forgotten. We remind each other to put our attention back to what is important and vital.
The inner development of the Mind requires us to learn how to let go of distraction, and focus our attention. We must learn and practice how to stop and fully receive the blessing of this moment, how to see God’s face in the world each day, and how to hear Her voice in the music that surrounds us.
Simone Weil said,
Attention animated by desire is the whole foundation of religious practice. (Waiting on God)
She also said,
Attentiveness without an object is prayer in its supreme form.
In the Native American practice of vision quest, you would choose a place in the wilderness, delineate its borders, and then sit there for some period of time — a day, 3 days, a week… . It is a time of fasting, prayer and being attentive and receptive to the message, blessing and challenge of The Great Spirit. That small space that you have consecrated, becomes a microcosm of the whole world. In this consecrated space you would sit and watch for signs.
In truth, the signs are always there. But we must be in a receptive and humbled state to receive those signs. When I’m on a vision quest, I pay attention to the ant that is crawling from east to west carrying a large crumb. I notice the cloud above my head dissolving into mist. I listen carefully to the call of a crow, and discern the scent of rain in the breeze that blows against my face. Suddenly the whole world is crowded with messengers, and my task is to become still enough, open enough, attentive enough, to receive the “word of God” disguised as this world.
Once I was leading a day-long retreat at a beautiful house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The retreat culminated in a solo practice that was one hour long, called Hitbodedut, which is similar to a vision quest. We each found our spot at the edges of the yard and sat there to pray and become receptive. About 45 minutes into my practice a car pulled up near where I was sitting and a man addressed me. He yelled from the car, “Do you live here?” I pulled myself out of my reverie and tried to respond… but I couldn’t find the words. I was just dumbstruck with the profundity of his question. He repeated it a couple times, “Do you live here?” “Do you live here?”
When I didn’t respond he just drove away in a huff. And I sat with that question and it expanded within me as a challenge. How might I fully inhabit this incarnation, this family, this tribe? How might I fully inhabit this glorious and sometimes troublesome body that I have been so generously given? How might I take responsibility for the care of my body, my family, my community, and this amazing planet? Do I live here?
Later I realized that the man in the car was lost and was just looking for someone to give him directions.
But for me, he was a divine messenger, who had come to challenge me and invite me into a deeper level of acceptance and integration.
Our task is to heighten the skills of attention and open to messengers everywhere.
Next, we bring our attention to the development of the capacities of the heart. On Yom Kippur we admit, Al Chayt shechatanu l’fanecha: We have sinned against You… by closing our hearts to your Creation, by cutting ourselves off from others who seem like strangers, by being half-hearted in our loving. I think of Yom Kippur as a day when we get to remind each other of what we have forgotten. We remind each other that love is the sun, the center of our orbit whose gravitational pull will keep us spinning towards the best in us. On Yom Kippur we remember why we have come here: to learn how to love extravagantly, and be loved for our true essence.
The development of heart requires us to first explore the depths and expanse of the energetic heart space in order to clear the obstructions that keep us from living each moment with an open and receptive heart. Through the heart, we connect with our passion, nurture our love, grow into healers, and become channels for Blessing. To be a channel means that we must open to the Great Love.
Our liturgy refers to this Great Love (Ahava Raba Ahavtanu). The prayer says, “With such a great love you have loved us.” When my husband, Rachmiel and I came together we each realized how flawed our own puny, limited, conditional love really was. We knew that what was called love could be so mixed with selfishness, lust, greed or shame, that it might do as much harm as good. And so we decided to aspire to a different kind of love.
In our marriage vows we each promised, “I open to The Great Love that it might pour through me to you.”
We develop the capacities of Heart by stepping on to the path of Love, which means getting out of our own way, to let the Great Love flow. It means trusting that Divine force and offering ourselves as willing channels.
The path of Love is the most rigorous spiritual path there is, because when I make a commitment to that path, I am making a commitment to clear every obstacle to the flow of love through me; I am making a commitment to the work of dealing with my own resistances, moment by moment. My resistance is made of the defenses I have built to protect myself. Yet those same defenses have kept me imprisoned in the illusion of separation.
The Path of Love leads me step by step, back into connection with the truth of my heart, and with all of Creation. The deep inward wisdom of the heart is unlocked by walking this path of Love. Yet each step requires me to heal the inner wounds that distort the view and block the way. Often the wisdom of the heart speaks to us through the sensations and impulses of the body, and so we must learn to pay attention and honor that wisdom.
On Yom Kippur we admit, Al Chayt shechatanu l’fanecha: We have sinned against You… by separating ourselves from the wisdom of our own bodies and from the shared body of the Earth that feeds and holds us. I think of Yom Kippur as a day when we get to remind each other of what we have forgotten. We remind each other to listen to the voice that speaks through the body from the center of our being, to honor the cycles of movement and rest, growth and integration. We remind each other that we are, each of us, interconnected cells of the larger body of Earth. Our fates are bound up with all Creatures. To separate ourselves off from any one of them is to cut ourselves off from our own wholeness.
And here’s the paradox: The real connection with the wide, wide world out there, and with the web of Creation, happens inside us. By itself, the World-Wide Web of the Internet can’t get us to the truth of our Oneness. That outer connectivity must be married to the inner truth, which is dynamic, ever-changing, ever-revealing itself through an equal balance of our effort and God’s grace.
I remember once sitting with my mother and her friends at a kitchen table at her condo in Florida. They were all complaining, depressed, angry about their losses. My Mom was upset that she didn’t have the energy to do everything that she wanted to do. One friend was losing her vision, another her hearing, another her mobility. I listened sympathetically and then said, “I guess that’s why we have to work on creating an inner life… because everything on the outside will fall away.”
They all looked at me blankly and had no idea what I was talking about.
On Yom Kippur we admit, Al Chayt shechatanu l’fanecha: We have sinned against You
… by being so distracted with all the tiny separate parts, that we have missed the whole.
… by closing our hearts to your Creation, by cutting ourselves off from others who seem like strangers, by being half-hearted in our loving.
… by separating ourselves from the wisdom of our own bodies and from the shared body of the Earth that feeds and holds us.
I think of Yom Kippur as a day when we get to remind each other of what we have forgotten.
With this breath, we turn within;
With this small gesture of compassion, we turn towards each other;
And with a firm resolve to nurture an inner life,
we open to the Great Mystery.