“The questioning allows us to dig deep into the Torah portion and make the aliyot personal. Excellent strategy to include everyone.”

— Lay retreat participant Winter 2012

Posts Tagged: practice

Summertime Travels

Summertime – the great annual habit-breaker. If we are lucky, we have the opportunity to look up from our usual routine and try something new.  Often that newness involves travel.  And it’s curious:  some of us sit still to try to reconnect with clarity and insight.  But there are some insights that are easier to come to through motion.  It’s like when we stand in front of a wooden fence.  When we stand still in front of it, all we see are the slats, blocking what is on the other side.  But when we walk by it, we can often glimpse the garden through the cracks between the slats.

And yet, the moving itself is often the least pleasant part of the traveling.  We like to arrive at our destination, but dealing with traffic, lines, security and all the rest of it is a whole different story.  It can feel more like the fence, slowing us down, herding us along, keeping us out.

Reciting tefillat haderech, the traveler’s prayer, can serve as an intention to help us transform the often harried experience of traveling.  The traditional Hebrew asks God to guide us in peace, to let us take each step in peace and to help us reach our desired destination alive, joyful and in peace.  It asks that we be kept safe from any kind of danger along the way and that we encounter only kindness and graciousness from those we meet.  Here is a link to the prayer:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tefilat_HaDerech

Imagine if we took this on as a blessing practice.   If we began each journey with this blessing, evoking that sense of peacefulness and security for ourselves, then, from an inner place of joyfulness and peace, we might be able to bless all those people with us in those endless lines and crowds – perhaps even the really annoying ones – with the same blessing.  May you be guided in peace!  May you reach your destination safely!  May you encounter only kindness and graciousness!  May your prayer be heard!

That kind of inner spaciousness can transform the burden of travel into an opportunity to enjoy each encounter.  It can tear down the fence around the heart altogether.   (And of course, the summer traveling– the moving from place to place, the crowds, the aggravation, the pleasure, all of it – is nothing less than a facet of  – and practice for – our life journey, in which we can only pray to reach our destination in peace.)

Sleepiness

Sleepiness

I find it so difficult to get up in the dark morning as we head into winter.  And of course, although going back to standard time gives me a temporary reprieve, soon it will just be a fact of winter:  dark mornings and dark evenings.

Some people experience a depression of spirit in the face of so much darkness.  For me, the most difficult part is the accompanying sleepiness.  I must have a very strong circadian clock in my system!  My instinct is to hibernate; I want to curl up in the blankets and dive back into dreaming.

I have learned a lot about sleepiness from my practice.  I can’t tell you how many times I have felt sleepiness overwhelm me in the midst of meditating or learning or praying.  At first, I would berate myself, but over time, I have learned that sleepiness requires subtle discernment.  Sometimes sleepiness is just a fact.  I am tired right now.  That is part of the human condition.  I can bring a sense of curiosity to it:  What IS this sleepiness?  I notice the heaviness in my body, the fuzziness in my thinking, the dream states as they arise.  My awareness ebbs and flows and I notice that too.

But sometimes the sleepiness is something I can address as a hindrance that can be overcome.  The truth is I don’t want to allow sleepiness to take over my practice.  I have my bag of tricks to help me.  I begin counting, paying careful attention to the beginning and end of each breath.  Or in a word-based practice I seek one word in each line that might hold special meaning or intention.  These things can wake me up.

Ultimately, waking up is the purpose of all this practice.  Sleepiness is not confined to the winter months.  As the shofar blasts from last month’s holidays remind us, it is so easy to lead sleepy lives.   Cultivating curiosity and the ability to remember to wake up can help us shake off the heavy slumber and prepare us to face the darkness – and the light – more wide awake and more alive.