Thursday, April 25, 2013

It’s Possible!



A woman is at the funeral of her husband, her young son at her side. The preacher extols the virtues of the deceased at length until the boy tugs at his mother’s sleeve and says, “Ma, we better look in the casket and see if that’s Pa he’s talkin’ about.” For some reason our family always got a kick out of that joke when we were young, as if, if anyone really knew one of us they wouldn’t be nearly as impressed. 

Yesterday I attended the funeral of George Heller, a very beloved fellow congregant, an extraordinary person, a holocaust survivor (who refused to be defined by that term since his focus was far more on the beauty of his unfolding life rather than remorse over a difficult past). His was a life of voracious learning, taking on robust challenges, and loving with a full heart. Unlike the joke above, listening to friends, family and clergy extol his virtues did not cast doubt on who was in the casket. Not surprisingly, it did cause me to ponder what might be said when it becomes my turn to be eulogized. I suspect many of us have similar feelings when we hear another person’s life so exuberantly celebrated. “What will they say about me? What have I done to merit praise?”

Something else also came up for me. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, originally with reference to the death of my brother two years ago.   From his diagnosis of brain cancer to his death two and a half years later, he was clearly a man on a mission of love. He freely gave it and preached it. It was beautiful to observe and receive. What I wonder is, does it take such a diagnosis to give a person license to open one’s heart in such an unfettered and loving way? Despite the fact that we all have the same ultimate diagnosis, my suspicion is that a person on such a mission would just seem a bit daft. Who goes around cherishing each moment and each person unashamedly? Then, I heard George Heller’s family describe him. Maybe George was the exception to the rule. Or perhaps having survived Hitler’s Death March, George was compelled to thirstily drink in and savor every drop of life, and to share that gusto with others.     

Regardless of how George found the capacity to love life and people in this way (and certainly surviving the Holocaust alone does not account for it given how many other “survivors” never shed the weight of their personal history) it is a quality I greatly admire and wish to emulate. I’d like to start every day by pulling on my happiest pair of socks with the full excitement and anticipation that today is a big day, and I’m getting dressed up for the great party that lies ahead! Listening to George’s stories makes me think of the popular aphorism, “Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth.” It seems like a very tall order, but when facing a big challenge—such as scaling the climbing wall at the YMCA as he did until he was 87 years old—George would emphatically declare, “It’s possible!”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fruit Salad



Once again the obvious seems profound. Maybe its sheer simplicity is what made it elusive before this moment. No drum roll, please. I don’t want to build more anticipation than I already have by virtue of this preamble. In fact, as I start to put this concept into words I realize they have already been uttered countless times in the aphorism: “Variety is the spice of life.” I know, not so profound, but why did the idea hit me in a new way this morning?

I arose at about five a.m. today. I wouldn’t have minded another hour or two of sleep, but this isn’t so unusual. Throughout this past winter it seemed more often than not that this would be the hour I would awaken. I used the early morning stillness to develop a fairly regular spiritual practice. At the same time, as an early indicator of my current concern, I struggled to faithfully perform my morning ablutions in a consistent manner. Only in recent days have I consciously given myself “permission” to start each day with some contemplative practice, but not necessarily the same practice day in and day out. That’s just my nature, I guess.  I’ve spoken little about this diversified approach with any of my colleagues or mentors. I’m not sure whether they’d say this is a reasonable adaptation to the reality of who I am and what I need, or a caving in to the lack of discipline that undermines what I aspire to be.

There are so many ways to begin my day that recently I found myself trying to cram as many of them in as I could in a couple of hours before breakfast. Even then I felt shortchanged. Some of the typical pieces include traditional morning prayers, meditation, and/or a little stretching. I also have enjoyed using this time to write prose or poetry to capture fragments of lingering dreams or flashes of early morning insight commanding my attention, as they do right now. Add to this my recent acquisition of chanting, drumming, and an inexplicable ten-minute yoga/energy tune-up.  For years I have done what I’ve called my “Walk ‘n’ Talk.” This is a compilation of words that I have cobbled together from various sources and most days chant almost silently as I take a morning constitutional down to and within the neighborhood park. It includes gratitude, setting intentions for the day, my personal Amidah, prayers for my family, the ill, and my Kol Zimra sisters. As much as a cornerstone to my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health as this walk has been, on too many mornings it has been getting edged out by all the other bits and pieces that I’ve been cramming into my morning practice, not to mention "normal" activities like showering, dressing and eating.   

Instead of continuing to either stuff all that into each morning or to feel incomplete, it seems reasonable to be flexible and to let each morning guide me to whichever among these many tools I feel drawn.

What inspired me to write this morning was recognizing that this approach has become a useful pattern in other areas of personal development. Years ago, before I had a consistent habit of working out at the gym, when I did show up I would always see this one very fit woman there. Her comment to me, which I am now beginning to understand, was that regardless of whether it was jogging, or swimming, tennis or calisthenics, it was important just to do something physical every day. In my fitness regimen I now mix it up between walking, cycling, working out in the fitness center. Within each of these activities I add further diversity such as selecting among an unlimited choice of biking or hiking routes. Last night, as I dragged myself to the gym, feeling a bit bored with my workout routine, it was simple to mix it up by using some equipment that I had not used in many months.

I realize that this approach is what has also made it relatively easy and enjoyable to get a grip on my diet in recent weeks. Accuse me of having a short attention span if you wish, but there are just so many months that I can perform a similar eating ritual before it begins to gnaw at me instead of the other way around. By discovering the book If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit, I’ve put a whole new slant on my diet even if only for the duration of the suggested three-week cleanse. Limiting myself to fruits and vegetables for a week opened my eyes and taste buds to new sensations. I found myself putting together various combinations of fresh and dried fruits, squeezing a bit of lemon juice on them to make different colorful and zesty fruit salads. It’s quite possible that it was the quiet thoughtful enjoyment of each bite that made the experience special more than any breakthrough recipe. Likewise, I've been having a lot of fun with vegetable entrees. I've evenperish the thought—trolled vegan websites for recipe inspirations! 

If I were a Zen master perhaps I could relish each grain in a bowl of brown rice with the same appreciation. Consciousness and consistency has its place. It could be that a modicum of consciousness would lead me to a more consistent daily routine that I would increasingly find rich, meaningful, and enjoyable. Or vice versa—a more consistent, disciplined routine would lead to greater consciousness. I can’t say which comes first. Some people have a fixed practice, but I think I’ll stick to the premise that I’m hardwired to need that spice of life. After all, seeing the variety of shapes and colors, feeling the diverse textures, tasting the contrasting and harmonizing flavors—isn’t that what makes fruit salad (and the rest of life) so enjoyable?      

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Time to Write


This may be a good time to write. Odds are that is a true statement. After all, when is it not a good time to write?

When I wake up night after night with thoughts bursting seemingly from every pore I know something is afoot. When I stop to realize that concurrent with this spike of energy and ideas I have not been blogging, it makes me a bit nervous. What’s going on that I have become so insular? How is this energy being captured? What feedback from the Universe am I missing or worse yet, have been avoiding?

So what’s up?

The Yesh Lab has been operating overtime. It is hard to believe that I’ve been out of corporate life over three months already and as is often the case, hard to believe that it is only three months. There is so much more I thought I would have accomplished by now, and at the same time I feel I am making steady progress toward the monumental task of creating a new post-corporate life.

Passover came and went in a blur. This year was very different with the kids all attending Seder at Jake and Alana’s table in New York. It’s heartwarming to know the ultimate purpose of Seder has been accomplished, i.e., the next generation is telling the story! God (by any definition) bless them. Their absence at our table prompted me to approach our Seder in a different fashion. I’d say more, and it seems strange to say this, but I’m working on something that I’d just as soon keep under wraps until it’s a bit more developed!

In the news: I bought three web domains. Why three? Why any?

The first one is ezune.org (with a diacritical long “e” mark above a lower case first “e” on the wordmark). Back in 1997, when I self-published my chapbook, Salt & Pepper, I noted inside that it was published by the Ezune Press. Ezune is a Hebrew word for “balance,” if nothing else a pun on the family name that we have stamped on the vanity plates of Debbie’s car. My personal web page, Yeshaya.net, is in dire need of a refresh. Rather than to remodel it, I thought to create a new site that had scalabilty to it—a name that could grow beyond just me. I’ve gone so far as to create a vision statement for an ─ôzune entity that so far, I’m thinking, will be based on furthering the Age-ing to Sage-ing work I am engaged in. Then, a couple of days ago, I popped out of bed with a different name in mind, and felt compelled to purchase zakane.com and zakane.org. Zakane is Hebrew for old, or an elder. I’ll let you know when there is anything to look at on one or more of these sites.

Elsewhere: For those who have been wondering how sustainable my new hobby of bread baking was for a guy who had spent most of the last year drastically reducing his weight and waistline—your greatest fears were realized as I painfully watched the numbers on the bathroom sale ascend. It was time for a reset. Passover both helped and hurt. There were a few days of holiday overindulgence. At the same time I prepared for a post-holiday cleanse that I am successfully in the midst of. I was inspired by a book that Nigel Savage recommended—If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit. For one week it was nothing but fruit and vegetables. This week I’ve added some seeds, grains, and nuts. Next week I’ll add some lean meat. Perhaps this selective infusion of nourishment accounts for some of the outpouring of energy I have been experiencing of late. Thankfully, the restricted diet and expanded consciousness has helped me drop a few pounds as well. We’ll see what the net effect of this will be on life after the cleanse.

I’ve come to that point in the message and in the early morning where it’s time to stick the landing. That’s harder to do when one writes an update versus a pointed essay. That leaves me with any number of famous and/or trite closing lines. Ta ta for now. And that’s the way it is. Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. See you around the quad. And so it goes. All of the above. None of the above. (e) Not given.