Tuesday, August 16, 2016


I'm reading Rabbi Alan Lew’s ז״ל This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — again. I never finished reading it the first time I picked it up, and it's all new to me now, having forgotten most of what I had read back then. It outlines a spiritual journey from mid-summer through autumn, from Tisha b'Av — a day that marks grief and mourning, death and destruction throughout Jewish history — all the way through Elul — a month of reflection, to the High Holy Days themselves, and finally the supremely joyous celebration of life and abundance — Sukkot.

I felt inspired to observe Tisha b'Av this year — including the fast. I sensed an opportunity to experience transformation in a much more profound way this Holy Day season. On the mundane level, I am also still searching for the key to a healthy weight — an intrinsic key as opposed to the effective but contrived tools of Fitbit and MyFitnessPal.com. I want mindfulness to replace my unconscious and hedonistic drive to eat, recognizing that this behavior represents old habitual (non-) thinking. The fast itself made that clear. It was quite different from the Yom Kippur fasts that I am accustomed to. In those instances I'm in the synagogue all day. Sometimes I'm troubled by hunger, sometimes not, but it's made somewhat easier by my being removed from my everyday environment. On the other hand, during this Tisha b'Av fast I was at home doing my usual tasks. When, even while adhering to my fast, I unconsciously found myself wandering into the kitchen in response to boredom or discomfort, it made it evident how I tend to use food as an antidote for those feelings on a routine basis.

As Reb Zalman ז״ל suggests, I am in a stage of life where outward procreative drives, out of necessity, turn to a different kind of creation —  to giving birth to legacy, to teaching and mentoring, to inward expression and spiritual fulfillment.* The thirsts and desires of my body, need to give way to the hunger of my soul. That is a challenging transition. My mind is having trouble acknowledging and accepting this. My mind wants to continue to feed itself at the heedless expansive pace it did in its youth. This is no longer sustainable.

For some, it takes a 2x4 over the head in the form of a heart attack or such to get the kind of clarity needed to make that transition. I choose to avoid that. I seek to gain that perspective by climbing a spiritual mountain for the seven weeks between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps then I may receive a spiritual 2x4 to awaken me to the reality of my life and ultimate death.

I’m hoping that such awareness, such consciousness, will guide the tiny choices I make in every moment — from what I put in my mouth, to what words come out of it; from what I choose to look at, to how I see the essence of another person; from how I hear what others are saying, to how I listen to the voice deep within.

This is an extraordinarily challenging proposition, and I feel foolishly brazen to declare it. On the other hand, what choice do I have? I can choose to continue to go from day to day, living in the same pattern that has become a comfortable and unconscious routine. Far better it is to take a chance on waking up. The shofar sounds the alarm every year. We wouldn’t need to do that if we didn't fall asleep every year. I guess in some way we individually and collectively hit the snooze alarm and roll over into our customary unconsciousness. But there comes a time when it is necessary to arise and greet the day. That way, just maybe, this time I won't be completely unprepared!

* Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, p. 86

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