With Thanks to Jack Kornfield

Over the last two years I’ve listened to approximately 50-60 hours of Jack Kornfield’s podcast, Heart Wisdom Hour. Alongside The Grateful Dead, this podcast holds the place for the most oft heard soundtrack in my earbuds. It’s rare for me to find a voice that so compels me and speaks into my life. I’ve written about Jack Kornfield on this blog before, but I haven’t really analyzed why I keep coming back to his dharma talks. Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Jack is a wonderful story teller. It always feels good to be in the capable hands of a master story teller. Jack is one for sure.
  2. Jack reminds me of things that I have experienced, that I value, that I believe, and that I strive towards. It’s good to be reminded.
  3. Jack is a non-anxious presence. The mere thought of listening to one of his talks gives me a sense of spacious calm. This spacious calm can be hard to find at times so the fact that Jack helps bring me to that place is something I value.
  4. Jack illuminates. Some aspects of the human experience are either so obvious or so mysterious that they can be hard to see clearly. Jack is particularly good at investigating these areas and helping summon them to the fore so that they can be honored and appreciated.

These are a few of the reasons that I keep coming back to listen to Jack Kornfield’s, Heart Wisdom Hour. As a rabbi, as an educator, as a human being, Jack informs and inspires me to remember who and what I really am. I strongly recommend checking out pretty much any episode of his podcast. If you do, let me know what you think!

Life Lessons from The American Hebrew Academy

“Ahava” Sculpture, American Hebrew Academy

 

I recently spent a beautiful Shabbat with the students and faculty of The American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. It was a wonderful experience for me and I am so grateful to have had a chance to meet the people there and offer a few teachings along the way. I learned a lot during my 30 or so hours on campus. Some of that learning is captured here, in no particular order.

  1. If you want to know someone or something, pay attention and they will show you. I came to AHA with few preconceived notions and a good amount of curiosity. What would I discover while there? I discovered the power of paying attention and honoring what I experienced. I experienced a lot of joy and energy, a lot of smiling faces, a deep sense of familiarity, and much more. My attentiveness was rewarded and I feel like I know the AHA community simply by being curious and paying attention.
  2. We can’t help but tell our story. I led a Reform style minyan on Friday night. When we began singing Noam Katz’s song, “Roll into Dark,” many of the students in attendance started doing a choreographed series of hang gestures. Afterward I told them that I felt like they were telling me a story. And, in fact, they were. Somewhere in that spontaneous series of choreographed hang gestures, there was a story. More than likely, it was a sacred story.
  3. Be true to yourself. I didn’t know quite how to prepare for a weekend full of teaching in a community that is both 100% unique and that was foreign to me at the time. In addition to the great advise and support I got from my contacts at AHA, I also trusted my gut and prepared in a way that felt authentic to me. Knowing that I was walking into something of an unknown, I put my energy into the greatest known-unknown of all– myself. Knowing that people respond to authenticity, I was able to move forward from there.
  4. Environment matters. The physical facilities of AHA are extraordinary. Wherever the students are, there’s a kind of natural energy that emerges. But there are vast expanses of land that are often unoccupied. What that means is that the AHA community has a place where they can go to be quiet. If they need some silence and stillness, it exists for them. The wooded setting, the lake, the many walking paths and bridges, these all contribute to the special spirit of AHA.
  5. Listen. We’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason. All of us need to do a better job of listening these days. It’s tough to model listening when people have come, on some level, to hear you do the talking. But even when you’re doing the talking, the importance of listening simply can’t be overstated. The greatest insights, the most poignant comments, the gems– these seldom come from us. If we’re lucky, we’re there to hear them. If we’re intentional, we can figure out the best way to get people speaking, sharing, and engaging.
  6. The Whole World is a Narrow Bridge. I must’ve heard the song, “Gesher Tzar M’od,” at least 6 times during my visit to AHA. It’s one of those songs that Jews from all around the world know. I won’t forget the wild Shabbat singing, especially of this song.

This post only scratches the surface of what I learned at The American Hebrew Academy. During my time there, and in the days following, I keep coming back to the fact that AHA is truly an unprecedented undertaking for the Jewish community. Jews from different countries and religious backgrounds share a common bond of Torah and Klal Yisrael. But that doesn’t meant that we fully understand one another or can co-exist in constructive and harmonious ways. The students and staff of The American Hebrew Academy live the value of Klal Yisrael every single day. My impression is that doing so brings with it a series of complex and sometimes unsolvable challenges. And it is these very challenges that create a sense of respect, cohesion, and community there.

A wonderful weekend and afternoon of learning

This Shabbat I had the honor of serving as a scholar-in-residence for the American Hebrew Academy and Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC. I was with the AHA community for Shabbat and had a few hours to engage with the religious school teachers at TE in Sunday afternoon. Both communities made a strong impression on me and I am grateful for the warm embrace and enthusiastic learning I experienced at both places…

 

Temple Emanuel community and the “text” we created about Tefilah

Let Me Know it Fully

 

 

Let me know it fully.

A colleague said this to me today.

During a webinar that he was facilitating.

Let me know it fully.

Not just any breath. But this breath.

Not just any feeling of my fingers on the keyboard. But this feeling of my fingers on the keyboard.

Not just any leftover chicken brought for lunch. But this leftover chicken brought for lunch.

Not just any voices chatting in the hall. But these voices chatting in the hall.

Let me know it fully.

Not just any memory of Caleb resting his head on my stomach. But this memory.

Not just any sound of my kids singing “Circle of Life” while driving down Peachtree. But this sound.

Not just any cool November Monday morning. But this one.

Not just any little piece of unexpected good news. But this little piece.

Not just any surreal moment of receiving bad news. But this surreal moment.

Not just any feeling of bowing to the rhythm of the universe. But this feeling of bowing.

Let me know it fully.

Not just any deep knowing of what the psalmist meant when he wrote, “my cup overflows.” But this deep knowing.

 

Guns and Grills

Tonight I had a vendor out to the house to do some measuring for some new kitchen appliances. It turns out that ovens don’t last forever. When he called to say that he was a few minutes away he sounded like a really nice guy. I explained that our house is a bit of a disaster due to our just getting our plumbing fixed. I get it, he said.

The door bell rang and I invited him in. I quickly noticed two paragraphs of words tattooed on the outside of both his arms. Figuring it was Scripture, the rabbi in me wanted to know what it was that moved this gentleman. Turns out it was the 2nd Amendment. And on top of that, on the inside of his left arm there was another tattoo, this one of an intimidating looking automatic weapon.

You must be pretty committed to the 2nd Amendment, I said. As he measured the opening where my new microwave will go. Sure am, he said. Nonchalantly. And what kind of gun is that, I asked. An M-16, the kind I carried in the military. Thank you for your service, I said. And a belated Happy Veterans Day, I said (wondering if that’s the right greeting). And knowing that I meant it.

Hey, someone’s cooking something delicious in your neighborhood, he said. I could smell it the minute I got out of my truck. That’s probably me, I said. I’ve got my Kamado Joe fired up out back, but it’s just charcoal so far. That’s all it takes, he said. You do much outdoor cooking, I asked. I’m building out my outdoor cooking space as we speak, he said. Followed by a detailed description.

15 minutes later I walked him to the door. Hope you have some good music for the long ride home, I said. I just got a new truck so I’ll be blasting Sirius XM the whole way, he said. With a smile. See you when it’s time for the install.

Water Main Break

Woke up this morning to gushing water in our front yard. Happy Sunday! The short version: our main water line needs to be replaced. Just had a plumber out here to take a look. A really nice young man. He talked me through the job in a soft spoken and friendly way. I had a good feeling and was relieved that it won’t cost an arm and a leg.  When entering my details on his iPad, he asked about my last name. I told him most people thought it was Greek but that it’s actually Hebrew. He said he would’ve guessed Hebrew. I was surprised. From last names to first names. He thought Micah was connected to Malachi, which it isn’t. Malachi means “my angel” doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But Micah means something different. He was pretty surprised by my knowledge of Hebrew Bible and excited when I explained that I came by it honestly. When I told him I was a rabbi he wanted to shake my hand again. Of course we started talking about Jerusalem. A pilgrimage! He said he’s saving his money so he can do that too. In fact, he hopes to become a priest one day. Not like one of those preachers you see on TV, but someone who feels called to help others. Live a good life, love people regardless of race, gender, or differences. Stuff like that. Anyway, I’ve taken up too much of your time so I’ll be on my way, he says. He’ll be coming back tomorrow to do the job. After all, the bid was reasonable and the company gets good reviews online.

The Divine Image

Yesterday afternoon I’d just sat down to write an email when a co-worker of mine knocked on my door with a question that had come up during a recent bible study with her church community. We found ourselves in a conversation about what it means to be created in the Divine Image. We lingered on the topic for a little while, thinking about what it meant to each of us, introducing ideas from our different, yet similar, faith traditions. All the while the email sat unwritten. One idea we both liked was that being created in the Divine Image attunes us to the creative power within us as well as our inclination toward goodness, compassion, and truth. Another idea we both liked is that any facet of our personality or experience might be a reflection of the Divine Image within. Our laughter, our tears, our resilience, our talent, our fear, our poetry, our music, our nurturing, our doubt, our wisdom, our wonder. We agreed that life would be quite interesting if we paused to consider how, in encountering others, we are inevitably encountering the Divine Image within them and therefore within ourselves. And eventually, since I know it’s a cliffhanger, the email was written and sent. But I’m still waiting for a reply.

I set out

My appointment was running late so I set out for 5 minutes of mindful walking. It’s a crisp and grey day. First I noticed the trees. Some are completely barren. Others still have leaves. Then I noticed the sound of different birds. They were singing from the woods. Then I noticed a tiny bird, must’ve been a sparrow. So I stopped for a moment to notice the sparrow. Actually, I only noticed the sparrow when I stopped to notice the singing. In noticing the sparrow, another bird caught my attention. Then another. Suddenly there were sparrows and other birds of all shapes and sizes. And a squirrel digging a hole or collecting pine needles. As I turned my attention to the birds, the squirrel sneaked away. Then, as if on cue, a chipmunk came and took its place. For a moment I wondered if the chipmunk was going to try and sneak up on the sparrow that was bathing in a little puddle left over from the morning rain. Then I got a text message letting me know that my appointment was running late. And then another text message letting me know that the appointment would have to be rescheduled. “Sorry for making you wait” said the text message. I explained that it was really my pleasure because I’d ended up meditating in the woods. Walking back, there was so much to notice.

Pause

Open the Eyes, Tel Aviv, 2017

 

Between breathing in

and breathing out.

Between this sentence

and the next.

Between thought

and expression.

Between hearing

and listening.

Between doing

and doing.

Between being

and being.

Between now

and now.

Between is

and was.

Between is

and is now.

A pause.

Between experience

and meaning.

Between meaning

and memory.

Between memory

and history.

Between history

and eternity.

Between eternity

and now.

A pause.

The space between what will never be

and what is

and what will always be

and what is

and what could be

and what is.

A pause.

Walk in Delight

Jerusalem, 2016

 

Beyond measure, I am blessed.

In ways disguised and manifest.

In ways I can appreciate and ways I cannot.

In ways deserved but in more ways graced.

In ways that touch my daily existence and ways that don’t.

Beyond measure, I am blessed.

In ways that delight and ways that overwhelm.

Among these many blessings is the blessing of working at a school that has two campuses.

Among the many blessings of these two campuses is that they are a short distance apart.

And this distance is easily covered on foot via a beautiful sidewalk that blessed me with its existence only a few years ago.

And the blessing of traffic.

Of a pesky left turn signal in particular.

Which means that it’s often quicker, or at least more predictable, and certainly more pleasant

to walk from campus to campus.

Than it is to drive.

And so I walk in blessing.

And delight.

At least once a day.

Sometimes I see cars full of my students waiting for morning drop off.

Sometimes I see the lady who wears gigantic headphones who always smiles when we pass.

Sometimes I walk with a colleague.

Sometimes I walk alone.

Once, I got soaked in a thunderstorm.

But I survived.

In the spring I walk beneath cherry blossoms.

And survive them too.

Sometimes I think.

Sometimes I plan.

Sometimes I read email.

Sometimes I wonder about the litter on the side of the road.

Sometimes I wonder at the denseness of the trees between the sidewalk and the houses on the other side.

Sometimes I see (and hear) a fire engine pulling out of the fire station on the corner.

Sometimes the fire engine inspires me.

Sometimes it terrifies me.

Sometimes I close my eyes for a few seconds to see how far I can go without opening them.

Sometimes I have to step into the street and dodge cars to avoid the sprinkler at the corner.

Sometimes I carry inter office mail.

Sometimes I spill my coffee.

Sometimes I dream up new ways of doing things.

Sometimes I try to feel the ground underneath my feet.

Sometimes I remember.

And sometimes I forget.

Sometimes, when I’m really doing it right.

I just walk.

In blessing and delight.