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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sukkot: Festival of Ingathering



In the midst of this week long festival of Sukkot, sometimes called Chag haAsif (Festival of Ingathering)…a time of joy and community, I spend my days mostly alone. I gather my breath and strength to make it down the 13 steps of our house so I can join my family for meals and watch movies from the vantage point of our family-room couch. This is yet another kind of ingathering…Gordon, Belin, Rosie, Ellie (our poodle), Nefi (cat 1), Chaya (cat 2) and me; family community coming together to laugh and indeed feel joy through activities we can share. This year there was no extra time or energy to fulfill the mitzvah of building a Sukkah (temporary shelter) in our back yard as we have done in years past. And for me, no opportunities to further fulfill the mitzvah, by sitting in a Sukkah or enjoying a meal in a Sukkah at someone else’s home or the synagogue. But I sit and practice meditation, within my own Sukkah…my fragile body; the temporary shelter that is the gathering place of my heart, mind and soul.

Below you will find the meditation mantra I am using at each sitting these days. It is based on a gemilut hasadim (Hebrew: acts of loving kindness) practice; much like a Buddhist metta (Pali: loving kindness) practice, taught to me by my meditation teacher, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg. Typically one would begin by asking for blessings for one’s self and then expand that blessing to include loved ones… people you know, (but perhaps not well)…one might include perceived enemies…and ultimately all beings…and then return to asking for blessing for one’s self. Imagine dropping a pebble into still water and visualize the ripple, flowing outward; that is how this practice works to open our hearts in compassion and kindness in ever widening circles of love.

Because I am still in the midst of an MS exacerbation, I feel that it is important at this time to focus primarily on my own well being, so that eventually I will have the energy to fully bless others. I have altered Rabbi Sheila’s original teaching so that the mantra begins by addressing my body, then my heart, mind and soul. I’ve also added the phrase “May my__________be blessed with refuah (healing). The final section addresses all beings. I find it helps to inhale with a gentle but genuine smile on my lips and recite the words in my mind on the exhale. When my mind goes on other adventures throughout the practice, I lure it back by intentionally activating feelings of loving kindness with my next breath.

May my body be blessed with chessed (kindness)
May my body be blessed with rachamim (compassion)

May my body be blessed with refuah (healing)

May my body be blessed with simcha (joy)

May my body be blessed with shalom (peace)


May my heart be blessed with chessed
May my heart be blessed with rachamim

May my heart be blessed with refuah

May my heart be blessed with simcha

May my heart be blessed with shalom


May my mind be blessed with chessed

May my mind be blessed with rachamim

May my mind be blessed with refuah

May my mind be blessed with simcha

May my mind be blessed with shalom


May my soul be blessed with chessed

May my soul be blessed with rachamim

May my soul be blessed with refuah
May my soul be blessed with simcha
May my soul be blessed with shalom

May all beings be blessed with chessed

May all beings be blessed with rachamim

May all beings be blessed with refuah
May all beings be blessed with simcha
May all beings be blessed with shalom


I continue to repeat this sequence for 20 minutes. (I use a meditation timer…I find that having the chimes set is a great relief from worrying and peeking at a clock during meditation, like I did before I had a timer; an investment well worth the money). At this point I cannot sit for more than 20 minutes at a time because my back cramps up from the MS. It may seem cumbersome to have such a long and wordy mantra to remember. I consider it part of a concentration practice along with gemilut hasadim. This is particularly healing for me at this time, as my memory is a bit slippery some days. So far I feel I am cultivating an experience of ease (certainly healing) and more attentive presence. I know that this will change from day to day…as it should…and I shall continue to witness these changes as the days of practice go on.

Thank you to my beloved teacher Rabbi Sheila for inspiring this practice, which continues to nurture me daily.

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