In Spiritual Direction, early Friday morning I had a sacred opportunity to explore my inner landscape with the guidance of Rabbi Nancy Flam. Nancy has been a traveler, teacher, guide, and friend on this path with me for almost 6 years now, since I met her at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality Training for Teen Educators. This was a unique program offered only once for 18 months to a vibrant gathering of Jewish educators from around the US...I was somehow blessed to be part of this dynamic group of wise teachers-at the time I had only been teaching for 2 years at our local Hebrew High school. (Thank you angel friend and colleague at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, Religious School Director Extraordinaire-Noreen Leibson!) Nancy is a remarkable human being; she embodies the essences of compassion, joy, and love as well as being a consummate keeper of safe boundaries. She is just one of many awe inspiring and supportive teachers/friends/companions who have traveled along beside me over the years. I am highlighting her in this moment, because, she happened to be my Spirit Gate-Opener for the awareness that arose for me on Friday morning (such a sweet way to prepare for Shabbat). Thank you Nancy!
So there we were on the telephone, me in NH with my very strange sounding voice (imagine drunken toddler-meets new immigrant speaking in broken English, kind of nasal and high pitched) and Nancy in her lovely office/meditation room in MA, creating sacred space for both of us with her mellifluous voice, guiding me deeply into my body/mind/heart/soul to meet with whatever was meant to be revealed. I was nervous, that she would not understand me and praying in advance that she would, and if not that we could just sit in silence and she would hold the space for me...and that that would be enough. She understood me perfectly...and even more astounding, I understood myself perfectly...or rather, Divine wisdom flowing through me. In the next several paragraphs I will attempt to share with you messages that came through with clarity.
First, you need to know that as a visual person, when I sit in spiritual direction, images often arise for me before words. There was a door (I know, big surprise after my last post). It was narrow...and set inside a small vestibule. I watched the door open and there I could see Yitzchak (Isaac) sitting in a wide expanse...a golden field, alone. I recognized him immediately and that he was also me. We are told in Torah "Vayetze Yitzchak Lasu-ach Basadeh". "Isaac went out to meditate ('lasu'ach') in the field toward evening." [Gen. 24:63]. As I sat in meditation early in the morning with this image I began to understand something remarkable. Before, when I thought of disability, I imagined a small closed space, a shrinking of ones world because of physical/mental limitations…what was revealed to me, what is constantly being revealed to me is quite the opposite. My heart, my mind, my awareness is expanding…I now have the perspective of life from inside a truly disabled body and I feel BIGGER! My compassion toward others and toward my self has become like this vast field of gold…my connection to HaShem is blossoming in ways I could not have imagined had I remained “typically-abled”. It is interesting to note here Lasu'ach shares a root with the word siach which translates to meditate. The word ‘lasua’ach’ means “a plant”. I read an interpretation that this play on words is to teach us that all the plants, all the blades of grass in the field assisted Yitzchak in prayer/meditation. There is a saying that an angels sits upon every blade of grass encouraging it to grow...so just as Rebbe Nachman teaches us to go out into the woods or fields to practice hitbodedut, because the plants give strength to our prayers, this is what Yitzchak did as well. How appropriate that my soul is growing, flowering into something far more beautiful in the midst of these changes in my body, in my life!
Another thing I have noticed of late is that my emotions are far more accessible than ever. It is understood by Jewish study circles that Isaac was a sensitive soul. For me tears are easily available as I wrote about in a recent blog, but humor is equally within reach. I find I am constantly cracking myself up, and everyone around me, with greater facility then ever before. (To be honest, I’ve always been pretty funny, my Mom says it comes from her Mother, my Nana Reggie-my Mom also says this is where my spiritual reservoir comes from. My Nana felt a closeness to HaShem from early in childhood, just like me.) Isaac’s name in Hebrew, Yitzchak means laughter. Ok, to make this more interesting, I have been so caught up in my own family drama of late that I have not been paying attention (on a conscious level) to where we are in Torah Time…in other words, I had this vision, but did not realize until later in the evening that this Shabbat is Shabbat Chaye Sarah…the Torah portion that tells us Yitzchak went out into the field to meditate! Two more little fun details…my husband’s Hebrew name is Yitzchak…my mother’s Hebrew name is Chaya Surah (Yiddish pronunciation of Chaye Sarah)!
Nancy and I sat in silence again. I had a question. I said “Nancy, I mentioned this to the doctor yesterday. In my mind now, I hear the same voice you hear me speaking with aloud. If I concentrate very hard, I can hear my old voice, but it takes great effort. The doctor had never heard a patient report such a thing before. So now I’m wondering, beyond the psychological or physiological reasons this is happening, what is going on spiritually? What is the lesson held in this strange phenomena?”
And so we sat some more and I waited for an answer to come…of course it did.
This is the understanding that unfolded for me in the sanctuary of my heart: My voice, my natural voice, the one I hear (heard) in my head when I am (was) self-talking, running in circles with anxiety, is an adult voice. A voice of reason that often ends up confusing me with fear. So much for grown up wisdom! My new voice is childlike…it is even higher pitched than my old soprano voice. I don’t say every word in a sentence, because it’s too much work for my brain to process and transmit unessential words or even consonants (like s’s on the ends of words to make them plural)…so my speech is inelegant…but very direct. What came to me was this: my “ordinary voice” makes everything way more complex than it needs to be. THIS IS (at least for now) MY VOICE. I don’t need to work so hard, or worry so much. This is it. Simple. Be with what IS in THIS moment. Don’t get tangled up in the mind tango of longing for a past that no longer exists…don’t ruminate about next year, next week, tomorrow, or an hour from now. THIS IS IT. I know, we all KNOW this on a certain level, and yet now I KNOW this in my flesh as well as my mind, heart and soul. I like the word “Soulular” (as opposed to cellular) learning as a way of naming this kind of wisdom.
It is now Saturday afternoon (Shabbat Chaye Sarah)…after quite an ordeal trying to insert a catheter into my arms last night to give me steroids for this latest exacerbation (the voice thing)…I say ordeal as it took over 2 hours and the first vein blew, then this sweet nurse tried again two more times, but my veins would not cooperate. I ended up with mini water balloons of saline under my skin but no access to my veins. So this morning another nurse came to my house to try again. I am grateful to say that this time, she was able to place a catheter in my arm on the first try. In all fairness to the first nurse last night, I made sure I was well hydrated before I went to bed last night and early this morning to make it easier for today’s nurse. Nurse number 1 was wonderful; my veins were not. Nurse number 2 said it still was not an easy catheterization…my veins are a bit tricky, I guess because they have been used so many times for IV’s over the years. I don’t know.
Anyway, we talked most of the time she was here infusing me. I told her what I learned yesterday in spiritual direction. She listened with a loving heart. She shared with me that she has spent time with many people with various illnesses, including MS, and that some people identify so strongly with their disease that it becomes like the vestibule with the tightly closed door that separates them from life outside their bodies as well as from the depths and expanse of their inner lives. They become prisoners of their illness. Then, there are other patients with the same diseases, the same symptoms; but they find ways to go out into the world and explore their spiritual life inside too. Their lives are rich and happy. Although getting out and about is still difficult for me at this time, my inner world and this amazing bloggy universe allows me to “get out” and share my experiences. We talked about the nature of God. What is God? How does God heal us? How can so many people allow their notion of God to separate them from others with harsh judgments, believing their path/understanding of God is the only Truth and others should be punished or murdered for differing paths to (what we agreed) is the same Source? (More details on my thoughts and hers to come in future blogs!)
We talked about autoimmune diseases and how it seems in her experience as a nurse that more and more people than ever now live with these extremely complicated and incurable diseases. She asked me why I think this is happening now in history? I am no doctor, scientist, philosopher or prophet, just an average person…but like everyone else I have an opinion! It’s funny, I think I used to hold back more in sharing such thoughts, thinking, “Who am I to espouse such lofty ideas?” My chevrutah (spiritual friend/study partner) Terri, recently said to me that maybe the myelin sheaths that are breaking down around my nerves are like the kelipot (shells) that cover God’s light…so now my thoughts/spirit/energy is less veiled. I kind of like this spiritual way of looking at MS. Anyway, this might sound really audacious to some of you, or then again familiar, something you have thought or read before…I doubt this is original, perhaps I have read it and forgotten where, I don’t know…as you can tell by my writing today, my thoughts are coming fast and furious and are maybe a little muddled from being in the midst of yet another exacerbation, and a high dose of steroids, but this is what I think/feel/intuit and what I shared with this delightful young woman. (It is not very scientific or sophisticated…but hey, I am brain damaged and on high doses of steroids…so it was the best answer I could offer in the moment!)
I feel like maybe these complicated diseases are happening to such a wide array of humans (on a spiritual plane) to create exactly the kind of awakening that is happening to me. Suffering breaks our hearts open to compassion, so we can reach out to others and heal each other on a heart/soul level with kindness, with love…with our God Spark. (I believe there is a spark of God inside every person-this is a Jewish concept…but also a concept found in other faith traditions) Perhaps these mysterious illnesses are a way for us to truly see/hear/be present to the suffering of others as well as our own pain so that we can then release the suffering and discover that we are so much more than our fragile human bodies. In fact suffering is a shared human experience and teaches us (if we are open to this possibility) that we are connected on an energetic level- unified energy. I mean, here I am, connecting in deep and powerful ways with all of you…so very far away…some in other countries around the world…we are befriending each other, sharing our stories through our blogs and emails…creating community…and this is totally dis-embodied…just electricity…energy flowing through cables. (kind of like messages passing from out brains along neural pathways to other parts of our bodies and vice versa) Our physical bodies are just comprised of atoms at the most basic level-energy pulsing, giving us the illusion of being solid. We are far more than these lovely vessels that hold our essence. At the same time, I want to be clear…. I enjoy being embodied! I love that I can see clearly (now that my eyesight has returned fully), that I can breath in aromas of delicious foods, the pungent scent leaves decaying outside, the unique fragrance of rain on the pavement or forthcoming snow in the air. I love holding my beloved husband Gordon and being embraced by his strong arms that have loved me and supported me for the past 23 years; hugging our daughters, the feel of my dog Ellie’s soft, wooly poodle coat. It is amazing, truly amazing that so many things work properly in my body. I thank God with all of my being for this experience of human existence. I love being alive and engaging with the world around me, and yet, I know…we…all of us, are so much more than just the intricately beautiful casings that hold us.
When you read this blog entry we will be past Parshat Chaye Sarah and onto Parashat Toldot, the story of two brothers Jacov (Jacob) and Esav (Esau) and the many conflicts they will experience right from the moment of birth; one brother holding on to the heel of the other, practically fighting on their way out of their Mother, Rivkah’s (Rebeccah's) womb! Maybe this will spark more insight for me to share with you later this week. We’ll see as my own life drama moves forward, if their story weaves easily into mine.
I have to share one last thing; my sister (not a twin) is coming to be with us Thursday night through Sunday. She will take me to my 3 hour MRI appointment early Friday morning and then my first Tysabri infusion later Friday afternoon. It will be a very long day for both of us. I have two sisters and a brother, Amy, Pam and Owen. They all live far away from me in PA and GA, but support me and my husband and children with so much love as do their partners (who also feel like siblings to me) and their 5 other children (my nieces and nephew). We are blessed with a large and loving family. (That’s just my side of the family, Gordon has a Brother, Sister-in-law, Mother and our nephew Joe-and then there are my cousins Aunts and Uncles who are in touch with us too, again mainly on my side of the family!) My sister Amy, the one who is coming used to go with me to appointments when I was in college to have my swollen knees drained and held my hand (I can’t believe I didn’t break hers) as the doctor would then inject me with cortisone. It was painful and went on for several months before the inflammation finally settled down to a duller pain, and less swelling (my knees still give me trouble sometimes). Amy, my big sister, would always be there with me, every single time. She felt that almost 25 years later, she wanted to hold my hand again now that we are adults. Hmmm, already, this is not how Jacob and Esau’s story begins. (Their story has an ending that resolves somewhat though).
As always, gentle steps my friends, thank you for sharing this adventure called “Life” with me, for your beautiful heart infused comments on this blog and privately through e-mail. Truly, I am blessed to have found all of you and for you to have found me as well.
* To read a beautiful reflection on Psalm 15o by Rabbi Nancy Flam go to The National Center for Jewish Healing and click on Nancy's essay under the section on Psalms.
ps... I want to thank my daughter Belin for assisting me in editing this blog entry...my language problems make it very hard to even write with clarity now as the voice in my head speaks my own version of English...Thank you sweetheart for your loving support of my writing, among other things...You are truly a blessing in my life Belin, I love you!