Monday, August 25, 2008

Finding Allies and Building Bridges

I have been trying to seek out other voices that would support Agudat Havav, The Society of the Vav. There is a universal wisdom each of us is hearing and the honoring of these paths to the same goal of healing the world helps me feel less alone and more supported in my truth.

I am always reminding myself that life is improvisational so why not pull from 'improv' wisdom. The 'yes and' exercise Avish Parashas writes about is to support the universal truth that life is fluid and dynamic and always changing and always connected to the next, previous and simultaneous moment.

Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations and Marshal Goldsmith and What Got You Here Won't Get You There each write about the and versus the but. And how the power of the words we use indicate our intention. But has the power to make one right and another wrong, to negate anything that comes before it. Where and connotes an acceptance of multiple realities where all is real and cannot be rationalized away.

In mediation and when people are coming together to create something that did not exist before Stephen Colbert reminds us that it is imperative that each voice be valid. And or yes and would allow the flow of thought without a 'one upping' of each other. My voice then would be valid no matter the ego of another.

Scion's marketing department has created a powerful video advertisement for their varied models. It begins by showing various models of cars coming together in the dessert. The tag line is What makes us different brings us together: United by Individuality. How far I often feel from that moment.

The Sages tell us that when the Hebrews gathered around Mt. Sinai to hear the Ten Sayings and see the sound and hear the light each person was placed at a particular spot so each could hear their piece of truth that each has a responsibility to fulfill each lifetime. We are also taught not to covet for each of us has a path and must stay true to it no matter the distractions that we may run into. And I know my coveting thoughts especially when I am off the path. So I notice when I want to be or do what someone else is doing and use it as a red flag to come back to center, be tender and then begin again staying true to me.

Falling asleep is so easy. Settling is staying in line and living an vanilla life. I want more: Frida Kahlo is my hero as is Cher who is constantly reinventing herself. I can live without the surgery even though sometimes when I look in the mirror I wonder how I got those wrinkles when I am feeling so young and alive! Another paradoxical moment of AND.

Blessings of the Vav: And the beat goes on and on and on and on....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Being Included Is Like breath To Me

A review of Love Bade Me Welcome to honor Phyllis Silverman Ott-Toltz. The memoir was written with Barbara Bamberger Scott.

Only when a person expresses uniqueness can a meaningful joining with others occur. Hoffman p.36 on the meanings of Vav, 6th Hebrew letter.

In the early 70’s when I had been married a few years my mother enrolled me as a life member of Hadassah, an International Jewish women’s organization. I think she was hoping it would help me stay more connected with the Jewish people since I married someone who was not Jewish and at the time was living in the Bible Belt of South Carolina. And she was right and I am sure she had no idea how this gift would heal my heart around my ‘other-ness’.

A few years ago I was musing through the monthly Hadassah magazine and in the recently published book section the word Meher Baba jumped out and my heart skipped a beat with excitement and the feeling of disorientation. I took a deep breath and thought I am reading a traditional Jewish magazine and how did my ‘outside life’ get here?

In the late 90’s early 2000 I had returned to the Jewish community with the passion of a Baal Teshuvah, one who returns. My path included; studing in my local Reform community that led me to become a Bat Mitzvah, searching for ways to bridge my Buddhist practice with Judaism, working at Elat Chayyim a Jewish Renewal retreat center as an intern and then two years on summer staff and listening to my heart that kept saying “I want to become rabbi’ by first applying to rabbinical college and when rejected aligning myself with a rabbi who would train and then ordain me Rabbi.

Since Buddhist meditation had enabled my returning to Judaism by softening the covers around my heart, I therefore wanted to learn contemplation from a Hebrew Wisdom perspective to continue with my coming Home. One winter when I could not make it from North Carolina where I was living to the retreat in New York a local friend recommended Meher Baba Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was desperate for silence gave them a call.

The center welcomes guests if they are not members as long as they are interested in learning about Meher Baba and his teachings. I learned that Meher Baba was an avatar living his life as a god man. MBSC was established in the 1940s with a gift of about 500 acres on the Atlantic Ocean. Although he visited there only one time from India MBSC holds his holiness and his devotees created a wildlife sanctuary that was exquisitely run in the beginning by several women devotees and now is maintained mostly by volunteers. Wearing my kippah and asking for my silence to be honored I was welcomed with great love and appreciation of my tradition and needs. At first I was cautious as Baba's pictures were everywhere and I was not sure of anyone's intention. Yet the more I visited the more comfortable I became with the acceptance and love available by staff. It was easy for me to want to return many times after that. At MBSC the teaching is to be yourself, don’t worry be happy. A nd that love is eternally there and yours for the asking, also core teachings of Hebrew Wisdom.

And I am continually and unconsciously looking for role models, sisters who will soothe the pain of feeling unique and different and outside the norm and help me celebrate my uniqueness and not feel weird. So when I read about Phyllis Ott and Meher Baba in the Hadassah magazine I was very curious and immediately ordered the book.

When the book arrived I stopped everything as I was hungry for the unknown. I was delighted to find out that Phyllis and I had many things in common. We were both born Jewish, grew up in small working class communities around the North Shore of Boston and both Aries with our birthdays five days and about 15 years apart. We are mothers and women spiritual searchers for the Divine who wrestle with what it means to be and live as a Jew. Our schooling took different routes as she found her intellectual place and artistic passion early at home and through being a graduate of Radcliff-Harvard and as an artist. The book is a memoir told to a friend. She and her collaborator Barbara hold nothing back recording her life as other great painters with large brush strokes while giving great attention to all the details for accuracy even the ones we wish were forgotten. Love Bade Me Welcome describes her transformation from a very bright curious and ‘scared kid’ to a brave woman artist secure in her devotion to her mentor Meher Baba.

Phyllis continues to live at MBSC in the home where her husband Lynn and their children spent several years as the only family Meher Baba allowed to live on the land. She travels, creates and hosts family, friends and guests that arrive at the center. Her life continues to offer challenges that keep her vital as she passes on her wisdom through mentoring others.

The next time I was at MBSC I called Phyllis and she welcomed me into her home and life and our friendship began. In our times together she loved to interject her Hebrew Wisdom heritage into the conversation seeking validation of a memory or engaging in questioning of perspectives. I think Phyllis would be pleased as I compare her book to a Vidui, a traditional Hebrew Wisdom process of confession, a truth telling as one prepares to die, a telling of the stories hidden in the heart. And I do not think Phyllis Ott is ready to die; she is wanting the world to feel connected to her and now all who read her story are joined with her in this world and eternally. May everyone be so blessed to say Henanai, I am here.

'Love is there whether you want it or not' Phyllis told me recently. I know I love with Phyllis. She has offered her self as a role model and has inspired me to continue my spiritual journey as a proud woman, to stand as erect as the Vav as that is the only way one can truely connect with anyone. She encourages me to weave in all my colors, the bold proud parts and the pale hidden parts by bringing them out of the closet removing any remnant of shame and to laugh at the weaving of life and how the beauty of all these pieces create a collage that strengthens my connection to my G!D and in doing so makes me happy. With this offering of a perspective I am smiling and wondering what comes next? Who knows, maybe a memoir for my daughters to read the parts I could not tell them in person and then they can have a different role model for truth telling that may be a transforming element for their life.

Blessings of the Vav: everyone wants to feel the power of connection. Thank you, Phyllis, for including yourself in my life and letting me feel the joys of being included in yours.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Birth Day

When the sun rose this morning I remembered that I became a mother 46 years ago and I smiled at the gift given to me when I was not looking. I sit here knowing that when the sun sets in a few hours that I will begin 26 hours of rest and I am taking a deep breath and patiently try to sit here for just a few more minutes before I will perhaps experience a piece of the world to come. When Shabbat is over the saddest day in Hebrew Wisdom history will begin and I can hear the haunting chant of Lamentations ringing in my ears and feel the universal sadness of loss and destruction of dreams.

I am in awe that I can hold in my heart the uniqueness of each of these very powerful events and not blend them, not give them a hierarchy, not loose their impact on my life and not try to categorize or explain them away. Each is as important as the creative project I am giving birth to today.

It has been almost 11 months since I began this blog and started looking at the blessings of the sixth Hebrew letter, vav. My new Israeli friend Beenie helped find a new Hebrew name for this idea that came through me: Agoodat HaVav because Agoodah infers connection and connecting to me and others is my intention, my deepest desire. And I am continuing to water the concepts without knowing where we are going for I am building my faith in the Mystery I sometimes call She, Shechinah, In-Dwelling Presence or G!D.

One of my daughter's fears is that she will not fulfill her mission as a mother or wife and that she will do the same behavior that her mother displayed and leave in the middle of a run. I have the same feeling floating through my heart and abandonment is not an option as I am not a grasshopper like my ancestors thought they would think of themselves. My spirit is full and large and I have the tenacity of the leader that I am.

Watering sounds like such a little chore. Trust me it is not as distractions are rampant. My other thought-options are that there is not enough water, I cannot find the vessel to carry the water, where is the tree anyway, where is the water and I am not good enough to do it. These thoughts are upstream thoughts and not acceptable to this mind. I am The One who is doing the watering and I am taking my commitments seriously.

I am watering from the eternal well of the society of the Vav: this is a holographic loop as the Vav is the tree, is the body of the Holy Name and is the well eternal, Mayan Raz my sisterhood of friends. What a powerful image to hold as I shut off my connection to the world and contemplate rest, study and love.

Shabbat Shalom, 7 Av 5768.