September 17, 2007
Rabbi Shalom Noah Barzovsky, the previous Slonimer Rebbe, teaches that there are three kinds of emunah (elemental trust): trusting mind, trusting heart, and trusting body. And the highest of these is emunat ha-evarim, trusting with one's limbs, where deep trust penetrates every fibre of one's being. The classic example he offers is the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. In that moment of leaping, he writes (in his commentary on parashat Beshalach), the children of Israel trusted fully in the One, and therefore the holy spirit rested upon them and sang in them (this is a Hebrew pun -- שרתה / shartah, rested, relates aurally to שירה / shirah, song) and song burst forth not only from their lips but in their very limbs.
Trusting with one's body: what a radical notion. Not just trusting one's body (which is challenging enough, sometimes) -- but trusting with the body. This has never been my strong suit. I am not, thankfully, one of those people who wrestles with feeling disembodied per se. I like having a body. Often I even like my body itself and what it can do. But I get attached to my illusions of control, and I have a hard time letting go. (Those of you who know me in person can stop laughing any time now. :-)
I carry a lot of tension in my body. My neck and shoulders are the worst, though of course everything is interconnected; throw something stressful at me and you can watch my shoulderblades crawl up my spine as though they wanted to knit themselves to my ears. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's a hard habit to break. How to unlearn a lifetime of habits? I want to become capable of singing songs of praise which aren't only fueled by my body, but which are actually in and through my body itself. I want my body to have emunah, deep trust.
Last Yom Kippur I went to Elat Chayyim, as has been my practice the last several years. After Kol Nidre I sat in the sanctuary writing in my journal about the emotions and ideas which were welling up in me as we entered the space of the holiday. Across the room, a group of people -- many of them, I think, former residents in the Neshamah intentional community -- continued singing psalms, reprising chants from the liturgy, pouring themselves into prayer. It wasn't long before the drums came out and people were singing and dancing with fervor.
A man named Prahaladan saw me sitting and writing and watching the dancers, and asked whether I was going to join them. I demurred immediately; dancing in front of strangers felt too risky, even if the ostensible audience for the song and dance was God. But he could tell that I wished I could join them, and he blessed me that next year I might be able to do so. "Yeah, right," I said, and he smiled and walked away. But my response to his benediction bothered me, and after a moment I followed him and stopped him to say, "That wasn't the right answer. What I should have said was 'thank you; from your lips to God's ears.'"
When I was at Elat Chayyim for DLTI last month, the drumming of Shoshana Jedwab lifted me out of my seat and when we cleared back the tables after Shabbat dinner I danced until the drummers were tired. I want to cultivate the ability to pray with my body, when I'm fortunate enough to be in spaces where I feel safe. I wonder whether this Yom Kippur, surrounded by a community not as intimate as my DLTI chevre but still invested in being awake and emotionally open, I will be able to inhabit my body that way.
I started writing this post last night, and I dreamed about the most recent massage I received. I woke smiling. Maybe it's a message from my subconscious: save up for a massage! That's a way to teach the body trust! Though I know a massage from a stranger would be unlikely to leave me feeling so cherished as did this massage from a friend. If entrusting one's body to a stranger is radical, entrusting it to a friend seems even more so. More is at stake. Regardless, though, it's the act of dropping my guard that challenges me -- which is probably why it's so appealing. And scary. And sweet.
I keep returning to this teaching from the Slonimer that trusting body is the highest form of emunah. My heart trusts naturally. The mind can be trained to trust, through
contemplation and study, if trust is a stance one chooses to inculcate. But the body? I'm not sure I know how to
teach my body to meet the world with emunah. In the four worlds
model, I'm more comfortable wth essence and thought and emotion (atzilut
and briyah and yetzirah) than I am with assiyah,
the realm of embodied physicality. (Obviously; this morning I chose sleep
over returning to yoga class. Sigh. I guess there's always next week...)
Clearly I have some work to do here. This isn't a kind of teshuvah, at/onement or transformation, that I can make hastily before Yom Kippur -- but maybe it's a place for me to focus in the coming year. Strengthening the emunah of my body, so that I can come to my life and my work and my prayer more wholly, more whole.