The place we build for God (Radical Torah repost)
Holy garments (Radical Torah repost)

Walking and falling at the same time

I'm settling in to the new semester's rhythms. The week starts on Sunday night with Moadim l'Simcha, the class I'm taking on the Hasidic sacred year. Monday is a good day for writing. Tuesday I'm usually doing work in liturgy, maybe beginning to look up words in my first Hasidic text of the week. Wednesdays I go to the coffee shop for Torah study, then dash home for liturgy class, then spend the afternoon on Hasidic text and preparing for Thursday's spiritual direction class. Thursday I have spiritual direction class, then teach Hebrew school. Friday mornings I study Kedushat Levi with my rabbi, and then Skype into a meeting with my hevruta to work on that week's Hasidic text for Sunday night. And then comes Shabbat, and then it's Sunday and my week begins again.

Just last week we got the essay questions which serve as the final exam for the Biblical History & Civilization class I took in the fall (which didn't end until well into February) -- one overarching essay about the era of the prophets and the nature of Biblical prophecy, and then a set of five other essay questions of which we're each asked to choose one. I'm writing that second essay on the Book of Esther, since it's seasonally appropriate. The two essays taken together are 19 pages, at present; it's a solid draft, though I'd like to make the writing shine a bit more before I hand it in. It's become my major project for Mondays.

The days are dense. (And that's without my nonprofit / volunteer obligations, which ebb and flow according to ineffable rhythms of their own; lately they all seem to be cresting at once.) I oscillate between a grateful awareness that I'm incredibly lucky to get to do what I do, and a kind of overwhelmed shoulder-to-the-wheel drive forward, counting the days until Shabbat, until our vacation when I intend to read several books simply for the pleasure of so doing, until the next thing.

I was talking with my spiritual director last week about this shift between these two modes of being, grateful and overwhelmed. In response he offered a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov about the states of gadlut and katnut, what one might call expanded consciousness and constricted consciousness, or big mind and small mind. When one is first starting out on a spiritual path, he said, the challenge is achieving devekut (cleaving to God; connection with something beyond ourselves) in the high moments -- in other words, b'gadlut. Just maintaining that awareness of cosmic connection once a week, on Shabbat eve or morning -- that might be all one can handle! And it's enough.

When one has been on a spiritual path for a while, the challenge becomes maintaining that devekut, that awareness of connection-with-God, b'katnut. Knowing myself to be connected with the Holy Blessed One when I'm swept up in great singing and dancing and davening -- that's easy. What's hard is knowing myself to be connected with God when I'm in small-mind. When my back hurts because I've spent too long sitting in this desk chair, or when I'm stressed out and can't fall asleep, or when I'm buying groceries or facing the pile of mail on the kitchen table or going to a committee meeting or dealing with whatever, the mundanities and minutiae of the to-do list. Obligations. Concerns.

The thing is, this struggle is part of the spiritual path too. And now, while I'm in rabbinic school, is the perfect time to be immersed in it, and figuring out the best ways for me to navigate it. Because once I'm out of rabbinic school, the struggle won't disappear. It does not seem to be the case that receiving rabbinic smicha magically turns one into a boddhisattva who is perfectly serene, enlightened, and joyful in every moment regardless of what arises! (Not to knock my teachers or my rabbi friends. You're all wonderful. You're just not...perfect. It's something of a relief, honestly.) The specifics of what I'm doing with my days may shift, in the next few years, but the opportunity to be grateful is perennial.

And so is the knowledge that I can't live in devekut all the time. I can try, but I fall out of it. And then I notice that I'm distracted or cranky or frustrated, and I take a breath and try to trade that for gratitude again. This is the ratzo v'shov, the ebb and flow of spiritual energies. One minute awake, the next asleep, the next awake again. Blink. Inhale. Remember. Forget. Exhale. Do it again.

Like Laurie Anderson says:

You're walking. And you don't always realize it,
but you're always falling.
With each step you fall forward slightly.
And then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over, you're falling.
And then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling
at the same time.

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