70 Faces Book Tour, part 1: March in Massachusetts
The Photographer Says (Big Tent Poetry, Jan. 24 prompt)

The challenges of the Now

It's a little bit strange, not being in school. After more than five years as an ALEPH rabbinic student, it feels weird not to be immersed in the web of weekly conference calls, not to be wrangling with the technical mechanics of iVisit (the webconferencing software ALEPH uses for its teleclasses these days), not to be constantly making and revising homework to-do lists. Not to be actively learning as many different things as my brain can take in.

I'm a little bit in limbo this winter: finished with school, but not yet immersed in a new professional paradigm. My spiritual challenge right now is to sit with the not-knowing: to resist the temptation to either write mental scripts for how I think things are going to go, or to try to shoehorn things into place when they're not ready to unfold quite yet. On my ordination day, one of my beloved teachers, Reb Shaya Isenberg, gave me a blessing for savlanut -- patience. He blessed me that I be able to sit with what is, instead of feeling the need to try to "make" things happen. It's a good blessing. I've been remembering it often, of late.

There's much that I'm looking very forward to in coming months -- a few days of vacation with Ethan in early March, some 70 faces events in Boston and here at home, Pesach at my sister's house, a June trip to Texas to see family and to promote 70 faces, perhaps entering into a new professional paradigm, the 2011 ALEPH Kallah in July...

Sometimes having stuff to look forward to is what gets one through a tough patch. The thermometer reads negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit here this morning, but I know that in a few months the mercury will rise. My son has a cold and is miserable with his runny nose, but I know that in a week or less he should be on the mend again. (And someday he'll even be able to talk -- to tell us exactly what doesn't feel good -- so we won't have to guess.)

It's good to have things to look forward to, but it can be spiritually dangerous to spend all of one's energy anticipating something that hasn't happened yet. Anticipation is tricky: it may be delicious, but it can also lead to tremendous let-down once the anticipated event is over, even if the event lives up to what one imagined in advance.

Anticipation is a way of living in the future rather than in the present. But one of the aims of mindfulness practice is to ground us in the here and now. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow isn't yet here. This moment, right now, is all there is. This breath. And now this one. And now this one.

The mind naturally tells itself stories: remembered sweetness or bitterness, anticipated sorrow or joy. That's the mind's job. We tell ourselves stories all the time about who we are, about how we came to have the lives we know (or how we will come to have lives which are different someday.) It's okay for me to pause sometimes and remember the extraordinary sweetness of my ordination day, or to look forward some months to the first daffodils of spring. But it's not spiritually healthy to spend all of one's energy looking forward or back.

Think about the stories you tell yourself, the stories which keep you looking forward or looking backward instead of being in this moment right now. What's unfolding for you? What's hard about being in this moment -- and what do you think might be the blessings of managing to stay in the moment, even if you have to keep perennially pulling yourself back to the now, and the now, and the now?