A glimpse of Jay Michaelson's Evolving Dharma
Guest blogging at Best American Poetry


PodA kind of emptiness comes at the end of this long cycle of holidays. After challah and honey, feasting and fasting, services upon services upon services. Just listing the names of all of the observances of the last few weeks tires me out again.

Sometimes memory telescopes in a way that makes far things seem near. At this moment in the year, though, I tend to find that it works the other way around. Things which happened not so long ago feel like ancient history. That first dinner, on the cusp of Rosh Hashanah...? It was another eon.

In a way, in Jewish time, it was another eon. That dinner was before we ushered in the new year. That was 5773, relegated to memory now. I like the fact that I spent my last hours of the old Jewish year sitting around a table with my family, eating and talking and being together.

I went for a walk  few days ago. I didn't have the energy to contemplate driving someplace particularly beautiful or noteworthy, so I walked up and down our driveway a few times. It's a long driveway, and parts of it are steep. I paused from time to time to take photographs, working at reminding myself that even mundane places are worthy of attention.

I don't know what these seed pods are, but I find them strangely beautiful. I feel a little bit like these pods right now: burst open, after the pressures of all of these rituals and services and prayers. The silky stuff of my heart exposed under the early autumn sky.

YellowWhat always amazes me as we move into fall is how slowly it unfolds. Even a single tree can seem to be straddling two seasons, summer and fall, at the same time. Maple trees which are mostly green save for one brilliantly red branch. Or this beech tree with a river of yellow leaves running through it.

Are the trees holding on to the now, or are they sliding gracefully into the future? Am I?

I dug up Mary Oliver's poem "5am in the pine woods" because I wanted to see again how she reaches its closing lines, which I love so much:

so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outwards,
so this is how you pray.

I first encountered those lines thanks to Rabbi Eliot Ginsburg, at the end of my first Jewish Renewal Yom Kippur retreat at the old Elat Chayyim. He was talking about the rhythm of moving from the Days of Awe to Sukkot. The Days of Awe are focused on all of that teshuvah and internal work. And then we shift again, from inward to outward.

Sukkot is "outward" in several senses: the Sukkot sacrifices in antiquity were on behalf of the entire world, not just our own nation -- and of course during Sukkot we literally move outward, moving out of our homes and into those fragile little structures for a week.

But after Sukkot, then what?

Hillside Jack Kornfield reminds us that "after the ecstasy, the laundry." Whether or not we found ecstasy during the Days of Awe (whether or not ecstasy was even what we were seeking), how do we navigate the transition from this intensive and overwhelming season to ordinary life again? What comes next?

On the Jewish calendar, what's next is a whole lot of nothing. Next Friday when we reach new moon we'll enter into the month of Cheshvan, renowned because it has absolutely zero holidays. None. Zip. Nada. Nihil. Nadie. It is the only month which bears this particular distinction.

Our sages named this month MarCheshvan, "bitter Cheshvan," because of this lack of official simcha. Most of the rabbis I know relish Cheshvan for the exact same reason seen through a different lens: it's a chance to pause, to take a breather. After the marathon, a pause.

An opportunity, maybe, to take more walks up the driveway and notice the little changes which are unfolding in the world around me as one season gives way to the next. As I write these words, Cheshvan is almost within reach. A time to start practicing what it means to lie fallow.

A time to let the experiences of these awesome days burrow deep into the soil of my heart and soul, and to trust that when it's time for new insights to emerge, I'll be ready to receive them. Maybe in the spring.


Images: pod, yellow, hillside.