The silence after the chant
String theory

Tools for new beginnings

"This Shabbat is Shabbat Bereshit," I say, "the Shabbat when we begin the cycle of Torah readings again with 'In the beginning...' -- or 'With beginnings...' -- or perhaps 'As God was beginning...'"

I'm speaking aloud to those who've come for Friday morning meditation at my synagogue. My eyes are closed but I know who else is in the room.

"It's a time of new beginnings for us too. What will we need as we enter into this new year?" I let the question float for a moment.

"Imagine that you're standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs," I say, "and at the top there is a door. Walk up the stairs slowly, one by one. When you reach the top, the door opens, and inside is -- you! An older version of you, one who has lived through this year to come and knows what you will need. Invite yourself in. Sit down together. And accept whatever gifts your future self has to offer."

We move into silence.

I am picturing the same room I have pictured before when I have done meditations like this. It is cosy and has windows on all sides; I think it's octagonal, like a room in the turret of an old Victorian. There are rugs and bookshelves and an overstuffed chair or two and probably somewhere there is a cat. On the table between the two chairs is a teapot and a pair of cups, and my older self pours me a cup of tea which warms my hands.

"You're here to get tools for the year to come," she says, and I nod. "Excellent. I was hoping you'd drop by."

The first thing she hands me is a fountain pen. I recognize it: it's Dad's old Mont Blanc, the one I loved so much as a kid, which he gave to me when I went off to college. "I haven't seen this in years," I marvel. My older self smiles. "So this is -- what, writing?"

She nods. "Writing is the best tool we have. Whatever the year brings, write through it. Write it while it's happening. Write what you remember after it's over. Write for yourself, write for an audience, just keep writing."

The second thing is my velvet tefillin bag. "I'm wearing these now," I say, because I am -- here in the sanctuary, where my body is sitting -- though I don't have tefillin on in my imagination.

"I know." She gives me a private little smile. "Consider this a reminder about spiritual practice in general. Davenen, meditation, laying tefillin, talking with Shekhinah in the car -- whatever you can do to remind yourself that you're part of something bigger than your own life and that you're connected with the Holy One of Blessing."

The third thing she hands me is a ball of string. "Tzitzit?" I hazard a guess, because I've been thinking about tzitzit lately, and she grins and shakes her head.

"Remember that exercise where you sit in a circle with a group of people and one person holds one end of a ball of string, and throws it to another, who throws it to another...?"

I nod; of course I do, we have the same memories.

"We're all connected," she continues. "One person tugs on the string, everyone in the circle feels the pull. The string represents your connections. Keep them alive and humming. Reach out to people when you need them. Trust that you're always part of a web of connection. You're never alone."

I place the pen, the tefillin bag, and the string into my purse.

We sip our tea. After a while I say "Sorry, I have to--"

"--have to go, I know," she finishes for me. "See you next time."

I return my attention to the sanctuary where I'm seated. "Whatever gifts you've received, tuck them away so they'll be safe," I say aloud. "Say thank you for them. And walk slowly back down the stairs, back to this place and time, back to where we are."

I wonder what gifts my fellow meditators received. And I resolve to follow my own directions, and to take five minutes to write this down before I forget.

Happy Shabbat Bereshit, everyone. Here's to starting the story anew.