Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Weekly Focus for the week of Nov. 20 - 26, 2016: Chayei Sarah

(Genesis 23:1 - 25:18)

The power of story

How do you create a tribe? Abraham was confronted with that question, and realized that he already was part of one. He wasn't being asked to start an entirely new one, but to transform and expand the one that he himself had been born into.

So when it came time for his son, Isaac, to marry, Abraham wanted his wife to come from members of the tribe which he had left behind. Lacking modern modes of communication, Abraham sent his most trusted servant to seek out a wife from that tribe.

The servant, identified elsewhere as Eliezer, wonders how he will ever locate a suitable bride for his master's son. Abraham assures him that the Eternal "shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there" (24:7).

There is no angel sighted by Eliezer, but he tells himself a story of his successful meeting with a suitable bride.

Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water; and let it come to pass, that the girl to whom I shall say, Let down your water jar, I beg you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; let the same be she whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have shown kindness to my master. (24:13-14)

Before he even finished speaking, Rebekah comes out to the well, stepping right into Eliezer's story (24:15).

Later, Eliezer repeats the entire story to Lavan, Rebekah's brother, and identifies more clearly the nature of his storytelling:

And before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the well, and drew water; and I said to her, Let me drink, I beg you. (24:45)

The story Eliezer told in his heart was the story he then lived.

The story we are telling keeps coming true

On the surface level, our stories are descriptive, revealing our experiences of ourselves, others in our lives, and our whole world. In Muriel Rukeyser's poem, "The Speed of Darkness," she writes, "The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms." We have stories for every part of our lives. Some of our stories are old -- they are foundational stories, upon which current stories unfold. And we pretty much stick to our stories. They tend to represent what we understand to be true.

But stories are not only descriptive, they are prescriptive. Our stories about the future stimulate feelings in the present. Like Eliezer's story, our own tend to shape the future we see and the future we believe in. Stories are creative, helping to shape our consciousness in ways that channel our senses and our thoughts.

Stories are also restrictive. Things happen this way and not that way; our characters act this way and not that way. Our stories provide both frame and content for our experiences. Often, we are blind to what lies outside our own story. Usually, we judge that which agrees with our basic stories to be right, and that which disagrees or conflicts we judge to be wrong. You know how it goes.

Our personal stories are better for guidance than for limitation. Flexibility to change our stories and support the feelings and thoughts we seek provides the evolutionary element of a personal story.

The Medtation

We really don't have to search for our stories because they are always with us. When we pay closer attention, we can become more aware of the stories we are telling ourselves at any given moment. In fact, our personalities are basically constructed from stories that have coalesced into a recognizable whole.

Freeing ourselves to expand and to enhance our stories invites us into new territory. We story ourselves into what we once imagined as our future. What's the story that you would like to be telling with your life at this very moment?

In our meditation, we can gently and lovingly review some of our favorite stories, and move our awareness into the place of witness rather than character in our dramas. In spaces of quiet, we can invite the shape of renewed stories, stories that we would wish to live, stories that we would wish to share.

Ultimately, we realize that we are so much more than our stories, no matter how fine they might be. We are the storytellers, sharing a world with other storytellers. We benefit most when we share our stories, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our telling as well as in our listening.

But for now, find your quiet space and begin to release the need to be doing anything other than what you are doing. These moments of greater calmness benefit you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Take some moments to settle in. Use whatever techniques that work for you now. Breathing deeply, holding the breath for a moment following the inhalation and also once you have emptied. Appreciating the fullness and the emptiness.

And then allowing the breathing simply to calm. If helpful, breathe in any tension and gently release it on the out-breath. Easily and naturally. Beginning simply to witness the sensations of the body. Aware of the thoughts but not absorbed by them. Acknowledging feelings without being grabbed up in them. Remembering the calmness of the witness place.

And in this calm, invite new stories that you would wish to live. No need to choose any particular one at this moment. Almost like daydreaming. Trying on different kinds of clothes. Stepping into different roles. An inner story play. Mini-experiments in personal storytelling.

Writing stories both familiar and experimental can be a significant support in your journey. You might find that some of your current stories inhibit new ones from even forming with clarity and with detail. So tell the story of old limitations. Tell the story of old fears. And tell the story of your own evolution.

If a life-enhancing story finds you, allow yourself to step into it. Then imagine telling that story -- to yourself and to those closest to you. Let the story reveal support your greater journey.

Photo: Mark Reden