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.

Torah Portion for the week of August 5 - 11, 2018:

(Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17)

Our choices matter

The spiritual wisdom of Torah transcends time and place. Teachings call to us from that ancient text, and we are challenged to listen carefully. We are asked to open our eyes and to open our I's. This parashah invites us to appreciate the call of each moment:

See, I set before you today blessing and curse. . . (11:26)

We who live in the land of polarities, of light and dark, of rough and smooth, live in the land of blessing and curse. Torah teaches us two things here: that we have freedom to choose, and that our choices matter for us and for our world.

The text continues, teaching that "blessing flows from the Way of the Eternal One who is your God" (11:27), reminding us that there is a path of compassion, love, and healing which is identified as the Way of God. But there is "curse if you turn from the Way and follow after gods you have not known" (11:28). Those "other gods" promote a kind of exclusivity that blinds us to the One Life we all share, the One Life that supports acts of greater kindness in the world.

We are always given the choice. That is the nature of being human. Our freedom of choice demands that we remain awake, that we be conscious of the choices we make. We need to do our best to avoid collapsing into old patterns of thought, feeling, and action that simply reaffirm limitation and separateness.

The integrity of human being

Blessing follows from the willingness to be present enough to hear what is being asked of us in the immediacy of each moment. Blessing follows from the open heart. That is the integrity of human being.

We are asked to heed the deeper truths we carry, for it is through our own consciousness that deeper awareness always flows. No outer authority can supersede the integrity that awakens within each of us. External teachers can serve as guides, but if they usurp the authority of our own inner connection to Being, they become "other gods" whom we are cautioned to avoid.

And there are "other gods" within each of us, appearing as our conditioned patterns of reactivity. When we automatically act from places of upset, we follow those "other gods." When we observe our own reactivity, take a moment to breathe, and open to a fuller awareness, we can act far more effectively in our world.

We seek to remember that blessing comes in meeting the authentic call of the moment with greater compassion. There are always inner voices that focus on what is wrong in ourselves, in others, and in our world. There are always opportunities to act unkindly. But each moment offers us the opportunity to step into our freedom with greater awareness. The Way of One is a Way of deep compassion, healing, and forgiveness. It's a choice we are challenged to make again and again.

As the S'fat Emet, the great Hasidic commentator of the early twentieth century, taught, blessing follows from truly hearing the integrity of our inner Voice behind all the competing and conflicting messages we meet in our world.

The Way of Blessing

So the real challenge is to see interconnectedness even in the midst of apparent discord, to hear harmony even in the midst of cacophony. We will always meet blessings and curses in our experience of reality. What takes root will be the realities that are watered by the consciousness we practice, by the realities we pursue, and by the beliefs we cherish.

Compassionate actions toward ourselves and others make a profoundly affirmative difference. Research consistently confirms that positive reinforcement works where the opposite does not. This is reflected in commandments for caring that transcend time and place.

If there is among you a poor man of one of your brothers inside any of your gates in your land which the Eternal your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you shall open your hand wide to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he lacks. (15:7, 8)

The text reminds us that the poor shall never cease out of the land (15:11). This is a reality of this world of contrasts and comparisons. There are always those in need of support from those of us who are able to help.

Responding to others compassionately is always the Way of One. It's the Way of Blessing, a Way of Life. Meditation is one of the practices that helps us appreciate more clearly the way our minds function, so we can awaken to the awareness that holds both sides of the contrast, both poles of the polarization.

The Meditation: The Blessing and the Curse

Please read over this entire meditation before beginning. Find a time when you are unlikely to be disturbed, and a place as comfortable and as quiet as possible. Allow yourself to settle in, set a timer if you like, and put your smartphone into the airplane mode.

Moving behind the polarities

Begin to sense into all the parts of your body, beginning at your feet, and working your way up to your breath. Then move slowly from your fingertips, all the way up into your breath. Finally, move from the top of your head down into your breath. As you experience the parts of your body, be aware of the effect of your awareness. Without trying to change anything. Simply being aware.

The first step in moving beyond the world of the mind involves taking time to simply expand our awareness of the activity of our mind. In your meditations this week, take time to observe your mind. Notice the rise and the fall of thoughts. Notice how your mind comments on everything that is happening. Observe from your place of increasing calmness, allowing the mind to do what it does without interruption.

Notice what the mind produces that grabs your attention and draws you away from simply witnessing. And then return to just observing.

When you are ready, gently move into the awareness of the one who has been observing the mind, the one who has been listening to the voice of the mind. Notice that there is a vast ocean of silence behind the activities of your separate consciousness.

Allow yourself to fall into the embrace of that field of Consciousness. That awareness contains the mind, and all its contrasts, but is no longer defined by that mind. That awareness contains a body, with all its sensations, but is so much more than a body.

You may find yourself moving between the world of the mind, the world of the witness of the mind, and the more inclusive field of Consciousness that contains them both.

Let your meditation be an experiment of shifting levels of awareness, becoming more familiar with them all.

Photo: Mark Reden