This past weekend I sat a silent meditation retreat. It was a time to let things settle and create more internal spaciousness. One of the reasons I am drawn to this practice is it unequivocal commitment to the liberation of all beings and the deep knowing that liberation is possible. The practice, in all its simplicity, is full of both anguish and delight, and every emotion under the sun. And the goal is presence, or more precisely a collectedness of mind often translated as mindful awareness.
On the train coming home from the retreat, transitioning back into reality (or further from it, depending on the view), I found myself immersed in a new memoir about the Talmud (geeky Rabbi thing to do!). The following passage jumped out at me:
The Mishnah in Tractate Hagigah cautions against looking into four things:
"What is above, what is below, what is in front, and what is behind" (11b).
Having spent 5 days trying to cultivate an awareness of what is, I was caught by this caution to seek out what is beyond or behind us (which is the deepest pattern of my mind and the cause of much suffering]. I have always been taught that one reason we anchor our meditation in our breath is because we can only breath in the present moment. We can't breath in the present or the past, in what is above or below, in front or behind.
And yet the Jew in me knows that our liberation is so deeply bound with how we reconcile, honor and transform the past. We see this tension and teaching in the second blessing we recite while lighting the Hanukkah candles:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמָן הַזֶּה
Barukh Atah Adonay Elohaynu Melekh Ha'olam she'asah nisim l'imoteynu vela'avoteynu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.
Blessed is the Source of Life...who made miracles for our ancestors in their days, in this time.
What does it mean to make miracles in their days, in this time? Thankfully the grammar is unclear, as it allows us to seek the meaning for ourselves.
Hanukkah calls us, over and over again, to be present bazman hazeh - in this moment. Perhaps because the miraculous cannot be experienced in the past or in the future, above or below, in front or behind. The awe and wonder, the surprise, the unexpected, the experience of collectedness that we attribute to the Divine (which may also be deeply connected to our human power as we saw in Alabama this week!), is itself tied to zman hazeh - this present moment. It is precisely this collectedness of mind and collective power, that I believe leads to liberation. And we do so inspired by, in the spirit of, on the shoulders of all who came before us.
So looking forward to celebrating Shabbat and Hanukkah with you this weekend, and cultivating our collectedness!
Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach,
Rabbi Ari Lev