Wild Ride, Calm Rider: A Message for Shabbat Shuvah

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, September 22, 2023 / 7 Tishrei 5784

While still focused on my recovery, I am beginning to add back more activities. Tomorrow, I will facilitate our Shevet Meditation gathering, beginning at 12:35. Please feel free to join.

Reading Time: Two minutes

Maybe the most important teaching is to lighten up and relax. It’s such a huge help in working with our crazy mixed up minds to remember that what we’re doing is unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread. We’re letting it blur the sharp corners of self-criticism and complaint.

Some of us can accept others right where they are a lot more easily than we can accept ourelves. We feel that compassion is reserved for someone else, and it never occurs to us to feel it for ourselves…

If there’s any possibility for enlightenment, it’s right now, not at some future time. Now is the time.

-Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

Tonight marks Shabbat Shuvah, the intermediate Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Literally, it means the Sabbath of turning or returning, yet of course we are all thinking about teshuvah, of taking stock of our lives. What a powerful opportunity this Shabbat offers each of us to outline the work of self-reflection we would like to engage in over Yom Kippur.

As we each embark on this sacred, holy work, I want to share an image with you from nursery school days. That was my first memory of going on a seesaw. Because there were many of us kids, and because it was a less regimented era, our teachers allowed more than two of us to go on the seesaw at a time. Sometimes five or six of us would crowd on. Sitting on the end was the most exciting place, yet when it felt too turbulent for my mood, I would sit closer to the middle. Things were more serene there. In the very middle, it was almost like nothing was happening. Of course, some kids would only get on the seesaw if they could have their preferred spot on the end or middle.

When we think about how we deal with the vicissitudes of life, most of us fall into certain habits or patterns, much like those nursery school seesaw cowboys and cowgirls.

On the left side of the seesaw, we find the sort of people who blame all of their problems on others. Their hearts are filled with judgement, anger, and hatred On the right side, we might find those other sorts of people who blame every bad thing on themselves. Depression, shame, and guilt are their companions. We know what happens. The people on the end suffer the biggest swings of emotion, as they careen up to heaven, then crash suddenly back to earth. Life is dramatic, painful, and difficult to navigate on the two ends of the seesaw.

In the middle, however, at the fulcrum point, the same forces that make the ends of the seesaw fly up and down are present, yet one isn’t tossed around very much. In the world of teshuvah, self-kindness is the fulcrum point of our moral lives. Just like the kids on the end, the problems of life and our messed up reactions to life still occur, even when we are sitting in the middle. There’s no escaping them. Yet the ride is softer when we can accept who we are with kindness.

On the seesaw of life, where would you like to sit this year? Where have you sat previously?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

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