Archive for October, 2009

e on he us

here are hree keys no workin on my compuer. le’s see if you can uess wha hey are…alhouh so far i would e difficul. houh no anymore.

more soon, od willin.

peaceful saah,

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Silk scarf on mountain.

I was at an event. Beautiful. A hundred and twenty people celebrating Sukkot on a farm north of Santa Cruz. I was blessed to teach a class on the deeper meanings of the holiday, in a redwood grove off a horse pasture. Over the course of the weekend, this image—silk scarf on mountain—kept coming back; again and again I saw its relevance as I encountered people “out there” on their spiritual journey.

I’ve become, in a way, a professional. My spiritual life is no longer something I fit in between daily bouts of figuring out how to survive in this world; it’s my full-time job. This hermitage is a fishbowl of my own consciousness; meditation isn’t something I do for a few minutes here and there—it’s my life. After two years, I’ve noticed some shifting.

And thus the image: Silk scarf on mountain. It comes from a Buddhist story of a tall mountain of solid granite. Every thousand years, a bird passes overhead with a long silk scarf trailing in its beak, which lightly caresses the top of the mountain. The time it takes to wear the mountain down to nothing, that is the spiritual journey.

There is much truth to this image. Frustrating though it may be, it is also quite hopeful—keep at it and you will wear down the mountain.

The tricky part is those intervening thousand years between silk scarves. That’s when we beat ourselves up—for not being good enough, not doing enough, not changing…We often get so caught up in the day-to-day, we haven’t the perspective to look back and see that many thousands of years ago, the granite mountain of our selves was a lot taller. But it was.

What am I trying to say here? Having accelerated for a time my spiritual journey, I’ve had an opportunity to see how it works from a different perspective. The mountain does wear down; the jagged peaks do soften; there is hope. It seems one of the central pieces is to fill in the gaps between scarves by cultivating a deep acceptance of what is—a quality of trust, trust that we are on the journey.

The part of us that beats ourselves up for not doing or being enough is actually an outcropping of the very mountain we aim to dissolve. Cultivating acceptance and trust, we take over from that negligent crow and diligently apply sandpaper to the rock hard surface of our selves. If we do so continually—remind and remind and remind ourselves that we can trust the journey—eventually we’ll come to terms with the fact that, perplexing as it may seem, there’s nothing we need to do and nowhere we need to go to awaken to our truest selves and dwell in presence. We come to see that trust itself, no matter where we are, is the substance of true being; you see that here, right now, with this vast empty sky and no bird nor scarf in sight, is the very beginning and end of your journey. You find that you’ve arrived, that we never left.

This reminds me of a series of classes I’ll be teaching (below), should any of you be in the bay area (SF, Berkeley…) and potentially interested. I apologize for the blatant self-promotion, but what can you do?

Peaceful Sabbath and joyful times,


Humanity’s Choice: The Torah’s Vision of Global Transformation

Sundays 2:30-5pm, October 11 – November 1, at Chochmat Halev

Where are we heading as a species? All of us have a role to play in bringing a world of peace, justice and freedom. While this will involve many technical challenges, the true remedy is, at its root, profoundly spiritual. Healing this planet will require real transformation—for us as a species, as nations, and as individuals. In this series of classes, open to people of all faiths, we will explore the Torah’s unique wisdom about the nature of this transformation, along with its vision for how we might bring it about—in ourselves and in the world around us. The classes will include both discussions and experiential exercises. They are intended for anyone interested in spirituality and social change. No background in Torah is required.

Instructor: Jonathan Sheff has taught Jewish mysticism and social justice throughout California, drawing on decades of experience in both fields. He holds a masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard University and is currently preparing for rabbinic ordination.

Each class stands on its own, though it would be great if you could attend the whole series…

October 11—In the Beginning is the End: Understanding Edenic Consciousness
October 18—The Tree of Knowledge and the Heirs of Kain
October 25—Shabbat and the Great Return
November 1—The Seventh Hidden Truth: Humanity’s Great Choice

Tuition is on a sliding scale (pay what you can). No one will be turned away.
Suggested rates:
Full series: $50-125. Individual sessions: $15-40. 10% discount for Chochmat members.
You can either show up at the door, or if you can please register in advance be contacting Nichola at ntorbett@seminaryofthestreet.org, or 510 225-8561

All classes will be held at Chochmat Halev, 2215 Prince St. in Berkeley, in the Garden Room

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“People like us…know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
–Albert Einstein

If time doesn’t exist, which it can’t, then space can’t truly be said to exist either, since they are of the same “substance.” This is much harder to grasp (especially given our “normal” perception of reality), yet nonetheless true.

There is nothing else, nowhere else, but this. The universe was created for this moment of perception. You, sitting wherever you are sitting, reading this on whatever you are reading it, contain the consciousness of the universe in its entirety.

You, in a way, are the universe.

And you are nothing, nothing at all.

Me, writing this here…you, reading this there—simply one character wearing two masks, looking through two sets of eyes.

We don’t perceive this. But we can.

This is a time of great possibility—in the narrow sense, and the broader. Funny to speak of something that doesn’t exist as containing possibility, but there you have it. For the actor behind the mask to communicate with itself, the drama is necessary.

We are heading into Sukkot, the Festival of Booths and harvest, Zman Simchateynu—the “Time of our Rejoicing.” We’ve just emerged, are emerging, from the Days of Awe, the phase from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. I’ve been reflecting on that seed from my previous post a lot recently. It seems to me the entire period of Awe can be considered a seed. During the month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we prepare ourselves; draw furrows into the otherwise caked crust of our selves, hoping to soften the ground of our being and aerate the soil of our lives. On Rosh Hashanah we place the seed in the earth, and for several days following we become it; in the safe custody of this sacred time we reshape ourselves, re-orient our inner workings. We become, during this period, plasmic—no longer solid. We are given the gift of possibility—the opportunity to redefine, rediscover, recreate ourselves.

Yom Kippur is the final stage of the seed process. At Ne’ilah, as the long day of fasting and prayer draws to a close, the seed cracks open, and whatever work we’ve done, whatever truth we’ve discovered and strength we have found breaks through and begins to take expression, an expression that will unfold over the coming year.

At this time, still in this cocoon of holiness, our shoots remain beneath the soil—safe and nurtured. As we enter Sukkot, the time of ingathering, we begin to reap the harvest of the spirit. We move outside our homes, out into the world, and push above the soil to actualize the wisdom we have shaped within the seed of our lives.

During Sukkot, we dwell in temporary structures with roofs we can see straight through. We manifest, in the very structure we inhabit, the truth of our sojourn on earth—that the world we inhabit is itself, down to the last detail, a temporary dwelling place. The real harvest of this time is the spiritual harvest we gather from our inner work—the new eyes that look out at the world, the fields of reality. The eyes that see, god willing, a little more clearly; eyes no longer deceived by the masks of the actors who walk this stage; eyes that see through the roof of our selves to the infinite expanse beyond and within.

At this time, as we emerge from and enter into this holy time, I pray that over the coming year the seeds we have planted unfurl and flourish into new life, so that next year, as the plants we have nurtured over the year again yield their seed, our next harvest will be on a level of kedusha, of holiness, we can scarcely imagine from where we stand today…that the world we bring into being over the coming year bears seeds so robust we crack open altogether, see through the veil of this world, and enter the next.

A Peaceful Sabbath and a time of great rejoicing to you all,


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