A Very Narrow Bridge

The world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. ~Nachman of Breslov

Month: July, 2014

It’s a Good Thing I’m Here

When Elly is scared by something I always say the same thing. I’ve said it for as long as he’s been talking. It goes like this:

Elly: This is scary.
Harry: Well, it’s a good thing I’m here.

It always works. Just pointing out that I’m with him makes him feel better. It’s a good reminder.

I need to remind myself sometimes.

I need to remind myself because I play roles. And I don’t like some of the roles I play, so I need to remind myself that it’s me who’s playing those roles and it’s me who can stop playing them. And the way to remember this is to look for myself within those roles. Because I’m there.

It’s easy to find myself in some roles.

I am a father. That’s just how it is. Like the color of my eyes. Like my height. Like my birthday. It will be true for as long as this life lasts, and probably longer. It’s just a fact of who I am at this point. So it’s easy to find myself.

I’m also the guy who laughs in some of my yoga classes. I laugh and I make smartass comments because I love those classes.

There are other roles I play that aren’t so helpful. Roles I play that make me bitter. Or angry. Or just make me feel sorry for myself.

And I’m in those roles too. The same person.

Right there.

Same guy.

But they are distortions. I am covered up by malas, or encased in klippot (husks or shells that cover up the Light within us and in the world–you have to look it up yourself because I couldn’t find a good link. Maybe this will help. I dunno. It starts out about trees, but I didn’t listen to the whole thing. Sue me.)

Being a father or the guy who laughs while I practice yoga are openings into myself. They are connections. To myself and Everything Else. To the moment. To my path forward. They are exactly the opposite of the malas and klippot.

The roles that I play that make me upset are external. They are there to try to please someone else because, in effect, they are just being a Harry-shaped aspect of someone else.  They are based on me, but they aren’t who I am. I can only be who I am if I remember I am here.

And, yeah, I can’t like every role I play as much as I like being a father or the guy laughing in yoga class. I have to go to work and be the guy who does my job and all that, and the guy who does the dishes and takes out the garbage. But those are responsibilities in which I can be completely present.

We all put roles on other people. All the time. We do it because we’re afraid.

We are afraid of so much. And it’s important to remind each other that we’re here.


Not our hopes and dreams about each other.

Us. Together.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches four mantras to help us remind each other of this:

My Beloved, I am here for you.
My Beloved, I know you are there and it makes me happy.
My Beloved, I know you suffer and I am here for you.
My Beloved, I am suffering and I need your help.

It’s a good thing we’re here.




What’s Already There

Once when he was pretty little, maybe three or four, I was telling Elly a story. At one point he stopped me and asked where the story came from.

“I’m making it up for you.” I told him. “Just for you.”
“But how do you know what to make up?” he wanted to know.
“I dunno, Habibi,” I said, “I guess I’m just listening to what’s already there.”

I’ve been telling him stories for years. Stories filled with characters we’ve gotten to know very well. Dosa the Spice Merchant; The Witch of the Woods (who is really a healer) and her impossibly old student Samuel; The Librarian Prince; the Spider who wove herself a violin; The Soldier Who Waited.

All these characters move in and out of the stories I tell him. Sometimes spending months with us, sometimes disappearing for years to make room for new people. It’s a big story. And I make up each part as I’m telling it.

That’s not easy. At all. It means I have to do a lot of listening. I have to listen to him. I have to listen to myself. And hardest of all, I have to listen for the story.

Not easy.

Because sometimes listening is incredibly simple. The story is love. Sometimes that’s loud and clear. Sometimes even overwhelming.

But sometimes that Love story is drowned out by the Wrong story. The story of doubt and shame and everything I think makes me wrong.

And both stories are already there.

They have to be. I wouldn’t know love without heartbreak, I wouldn’t know courage without fear, and I wouldn’t know joy without sorrow. They have to be there for the other to exist.

Last week I was having a hard time hearing the Love story. Maybe because Elly was away and I didn’t see him. Probably not, though.

Really what was happening was that I was spending too much time listening Wrong story. The other voices.

I let them convince me that I wasn’t deserving of those things I want, that my perceptions are wrong, that I’ve over-estimated my abilities. That I’m wrong. About everything.

So I wrote to one of my teachers. She gave me some very difficult practices to do.

And she also said “[The heart] is an empty vessel for light to come through.”

The Love story is loudest when the heart is open. The Wrong story is loudest when it’s closed. That’s why at some of the most difficult times, we feel most constricted. Emotionally and physically.

Sometimes it’s hard to open your heart. Being human is hard. We have to balance a lot. Those things that frighten us and those things we love. We need to accept both. Both are already there.

Both stories are with us for this whole life.

But it’s up to us to choose which one gets our attention.

It Might Get Loud

So… it’s been pretty loud lately. All over the world, and for a lot of people I know.

And for me.


And, you know, there are all sorts of sources for this loudness. So many. I won’t go into all of them; I think we can each name something loud around us. Or within us.

We can’t do anything about the external loudness. It’s going to be there, no matter what. I live in a city, and it’s loud here. Trucks are loud, construction sites are loud, Facebook is loud.

The future is loud and the past is often louder.

We are surrounded. Loudness shakes us, rattles us, confuses us and we can’t concentrate.

And we are loud internally.

Fear is loud, shame is loud, desire can be loud, regret is loud, anger is loud. But we can do something about the internal loudness and maybe do something about the external loudness too.

This is from a guy who collects silence:

When I speak of silence…I mean silence from modern life, silence from all these sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system, which is busy communicating. Wildlife are as busy communicating as we are, but it’s not just messages coming from wildlife. I can name some that have been really transformative in my personal life, but it’s also the experience of place, what it means to be in a place.
—Gordon Hempton, interviewed by Krista Tippet On Beingbroadcast July 4, 2013

So silence is about being present. Silence is about being vulnerable. And that’s the hardest thing to be. It requires courage to be vulnerable.

Each week we read two different parts of the Tanakh in the synagogue, the Torah and the Haftara (which is from the Prophets). This week’s Torah is Parshat Pinchas (Bamidbar [Numbers] 24:10–30:1).

It’s loud.

Zealotry is rewarded (not my favorite), land is divided up (which will lead to more loudness, later), Holidays are outlined. There’s a lot going on. In the midst of all this loudness, God speaks to Moshe. (27:12–13)

 …וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עֲלֵה אֶל-הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה; וּרְאֵה, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ
…וְרָאִיתָה אֹתָהּ, וְנֶאֱסַפְתָּ אֶל-עַמֶּיךָ

God said to Moshe, go up this distant mountain and see the Land…
And when you have seen (understood) it, you will be gathered up with your people…

Okay, so I chopped the verses up and my translation isn’t exactly what you might find anywhere else, but here’s what I think it means: In the midst of all the loudness around us, sometimes we need to pause. We need to stop for a minute and really see. And it’s not easy. That understanding can be as hard to reach as a distant mountain.

Not easy.

We also read my favorite moment in the Tanakh, from I Melachim (Kings) 19:11–12. Eliyahu is hiding in a cave and he sees this:

וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ, לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהוָה…
וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ, לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה

There was a huge, strong wind that was tearing the mountains and smashing the rocks to pieces in front of God; God was not in the wind. And after the wind, there was an earthquake; God was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire; God was not in the fire. And after the fire, the thin voice of silence.

Loud. Ra’ash, the word for “earthquake,” also means “noise.”

But God’s name here, the name I prefer, is “What Is.” That’s the way I think of God. We’ve talked about this before, right?

God is What Is.

And that’s after the loudness, the storms and the noise and the fire.

What Is. The Present. That’s in the Thin Voice of Silence.

And that’s within us. And we can get to it. We can find the silence. But it’s so hard to do. It requires being vulnerable. Because we can’t do it without acknowledging love. And that takes more courage than traveling to a distant place, and more effort than climbing a mountain because love means being vulnerable. It just does.

But it’s here. And we can find it in a game of catch, or in a walk in the park, or sharing a meal with someone, or in a conversation with a friend, or in one of those hugs that you think might be too tight, but really isn’t. It’s in all those places and in our breath.

Right now.