A Very Narrow Bridge

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

Category: Bodies

Sinking In

I’m in the shower.

I’m being very thorough.

Not that I’m not always very thorough—I am.

Shut up.

As I wash between my toes, I realize that I am silently narrating what I am doing. I used to do this when I would give Elly a bath. When he was tiny. “Now we’re washing your feet, we’re getting them super clean…”

I’m washing between the toes of the left foot and I’m relaxing my right foot on the floor of the shower—standing on all four corners. Then I switch feet and balance on my left while I clean the right.

This mindful shower takes a long time. And it gives me a chance to pay attention to my body. To trace meridians, to feel energy moving up and down my spine, to notice the muscles, and bones. And scars.

When Elly was a baby and I would give him a bath I was always amazed that he had no scars. Every night I wondered how long he would go with no scars. How long could the boy last without getting hurt? How long could I protect him?

I’m in the shower to wash off anything that can come between me and the water I’m about to sink into. The dirt. The oil. The dust. But also the distraction. It’s preparation—realization before I stop for a while. Before I pause.

I have scars. I have muscles. I am aware of my own energy. This body is a nice place to live. It has history. Power. Holiness. I need to remember that.

Out of the shower, I walk down the seven steps and into the pool of rainwater. I stand still for a moment, getting used to it.

There’s something different about this water. It’s not quite clear, and not quite cloudy. It’s holding the light from the fixtures overhead, rather than reflecting it. There’s a closeness to this water. It is as if I am not so much in it, as it is around me. Mikvah water is called mayim hayyim. Living water. And it feels like that.

Exhaling, I empty out my lungs and let myself go under completely. Opening my eyes, I see that the warmth of the light I noticed on the surface is even more pronounced down here. I lift my feet up and I’m suspended underwater. I’m not floating and I’m not sinking. I am neutral and it is silent.

I break the surface, inhale deeply and recite the blessing for this experience. This completely weird experience. This unlikely moment. And everything that went into it.

Another exhalation and another sinking. I watch the air leave my lungs through my nose and bubble to the surface.

My yoga teachers taught me that the pause between the exhalation and the inhalation is the gateway to our deepest Self. I break the surface and inhale again. Pause. Exhale underwater. Pause. And break the surface for the last time today. Pause.

This past Shabbat we read Vayikra (Vayikra [Leviticus] 1:1-5:26) It’s all about sacrifices and it’s pretty boring. I think Rashi must have been bored too. But the name of the parasha (and the name of the book of Leviticus in Hebrew) is וַיִּקְרָא. It means “And He called.”

Rashi notes that every topical section starts out with some description of God speaking, calling, saying…something to Moshe. But there are also subsections. He wonders why there are subsections. Why bother? The subsections are about the same topic after all.

The answer is so that Moshe will have a chance to pause and take it all in. God is teaching Moshe some very specific things that need to be done. Maybe unpleasant things. Difficult things. But necessary things. Best pause for a minute and let them sink in.

I came to the mikvah this morning to mark the beginning of a change in my life. I am going to change what I do for a living. Completely.  It will involve going back to school. And learning. A lot of learning. Some of it will be boring. Some of it will piss me off.

And it will involve sacrifice. A lot of sacrifice, probably. But it’s what I need to do.

Best pause and let it sink in.

Eleven Months, Part 3: Not at Some High Place Along the Way.

This has been moving through my mind for the last couple of weeks:

Birth is a beginning, And death a destination.
And life is a journey:

From childhood to maturity; And youth to age.
From innocence to awareness; And ignorance to knowing.
From foolishness to discretion; And then, perhaps, to wisdom.

From weakness to strength; Or strength to weakness
– And, often, back again.
From health to sickness, And back, we pray, to health again.

From offense to forgiveness, From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude, From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding – From fear to faith.

From defeat to defeat to defeat – Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage.

Birth is a beginning And death a destination.
And life is a journey, A sacred pilgrimage
– To life everlasting.

(Gates of Repentance, p 283)

It’s a poem from the Kol Nidrei service in Gates of Repentance: Reform Judaism’s machzorIt was written by a rabbi named Alvin Fine.

Growing up, my rabbi read it almost every week at Friday night services. My mother loved that rabbi.

“…Victory lies not at some high place along the way, but in having made the journey…”

I wish my mother had gone to services more so she could have heard this man, for whom she had so much love and respect, repeat those words. She didn’t and I think, up until the end as the paramedics worked to resuscitate her for the final thirty minutes of her life, she hoped for some victory. Some victory that never came, but to which she was so attached that she missed out on massive amounts of potential happiness, and mired herself in misery and anger.

I’m on the table at the acupuncturist when the intern’s supervisor comes in and tells me, in no uncertain terms, that living primarily in my head is not viable. “In the end,” he says “The body always wins, so listen to your body now before it’s too late. That body will win—it will die.”

We don’t get a lot of time here and our bodies remind us of that most days. But listening to those reminders can enrich our life. Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, explains that “…Looking deeply at our own suffering can help us cultivate understanding and compassion…”

“Life everlasting,” I think, starts with compassion.