Today starts our mini-unit on self-compassion in the mindfulness class I’m teaching. It’s a hard unit, even as a teacher, because so much of our culture says we need to be hard on ourselves–and probably much harder than we already are. It’s almost painful to be self-compassionate, and it’s about as awkward to talk about it to kids.
And on top of that, I’m still feeling sick. I got to bed a few hours earlier than usual last night, and I woke up feeling so much better–but my throat is so dry it’s raw, and I can barely open my mouth to talk without feeling the pain of it. I was talking to myself last night, and I know when I’m feeling sick I have the least amount of willpower, so all my normal challenges look like massive mountains right now.
So it’s the perfect time to talk about self-compassion.
I want to write a profound and moving post about Yom Kippur. About atonement, about forgiveness, about redemption and revival. I want to write a poem about the pounding of my fist against my heart as I echo, in harmony with the congregation around me, the confessions of our sins. I want to paint a picture of the closing gates with such vividness my readers will forget they’re reading and think they are seeing into heaven itself.
But Yom Kippur is not about grandeur, and what else are these desires?
One year ago I packed my bags and left. I met two friends by the library and we began our drive to the North Carolina LGBTQI Leadership Retreat. We listened to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack as we drove in to Efland. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but I know I didn’t mention anything that had happened the last week.
I wanted to enjoy this weekend. For one moment I wanted to set aside all the anger and fear and self-loathing and just have a good time. On Monday the healthy relationships group would begin. Maybe a week or two later I’d have my first individual session. I’d already deleted my apps. I wanted to take a break from it all. To just forget for a moment.
But who was I kidding? That wasn’t going to happen.
When our second day began, we took a short walk from our motel to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian across the street. After pausing for pictures outside, we ventured into the unassuming building and gathered in a small room where we saw a creation story animated before us. From there, the world opened up.
I’d like to think it’s not the only thing opening up today.
I must confess. I’m not entirely honest. I don’t deceive, not intentionally at least, but I usually know a thing or two more than I let on. It helps me hold onto something, a sliver of control, a ground wire to make sure I don’t shock myself by coming to a dead end. If I don’t have the whole picture, I hide the pieces I have in pursuit of those I need to hold. When it’s all put together, and I meet someone, I don’t enlighten them. They need to come to it on their own, I might say, or it’s better to wait–maybe what I think is whole isn’t whole yet.
It’s not exactly deception. It’s not exactly honesty either.
As many of you may know, there’s been a couple people on campus that have made this semester hell. I mentioned their backstabbing in “Awfully Whetted Strife” where I discussed how my very sense of trust has been injured. In a few words I expressed my rising indignation over the one of them in “The Man Who Lied to My Face.” You don’t need to read those, not unless you want to, but it’s worth knowing how long this has been going on.
This morning was the second “Shababa” at the religious school where I teach. It’s a new experiment this year, having “Shabbat school” one weekend every month or so instead of having school on Sunday. So far I’ve enjoyed them; they’re different, but unique and a pleasant experience for teachers and students alike.
Today I had the honor of giving the d’var Torah, which in Hebrew means “words on the Torah.” It’s comparable to a sermon, except it’s not preaching, it’s teaching. See, Jews don’t proselytize–we perseverate. And with all our perseverative studying, it’s only natural to share it with others (since studying the Torah is itself a commandment).
In any case, though short and sweet and written with a younger audience in mind, I thought I may as well share the drash here for anyone who may wish to read it.
One thing that irks me to no end is going to religious services and instead of being welcomed into a calm air of heartfelt love and prayer, being immersed in an ocean of chatter and discourse. True: Community is integral to any religious congregation, but isn’t the point to find religious fulfillment, not gossip and how-are-you’s?
When our rabbi gently whispers into the microphone, “Shh…,” people listen, take their seats, and soon thereafter such an atmosphere of selfless love is fostered and culminates in the utterance of what I’m most thankful for tonight.
Keep far from an evil neighbor;
Be not a partner with an evil person;
Never despair of retribution for the wicked.
Back in the Garden of Eden, everything was lavender and chamomile until they ate the fruit. The one fruit that God had said never to eat. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
What we’re not told, however, is that it was not merely the Tree of Knowledge (Adam and Ever weren’t stupid), it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We can be wise. We can be wise beyond words. But no amount of wisdom necessitates the distinction between good and evil. We can know a thousand ways to kill a man without knowing whether killing is good or bad. We can no a thousand ways to change the world but not know which of those are good and which of those are bad. The power to distinguish good from evil, however, changes everything.