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How Long is Not Long? (or, Why Is It Taking So Long?) September 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“But the truth is: ‘All sounds are kosher’ – not only for the shofar, but for the heart as well.”

– quoted from an article entitled “Perfectly Imperfect: The Secret of the Shofar” (09/12/2020) by Rabbi Binyomin Weisz

If you’ve taken a class from me this last week (live or via a recording) you’ve heard me mention the fact that a shofar can still be considered kosher even if it has a hole in it. A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown (like a trumpet) to during most Rosh Hashanah services and at the end of Yom Kippur. Historically it has also been used at other times, including as a call-to-arms before a battle. During the High Holidays, there are four types of sounds (tekiah = a long, smooth blast, shevarim = three short bursts, terua, = a series of short bursts, and tekiah gedolah = a long, drawn out, smooth blast), which are produced in very specific patterns in order to remind people to turn inward and reflect, remember, repent, and hope. As with most spiritual rituals, the horn has to be produced in a certain way and blown by a specific person. However, the mitzvah (or “commandment”) related to the High Holidays is not related to the blowing – it’s a commandment to hearing the sound. Obviously, since it is an organic instrument, each shofar sounds slightly different, but what is super fascinating to me (and others) is that certain imperfections do not “ruin” the instrument.

As teachers and scholars like Rabbi Binyomin Weisz point out, a hole can change the sound of the shofar and it’s still kosher. Granted, there are some ways a shofar can be broken – and even fixed – that make it no longer kosher. To be honest, the fact that you could “fix” a broken shofar so that it sounds like it originally sounded, but in doing so make it unusable for its intended purpose – and, therefore, not good – just strengthens the lesson for me. Given that so many people are struggling with “imposter syndrome” and high expectations, here’s the four part lesson: (1) let go of expectations; (2) do what you do; (3) appreciate what you’re doing, because it has value/meaning, and (4) remember the value/meaning of you (being who you are and doing what you do).

“No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task.”

– quoted from City of God by Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo)

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

– quoted from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

So there’s this story. It’s an old story and you’ve probably heard it before. I am actually surprised that I was well into my adulthood before I heard it, but not surprised that the first time I heard the story it was in the context of Rosh Hashanah. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell and, this year, I will tell it something like this:

Like so many of us, there’s this person sitting or standing on the edge of a mountain of uncertainty. This year, for obvious reasons, feels different from other years. What feels the same for this person, however, is the frustration and fear that comes from looking back and realizing that they have the same doubts and fears, hopes and dreams that they had this time last year. Rather than feeling like they’ve taken steps forward, closer to their dreams, this person feels like they have stayed in the exact same place – or even that they have taken a few steps back. Everything seems meaningless and pointless and, frankly, they feel they have nothing to show for all the times when they’ve reflected, remembered, repented, and planned.

So, as the head of the year approaches, this person goes to their rabbi and explains that they’re having a hard time. Yes, they understand that everyone is having and hard time – doesn’t make it easier. And, yes, they understand that some folks have it harder – doesn’t make them feel better. Bottom line, they aren’t motivated to make a plan for a new year when they feel they have nothing to show for the old.

The rabbi listens, as rabbis do, and then asks the person: How long does it take for a giant bamboo tree to grow as tall as a building?

Of course, this person doesn’t know (and is a little annoyed that their rabbi chooses this time to ask what appears to be a rhetorical – or liturgical – question). So, the rabbi tells the story of a farmer who decides they want to grow a giant bamboo tree. It’s a good investment, because if the farmer can get a good clump of culms, they can sell the edible shoots and also sell some of the sheath for construction and weaving. The farmer does some research, figures out the best place to plant, obtains some rhizome with their roots intact, and plants the cutting in a hole that is large enough to hold the rhizome and the roots (but not any deeper than the root-ball).

Satisfied with their work, the farmer goes about their business, watering and fertilizing the newly planted areas as needed. They do this for a year…. And then a second year…. By the third year, some of the farmer’s neighbors are starting to crack jokes about the farmer and their empty plot of land. Because no one sees anything happening – except the farmer diligently watering and fertilizing the area for yet another year. Finally, in the fifth year, a new growth appears. Then, within six weeks, that fertile green sprout shoots up as tall as a building.

“So,” the rabbi asks the person in their office, “how long does it take a giant bamboo to grow as tall as a building?”

The person who came seeking advice frustratingly says, “Six weeks.”

“No,” the rabbi patiently explains, “it takes five years….. Growth takes patience and perseverance. Every drop of water makes a difference; every step you take makes an impact. You may not see the change right away, but growth is happening.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

– “A person firmly established in the non-possessiveness gains complete understanding of the “why-ness” (or essence of why) of birth.”

Classical study of this week’s sūtra focuses on the cause and effect related to reincarnation; but I like to start with the cause and effect of right here and right now. In this moment, we can see how past attachments led to suffering and how our current attachments will lead to suffering (all in this lifetime). Unless, of course, we are (still) so attached, that we cannot take a step back and gain perspective. Like the farmer’s neighbors, the person in the rabbi’s office didn’t have big picture perspective. And big picture perspective and clarity are exactly what Patanjali promises in the sūtra. Perspective and clarity provide the “essence of why.” Once we understand the “why-ness” of something, there are no more questions… only answers.

Consider that when we are attached to a certain outcome, we put all our energy into ensuring (to the best of our ability) that things will happen a certain way. In doing so, we can lose sight of the fact that there are other ways. We may have definite ideas about how people should behave and (as my dharma buddy Stacy points out) we become absolutely convinced that things will work out if people “just do things our way.” We can get so focused on – i.e., so attached to – things happening a certain way that we actually create blind spots.

We sometimes fail to see all the possibilities within a situation (which sometimes means we miss opportunities) and we sometimes neglect to anticipate where things will “go wrong.” We miss the fact that other people have an “our way” that they also think is the best way. We can become so attached to things happening a certain way that we decide the end justifies the means and we are willing to veer away from our moral compass. We may even break vows – and then we are really upset when things still don’t work out they way we desired, because we actually compromised our values for nothing! Sometimes, we will concede, things work out for the best. Sometimes, we will concede, things turn out better than we planned. Along the way, however, there is an extra level of suffering because we couldn’t let go of our expectations.

“Greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to gold; nor is lust a defect in bodies which are beautiful and pleasing: it is a sin in the soul of the one who loves corporal pleasures perversely, that is, by abandoning that temperance which joins us in spiritual and unblemishable union with realities far more beautiful and pleasing; nor is boastfulness a blemish in words of praise: it is a failing in the soul of one who is so perversely in love with other peoples’ applause that he despises the voice of his own conscience; nor is pride a vice in the one who delegates power, still less a flaw in the power itself: it is a passion in the soul of the one who loves his own power so perversely as to condemn the authority of one who is still more powerful.”

– quoted from City of God by Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo)

Many of the commentaries focus on the idea of desire, in this context, as being so intense it is described as greed – which is often defined as a deadly sin. Greed is motivated by external factors. Yes, we may feel some deep internal compulsion to acquire certain things (or people), but ultimately that compulsion is fed by the belief that either the thing (or person or position) has intrinsic value and/or that we will be more valued/valuable because of our material possession(s). That belief in the value of the material thing is an external belief and it is steeped in avidyā (“ignorance”). Taking a look at our thoughts, words, and deeds as being the result of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns puts things in a context that is hard to ignore. It is especially hard to ignore when we see that, yes, suffering comes from these greed-inspired thoughts, words, and deeds. We also see how things unfold because we are motivated by the desire to have.

What happens if, as Patanjali instructs, we cultivate the opposites? What happens if we let go of our desires? What happens if we let go of expectations?

Remember, the cultivation of opposites does not mean that you don’t do your best and go all in on whatever you’re doing. Quite the opposite: Remember, when it comes to “Contemplating the Goal,” The Bhagavad Gita says, “‘The karma-yogi offers all works and all desires for the fruits of works to the Divine – and thus wins eternal peace in the Divine. But the person impelled by selfish desire gets entangled in agitations and anxieties of the mind.” (5.12)

“‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success or failure. This mental evenness is what is mean by yoga…. Indeed, equanimity is yoga!’” (2.48)

– quoted from The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Just before I started reading (and in some cases re-reading) the commentary for this week’s yoga sūtra, I decided to watch Rabbi Marc Katz’s sermon from last week. The sermon was titled “Finding Our Resiliency” and, serendipitously, contained a very familiar piece of advice. It is advice that is also part of this week’s commentary and takes us back to Yoga Sūtra 1.37, which explains that we can cultivate a peaceful mind by “focusing on someone who is free from all desires.” There are definitely historical, spiritual, and literary examples, but don’t forget that one way to contemplate/meditate is to focus on yourself as if you were free from all desire.

Think about how easy it is to look at someone else’s situation and give them advice. We can do that because, even though we may care deeply for the person, we are not emotionally, mentally, and spiritually invested in things going a specific way. We are only invested in things working out for the best for them. Take a moment, as we enter the last few days of the Ten Days of Atonement, Ten Days of Awe, to look at your life and the possibilities ahead as if you were a friend (or a rabbi) you had called for advice, clarity, and perspective.

I know, I know, for some of you this seems super hokey. But, I encourage you, stop for a moment; to take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, sigh it out (three times or more); and just breathe. Give yourself at least 5 minutes of sitting and breathing (or moving and breathing) without thinking about anything except how it feels to breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Then, spend a few minutes considering what you would say to someone in your current situation. What would you say to someone who was not you? Don’t factor in anyone else’s opinions. Just for a moment, listen to the wisdom of your own heart.

“So how do we tap that inner strength? How do we find that spark of resilience buried deep within us? First, know that you’ve been here before. True, no one has faced the exact challenge of our current era. Every moment is unique. But each of us has overcome some challenge in our past…. Each one of us has a proven history of mourning deaths, finding new relationships, reconciling broken friendships. Every one of us knows how to heal, to mend, to salve our broken hearts….

Work to forgive yourself when you fail to meet your own expectations, but don’t give up on yourself entirely.”

– quoted from “Finding Our Resiliency,” an Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon by Rabbi Marc Katz

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 26th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Les Brown’s take on the bamboo story

“Family. Duty. The things that keep us grounded, what keep us from giving up on our hopes, but also holds us back from stepping across the precipice into the unknown.”

– quoted from the liner notes for “The Things That Keep Us Here” (from Monomyth) by Scott Buckley

“Unearthing knowledge of what truly lies in the unknown is breathtaking, but also terrifying – a realization of what must be done.”

– quoted from the liner notes for “The Vision” (from Monomyth) by Scott Buckley

### DIG DEEP ###


1. Sharyn D!🌞 - September 26, 2020

Good Morning Magic Myra!

Thank You for recognising Yiddish Holy-Days! (MN has a history of not)~ See You Later! xox SharynDipity!

Carpe Diem,

Sharyn Rose


2. Sandra Razieli - September 27, 2020

I love how the shofar can be used as a teaching about imposter syndrome. Yeshir Kochaich (Right on or straight into your strength). And I had never heard the bamboo story. Makes a lot of sense as there is a lot of bamboo where I live!

ajoyfulpractice - September 27, 2020

Now I am imagining you practicing in the middle of a clump of bamboo!

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